April 25, 2010— -- Why did passersby leave a Good Samaritan bleeding to death on a New York sidewalk last week, with one even pausing to snap a photo of the dying man who had been stabbed after thwarting a mugging?
A psychologist believes there could be several reasons why people didn't offer to help Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, 31 -- whose fate was captured on a grainy surveillance video -- perhaps including our culture's desensitization to violence from so much exposure in movies, video games and music.
"We love violence in this culture," said the psychologist, Michael Bradley. "We have this kind of 24/7 pounding of violence. We now know that that pounding of violence actually causes brain changes where people start to not distinguish between real violence and cyberviolence. We're actually rewiring our brains to not react to violence and pain the way we should."
Tale-Yax's death started playing out just after 5:30 a.m. on a Queens, N.Y., sidewalk last Sunday, April 18.
On the surveillance video, a woman is followed by a man, who then appears to accost her.
Tale-Yax walks toward them. What can't be seen is him being stabbed several times in the torso while trying to save the woman.
Within seconds, the camera captures the apparent attacker running away. Authorities say the woman fled from her assailant.
Tale-Yax, who was homeless, starts to chase the attacker but then collapses.
A minute later, a potential good Samaritan walks right by. And so does the next person and the one after that. A procession of more than 20 people seem to notice and fail to help.
One man pulls out his cell phone, but instead of dialing 911, he snaps a picture. Another man nudges Tale-Yax, rolls him over twice, seems to see blood, but then walks away.
For nearly an hour and a half, Tale-Yax lay there until someone finally called for help. Firefighters arrived at 7:23 a.m.
Bradley said there are several explanations for why passersby may not have taken action.
For one thing, he said, people tend to copy the behavior of others, so if one person ignored the injured man, then others were likely to do the same thing.
People also think it's someone else's responsibility to intervene, so they won't do anything because they assume another person will call for help.
Some reports also have noted that it is not unusual to see individuals passed out or sleeping in public in New York.
N.Y. Isn't First City Where Bystanders Ignore Injured Man
Sadly, what that New York security camera captured has been seen before.
In Seattle in January, a 15-year-old girl was brutally beaten, knocked unconscious and robbed by a group of teenagers while three security guards stood by and watched.
In Hartford, Conn., a 78-year-old man was hit by a car as he crossed a street in 2008. The driver never stopped. A total of 10 vehicles drove by as he laid in the middle of the road, bleeding from the head.
And in Washington, D.C., in 2003, a man was shot at a gas station. Instead of calling for help, the witness finished pumping kerosene into a can, paid and drove off.
The cycle of apathy can be broken starting by teaching children to grow up to be compassionate adults, psychologist Bradley said. He suggested exposing them to new people or situations through community service and helping them to think critically about news stories such as the incident in New York.
"We have to show our kids caring, empathy and involvement," he said. "You don't have to be a hero. You don't have to jump into the fight. Just push three buttons." That is, 911.