Would You Stop a Hate Crime in Progress?

Most witnesses did not step in when a Hispanic man was attacked on the street.

March 13, 2009, 11:10 AM

March 14, 2009— -- Jose Sucuzhanay was walking home from a party in Brooklyn, N.Y., last December when two strangers attacked him with an aluminum bat.

"They were about to get home, like maybe 50 feet from the home," Jose's brother Diego Sucuzhanay said. "Two guys jumped out of the SUV and Jose was attacked and hit his head. ... He was knocked out. And ... they kept hitting [Jose] with a baseball bat."

Doctors operated to stop the bleeding in his brain but the damage was too great, and Jose Sucuzhanay died a week later from his injuries.

But this wasn't just a random attack -- police said it was a hate crime, committed because Sucuzhanay was Hispanic. And it happens more than you think. So ABC's "What Would You Do?" decided to see how people would react if they witnessed an attack against a person because he was Hispanic. Diego Sucuzhanay joined us.

It was a typical winter afternoon on a busy street in Newark, N.J., when, suddenly, things seemed to take a frightening turn. Passersby saw a lone Hispanic man being verbally and physically attacked by three young men in the middle of the sidewalk.

The victim, a Hispanic actor hired by "What Would You Do?," wore plenty of padding and, although his bloodied face looked real, it was the work of a makeup artist. The assailants, three young white actors, approached the victim as hidden cameras rolled.

From our control room inside Mmm Bellos Pub, we watched people's reactions. Many walked right by.

"Some of them appeared Latino themselves," ABC News correspondent John Quinones noted. "You would think they would jump in."

Max Walter, a 30-something Ecuadorean man, stood and stared as the actor was beaten. After the attackers walked away, our actor was left on the floor begging for help. Walter witnessed the entire beating and did little to come to his aide.

"Why didn't you help?" Quinones asked.

"They're attacking him because he's Latino, and if I get involved, they'll attack me," Walter replied.

But Walter wasn't the only silent passerby.

Alberto Machado also saw the fight and kept on going.

"Well, I saw a little blood over there," he said. "All he needed was a little ice."

Racial Attack Witness: 'I Wanted to Help'

The first witnesses were each outnumbered by the assailants, three to one. But then a group of five guys stumbled right into the scene. They had safety in numbers on their side. But they stood there, seemingly not knowing what to do.

As sunset approached, we continued taping.

Todd Sneed, a regular at the restaurant, was not afraid to act. Sneed acted as a human shield and separated the victim, taking on all three attackers.

Sneed said that he has shared the experience of the victim firsthand.

"Honestly, I have a history of people walking past me when something is going down and nobody doing anything about it," he said. "You know, so, I never wanted that to happen to anybody."

On the second day of taping we met a fearless woman -- Michelle Hernandez -- who jumped right into the action.

Hernandez noticed what was happening from her car and started to yell. It didn't take long for an enraged Hernandez to jump out of her car and into the middle of the fight. Oblivious to the danger, she separated the attackers from their victim.

"It's extremely rare that people will intervene in the first place; it's very rare that a woman will intervene in situations like this," Yale University psychology professor Jack Dovidio said.

And, then, an angel appeared in the form of Emily MacDonald. As our actor lay helplessly on the ground, MacDonald was the first person to approach and physically help him up. With her hand extended out, MacDonald stood over him and recited a Spanish prayer.

Most Passersby Kept on Going

Afterward, MacDonald told Quinones she needed to step in.

"Broke my heart, to see someone getting hurt," she said. "And my friends were holding me back, I didn't want to hear it. I wanted to help this man."

In the course of the two-day experiment, 99 people came upon the fight and an overwhelming majority, 67 people, didn't get involved at all. A few people turned to others for help. But the ones who did react made a strong impression. Twenty-one people stood up directly to the attackers.

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