Last week’s hit and run – in which an 11-yr-old boy was left in the road and ignored – shows we need a reminder of what it means to be human, not just a good driver
It takes a special kind of coward to hit something with your car and take off. “Hit and run” minimizes what can actually happen. Hit and damage, hit and injure, hit and kill. Those are more exact.
I’ve been told how human responses can kick in at a base biological level; that fight or flight response we’ve all felt triggered in that fraction of a second when we must decide, and we must decide right now. I don’t know if the person who hit and killed Maurice Richards of East St. Louis on March 9th was making an instantaneous decision to flee after slamming a car into the 11-year-old. It was raining; it was just 6:30 p.m. and the child wasn’t jaywalking; he was at a corner of two streets. Unless you are impaired or a fool, you know if you’ve hit an 11-year-old child hard enough to leave him crumpled and dying in the street. It takes a certain kind of person to run.
The headline this week wasn’t even about the coward who fled. Instead, it was about a series of drivers who drove around the supine boy and ignored him. He died in that street as cars – multiple cars – swerved around him without stopping. Without calling for help. He lay there long enough for the rain to drench his clothing. And people drove around him.
You and I have a contract. You might not think we do, but we do. We have a social contract that says if I see your kid in trouble or your elderly parent needing a hand, I help. You do the same for me. It doesn’t matter if today I am able-bodied or out of danger, one day I won’t be and every day someone important to me isn’t.
I don’t get to drive around your child lying hurt in the road. What those motorists in East St Louis did was abominable. If worried for their own safety, they could have made a fast call. A phone is at the end of virtually every arm these days. If they didn’t know what they were seeing, they had a responsibility to risk being wrong.
East St. Louis hit-and-run victim, 11, ignored by motorists, dies at hospital https://t.co/SrY9CDcaIk
— STLtoday (@stltoday) March 10, 2016
You want to know why you risk being wrong? Because it’s brave. My mother was walking down a major thoroughfare near our home one day nearly half a century ago. Ahead of her was a small girl, maybe 7, skipping as she proceeded on her own. As my mother watched, a car pulled up to the youngster and a man leaned across the front seat to speak to her. My mother quickened her steps to close the gap. When she saw the man push open the passenger door to let the girl in, my mother charged into action; she stood between the car and the girl, and told her not to get in a car with a stranger. The tiny girl looked up at my mother quizzically, and said, “but that’s my Daddy.” My mother felt terrible and that man thanked her profusely. This is why you need to be strong enough to risk being wrong. How could you live with yourself if you weren’t, and had done nothing? My mother told us that story later and felt foolish, but I realized what a hero she actually was.
The world is a different place when viewed through our individual eyes. I’m aware I’m a woman of a certain age who risks greater bodily harm inserting myself into a situation than say, my 6’4” son who has worked as a bouncer. I know that weapons and drugs are everywhere in this world, and situations aren’t always what they seem. It does not release me from that contract, because without it we stop being a community, we start being lesser people. The day I won’t risk being wrong to help you when you need help, is the day we have lost to the fear and hatred that threatens to consume us.
I can’t release the despair of that young boy lying in the rain. I don’t know if he was conscious but if he was, he realized nobody was stopping. Someone finally used their car to block traffic and get to him, but first responders couldn’t save him. You don’t have to be doctor or a police officer to assist someone who is hurt. You don’t have to perform CPR or risk further injury if you’re unsure of what to do.
You have to call for help, and you have to hold a child’s hand even as he dies. That is the contract. That is what we owe each other.