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What should I have done?
May 19, 2011 10:04 AM   Subscribe

What would you do in this situation? Mind your own business, intervene, call the police, or something else?

I live in garden style condo. There is a parking lot that several multi-story building overlook. I do not know any of my neighbors, except to say "hi" in the garage once every month or so. The other night I woke up at 3 AM to shouting in the parking lot. The complex is normally very quiet, but I thought someone might be coming in drunk after a late night. When it didn't stop after a few minutes, I went to window to see what was going on. There were a man and woman fighting and yelling and screaming loudly. The man was doing most of the yelling but the woman said a few things too. The man grabbed at and pushed and almost tried to drag her inside while yelling 'get into the house'. I could not make out what she was saying or anything else he said. What should I have done?
posted by seesom to Society & Culture (34 answers total)
 
The grabbing and dragging would've triggered me to call the police. Up until that point I'd have done my best to butt out.
posted by jon1270 at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


Call the police. Grabbing and pushing someone is not ok.
posted by PhillC at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would have called the police. I've done it before, I'll do it again.

The way I see it, there's nothing to lose and everything to gain. Just an argument? No one's going to be in trouble. Some douche routinely beating the piss out of his wife? Now the cops know. I will always call.

I don't think there's much you can do now except keep an eye and ear out and be ready to call the next time.
posted by phunniemee at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Call the police.

Your neighbors will not know if was you. The police are trained to handle these sorts of situations, and assess if there is danger.
posted by anastasiav at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think I would do anything if it was just yelling, but as soon as it turns into something physical (especially what you described about forcing another person inside), I'd be on the phone to 911 to tell them what I'd seen. The police can decide what to do about it from that point.
posted by FishBike at 10:07 AM on May 19, 2011


Yup, as soon as it got physical I'd have called the cops. (In my building, actually, I'd probably have stuck my head out earlier and yelled "Everything all right?" but I know most of the folks here and would feel pretty safe about it.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:08 AM on May 19, 2011


Yes. Call the police.

It'd be better to report it if it turned out to be nothing than not report it if it turned out to be something.....
posted by zizzle at 10:10 AM on May 19, 2011


Nthing call 911. I've seen this scenario on COPS dozens of times - they get a call from a neighbor reporting an argument outside turning violent. Even if the fight has terminated, they'll usually knock on doors and try to locate the couple just to make sure everyone is OK, that no one needs medical treatment but is too afraid/intimidated to seek it, etc.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2011


I've called the cops in situations like that, and I'd do it again.
posted by rtha at 10:13 AM on May 19, 2011


Always call the cops.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:17 AM on May 19, 2011


One thing that crossed my mind is that there are multiple buildings, with multiple floors that face this parking lot, so how would they know who it was? But Oriole Adams comments shows they have procedures to figure out what was going on.
posted by seesom at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2011


At 3:00 in the morning, I'd call the police just because someone is yelling in the middle if the night and disturbing the peace. I wouldn't even wait for it to get physical. My brother's a cop and he always says that this is what police are for. Let them assess the situation.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, call the police. Even if it's two people having a "friendly" yelling match about Picard vs. Kirk (which this certainly was not), they're disturbing the peace. People have a right to expect some peace and quiet at 3 a.m.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:30 AM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Calling the police would probably be a good idea for the immediate short term, but it doesn't always end up helping situations of domestic violence in the long run. Because you don't know who these people are, it may have been hard for you to do much else beyond an immediate intervention.

I don't have access to the actual training manual, but a coworker of mine (we work in an LGBTQ health and wellness organization) just went through training with this organization called Green Dot. The training is aimed at precisely what you are describing: bystander intervention to reduce/prevent personal violence in all its forms. The website is worth checking out:
http://www.livethegreendot.com/index.html
posted by Betty's Table at 10:31 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your worst case scenario is that the police will get there and things will be so quiet that they can't figure out who was causing the ruckus....... Gosh, call the cops.
posted by anaelith at 10:32 AM on May 19, 2011


Some caveats although I don't want to start an argument - these are just the things I think through in similar situations:

1. Around here, the police are corrupt, aggressive and violent, especially with people of color. If I call the police and they beat down one or both people, or they grope the woman, have I really improved anything? Your local police mileage may vary.

2. Police have a habit of screwing up domestic violence calls - arresting the injured party, doing creepy things to the woman in the case, over-riding requests from the people involved - ie, maybe the people involved are pleading with them not to arrest anyone, but they decide to arrest someone anyway.

3. If one of those people is on parole - say on bullshit drug war charges - and they get hauled back to jail over some argument that got a little yelly...well, that's not very good.

4. I actually knew a couple where there was violence in the relationship, the police were called by someone else and the woman was absolutely devastated that the guy (who was disabled) ended up back in jail. She did not want that at all and indeed just wanted to stop arguing. There is no good mechanism for dealing with domestic violence and there's this narrative of "the woman will be relieved if the guy is jailed" that does not apply in all cases. There's in fact a very patronizing "rescue the woman" mentality that does not take class and race into account or respect the wishes of the people involved.

I might call the cops or I might not; I'd have to see the specific argument and make a judgment call. I'm really wary of siccing the cops on people based on my experience with a really bad police force; your experience may be different.
posted by Frowner at 10:33 AM on May 19, 2011 [13 favorites]


@Frowner: precisely, this is why I mentioned that calling the cops is not always useful in the long run. I know the OP was not asking about same-sex domestic violence, but when that is the case, involving cops is often even more complicated (who is the abuser? who is the victim?). I, too, have little faith in cops.
posted by Betty's Table at 10:37 AM on May 19, 2011


Call the police. If you're screaming and yelling enough to wake me up in the middle of the night, you get the police called on ya.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:39 AM on May 19, 2011


I'll dissent here and say that I would do nothing in this situation. If their arguments get to be a habit then you can call the cops but frame it as a noise complaint. It's easy to imagine the worst but really you know nothing about the what's going on and cops will almost certainly make it worse.

Calling the cops on your fellow citizens should be a last resort, they are not meant to suss out the slightest sign of trouble.

On preview, yeah most of what Frowner said.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:40 AM on May 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd call the cops. I don't disagree with what Frowner is saying, necessarily, but if someone is trying to drag someone else anywhere, then the worst case scenario is "someone gets dragged into the house and injured/hurt seriously/killed". If that happens, and I didn't call the cops when I'd considered it, I'd be pretty distraught.

Depending on the time/place/the other people around, I might do something other than call the cops - like yell "are you okay?" or randomly walk out to my car to get something, or whatever - but that highly depends on the specifics of the situation.

But "doing nothing" would be my last resort, way down on the list after "call cops".
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:51 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Call the police.
(Lord knows I've called the cops on my DD neighbors more than once...ugh.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2011


I'd call the cops. I don't disagree with what Frowner is saying, necessarily, but if someone is trying to drag someone else anywhere, then the worst case scenario is "someone gets dragged into the house and injured/hurt seriously/killed". If that happens, and I didn't call the cops when I'd considered it, I'd be pretty distraught.

But there's this parallel worst-case scenario of "I call the cops and they shoot someone or seriously hurt them". This isn't crazy talk, either, and it's a huge problem for me. (On another level, if I called the cops on a neighbor and the neighbor got hurt unjustly, I would be extremely persona non grata in my neighborhood and would expect my house and possessions to be sabotaged.)

This is, seriously, why tolerating police brutality (which most places do; read up on your city's civilian review board and you'll probably be surprised and horrified) undermines civil order. If you are of a class or racial background where the cops are not your friends, you're going to be a lot more unwilling to call them even when you need to.
posted by Frowner at 11:07 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I call the police, and have many times before. Most frequently, the police lights cause them to shut up and nothing happens.

Once someone got taken away on a stretcher.

The reality of it is that once you involve multiple other people in your domestic dispute, you're taking the risk that the police will get called, with all that entails.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:22 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nthing calling the cops if someone is being attacked.

I DID call the local police station rather than 911 (given that no one was being hurt, I didn't consider it an emergency)one night when a man had been screaming "hallelujah" by the Maine Monument for half an hour after 3 am. Six cars and two ambulances showed up. What I observed looked like he was being subdued, not a Rodney King style attack.
posted by brujita at 11:26 AM on May 19, 2011


call the cops. your responsibility is not to figure out what MIGHT occur as a result of your call. your civic duty is to report (what looks like) a possible case of domestic violence or abuse.

you cannot know what will happen later, or what the circumstances of the people involved are. that's a job for the professionals to sort out. but by trying to project what *might* take place, you're ignoring what *is* taking place.
posted by wayward vagabond at 11:50 AM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Nthing the advice here to call the police, at least as soon as there is any indication of pushing or hitting. If it was drunk yelling that didn't sound like it would escalate to hitting, I probably would not have, but as soon as there was pushing or hitting or as you say, dragging, I think the best thing to do is call the police.

I actually knew a couple where there was violence in the relationship, the police were called by someone else and the woman was absolutely devastated that the guy (who was disabled) ended up back in jail. She did not want that at all and indeed just wanted to stop arguing. There is no good mechanism for dealing with domestic violence and there's this narrative of "the woman will be relieved if the guy is jailed" that does not apply in all cases. There's in fact a very patronizing "rescue the woman" mentality that does not take class and race into account or respect the wishes of the people involved.

The current mechanism for dealing with domestic violence, which is having cops come out to the house, check out the situation, and possibly arrest someone who appears to be assaulting someone else, then potentially pressing charges against that person (with those charges very often being dependent on the willing testimony of the person who was being assaulted), being followed by a petition for a restraining order if necessary on the part of the assaultee against the assaulter, is so much more acceptable to me than the course which you seem to be recommending here in many cases, which is shutting your eyes and going back to the days where domestic disputes were treated like intrafamily matters that didn't merit police intervention. If the woman in your anecdote was being hit, I'm sorry but it does not seem crazy to send the guy that was hitting her to jail. If she wasn't being hit by him she certainly could have testified to that effect, and it would seem unlikely that he would be sent to jail, disabled or not. Once you're being hit and are physically in danger to the point that your neighbors are disturbed and are calling the cops on you, I'm sorry if the solution provided isn't the optimal one for you or the assaulter as long as it is effective in stopping the immediate violence, which it does seem to have done.

Also, this argument was more than "a little yelly" as you suggest: the man "grabbed at and pushed and almost tried to drag" the woman inside, and there was not just yelling but screaming, too.

I'm not saying I don't sympathize with your concerns about class and race, but for me the answer would not be hold off in calling for police intervention unless the guy was white or didn't seem likely to have a record or something like that. I think getting involved in that kind of calculus could only lead to mayhem and mistakes. I'm a woman, though, so maybe I'm biased on this issue.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:18 PM on May 19, 2011 [14 favorites]


Having been in bad situations as a child and adult even in cities where the police weren't necessarily the good guys, I would still advise you to call the cops.

Even having lived in neighbourhoods where the Frowner's points are more valid than not, I would still advise you to call the cops.

With far too many experiences amongst friends, family, and acquaintances wherein an apparently wonderful, caring partner suddenly turned violent enough to do real damage in a few, brief seconds of rage, I'd definitely advise you to call the cops.

The worst case alternative for the individual facing immediate potential harm - particularly if the person assaulting them is forcing them out of the public eye - is grave enough that the other possibilities pale in comparison.

And, yes, even if the person being (potentially) assaulted doesn't want that outcome, that's too bad: they need to work with their partner on developing methods of discussion that don't put people in fear for their lives.
posted by batmonkey at 1:24 PM on May 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


A few years ago, we lived next door to a large Victorian that was always rented out to groups of college students. One morning, I was up early and saw a couple in my driveway. Both were partially dressed and both were crying and yelling. One was a young man I knew lived in the house. The girl, I had never seen before. I watched for a moment, thinking it was a couple having some kind of relationship drama, when he suddenly picked her up, slung her over his should and started carrying her back to the house. She escaped, he caught her by the leg and started dragging her across my yard, back to the house. I grabbed the phone, went out on the porch and told them I was calling 911. He dragged her back into the house, the police came and took the girl away in one car and the boy was taken away in a separate car. I have no idea what happened, but I definitely think a call to the police was warranted.

I think in your situation, it might have been too. I guess I draw the line when physical contact is made.
posted by MorningPerson at 1:29 PM on May 19, 2011


Another police vote here, for the reasons onlyconnect says. We tried the "look the other way" method. It didn't work too well. Problems with community policing can be considered and dealt with separate from incidents of assault happening right now.

I am also sympathetic to those problems, but this kind of incident is not when you decide to mount some silent act of protest, ignore what you see, and sacrifice a person's safety and perhaps life to the principle of responsible policing. There are appropriate times and places to address that problem - and if it's going unaddressed when things are quiet, and only thought about when incidents happen, that lack of action during peaceful times to improve policing just contributes to the climate in which people can be assaulted without any recourse to protection and justice.
posted by Miko at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had this debate once with a friend because we overheard a load argument with banging coming from a nearby apartment. I was scared to call the cops or intervene. We ended up knocking on the door and asking if everything was alright. They were moving out , probably fighting and it was quiet after that. I say probably because I had heard yelling from the apartment in the past.

Next time, I would call the cops. Intervening myself could have put me at risk of a violent encounter. Most likely, a knock on the door will diffuse the fight but if there is something more physical happening, I would rather the police deal with it - that is there job.

While there are lots of problems with the way police deal with domestic violence, I think that the alternative of doing nothing is unacceptable.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:57 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've worked as both a criminal defense attorney, and for the prosecution. Law enforcement in the family, too. Call the cops. Putting hands on other people to end an argument or shut them up is not ok. It's a crime.
posted by Hylas at 2:15 PM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Frowner, again, not saying I totally disagree, but when I have to make the choice between potentially-bad-person-cop and potentially-bad-person-domestic, I'm usually going with the cop.

Maybe, ultimately, what this whole thing speaks to is that we're all better off if we get to know something about our neighbors. Because if you know your neighbors, maybe you have a better sense of what is going on, and what is needed, or how to help, or feel more comfortable getting personally involved (on the knock-on-the-door level instead of the call-the-cops level - because I'm not knocking on the door of a neighbor where there's screaming if I don't have some other means of assessing the situation). (this isn't meant to be directed at Frowner or OP, but just a general statement - I don't know my neighbors, either, really).
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:39 PM on May 19, 2011


Can you even be sure it was domestic violence? It might have been strangers or people on a 'date'. Or non garden variety domestic violence, a parent and a child maybe.

I think I would err on the side of calling the police.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:53 PM on May 19, 2011


Almost every time that I have seen people screaming at each other in public, it has escalated into SOMETHING that required police. Its rare when its not. Screaming at each other in public is a big sign that says "something will happen...call the cops quick".
posted by hal_c_on at 11:43 PM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


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