Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine what is right and what is wrong. It seems easy from a young age, when our choices are clear cut, and we are limited to picking between the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. But as we grow older, choosing between right and wrong becomes a lot less black and white, as the lines between the two begin to blur. We’re taught to prioritize ourselves because that's what matters in the long run. As we’re presented with the dilemma of David Cash, the difference between right and wrong seemingly becomes transparent once again. David Cash chose the despicable action of turning his back on Sherrice Iverson, choosing to let a little girl die at the hands of his companion. When we are asked the question “What would you have done if you were David Cash”, the answer is simple: do anything possible to prevent her death. However, I believe that the far more important question that should be asked in this situation is “What would you have wanted to be done if you were Sherrice Iverson”? Ultimately, the severity of a “wrong” should be determined not by the level of inaction taken by a bystander, but rather the level of consequences inflicted upon the victim.
David Cash’s actions should have been governed by the events that he witnessed. His choice between action and inaction should have been determined by putting himself into the shoes of Sherrice, rather than saving trouble for himself because “[he] did not know this little girl… and [is not] going to lose sleep over somebody else’s problem”. The obligations that a person receives when witnessing a wrong should purely be determined by the consequences that could be inflicted upon a victim. For example, if a person sees another person stealing a pack of gum at a gas station, the level of consequence inflicted upon the victim (in this case, the gas station manager) is relatively low. If the person were to put themselves into the shoes of the gas station manager, they would be relatively unbothered by this act, although it did negatively affect them slightly. Another example of this would be if a person witnessed another person’s car being stolen. In this scenario, the person should have an obligation to try to prevent this from occurring, as the consequence for the potential victim is much more severe. In the case of David Cash, the consequence for the victim (Sherrice Iverson) is at its utmost peak, being molestation and possibly death. Cash has a mandatory humane obligation to respond, yet he chooses to ignore it for the sake of himself. Once again, the different rules for obligations to respond depend entirely on the severity of potential consequences upon the victim.
To paraphrase @yvesIKB, it was not David Cash’s job to help the situation, but rather a responsibility or “mutual contract” of living within a modern society. The term “mutual contract” especially stood out to me because it represents the moral understanding that we as humans share amongst ourselves. Feeling compassion for those less fortunate than us is something that we instinctively understand. It’s why we feel sympathy for the movie character being bullied or the little rabbit being chased by a pack of wolves, and it’s also why we’re shocked by David Cash’s choice to abandon a little girl in cold blood. It goes against our innate moral compass.
As we further explore this situation, it goes without saying that most everybody hearing the story of Sherrice Iverson would have chosen to intervene had they been present. Yet, in modern day, bystander behavior continues to be an issue. In the article “Nightmare on the 36 Bus”, by Brian McGrory, a group of people on a bus choose not to intervene as a man beats his son before their eyes. Eyewitness Daniel Auclair recalls hoping to stay out of the situation, believing it to possibly be a familial matter between the two and likely being unwilling to get in the way of the raging man. In a more recent article, “The Bystander Effect in the Cellphone Age”, by Judy Harris, it’s shown that bystander behavior has increased as people are compelled by the urge to compulsively record and document emergency situations via their cell phones instead of rushing to help. While this point was interesting to consider, I disagree with the idea. I do not believe that cell phones have begun to increase bystander behavior in the sense that people are hypnotically drawn to using them, but rather have provided another excuse for observers to feign participation in the crisis. Excuses for bystander behavior have existed far longer than cell phone use. In the case of the 36 Bus, the bystanders had a variety of reasons not to get involved: it was late at night, they were cold, it was not their place to involve themselves in another family’s business. Similarly, the bystanders present at the fire could have pointed to the simple reason that another man had already gone in to warn the inhabitants, and that they did not want to further risk their lives and instead chose to document what was happening. Even in the case of David Cash, he himself made a public statement that he did not know Sherrice, and therefore was not inclined to help. This statement made by Cash is disturbing, but not out of the ordinary, as we’ve clearly seen from the two previous articles. Excuses for bystander behavior will exist regardless of the circumstance; it merely depends on the severity of the situation as to whether or not they’re accepted. This further necessitates the importance of “putting yourself in the shoes of the victim” and understanding the “moral contract” within our society.
After examining these three varying scenarios, it begs the question of how legal rules can be structured in order to best govern the decision to either act or witness? To further add on to @squirrelluver123 ‘s point, I also believe that there should be a law to punish bystander behavior, but the question is, where does the line cross ignoring from small infractions to failing to act while witnessing large scale crimes? In short, should a person watching another person stealing a pack of gum from a gas station receive the same punishment as a person watching another’s car get stolen? After some brainstorming, my idea for a law regarding bystander behavior is as follows: if a person fails to report a crime which may cost the victim money, the infraction level depends on the amount of money which may be lost by the victim in relation to their total savings (i.e. if the amount stolen would significantly damage the victim’s savings), if a person fails to report a crime which clearly would damage a person’s mental or physical wellbeing, they will be charged according to the level of damage inflicted upon the victim, and if a person clearly witnesses a life or death situation befalling another and fails to report it, they will be charged with manslaughter. This “law” that I created clearly has loopholes and areas that I forgot to address, but I believe that it encompasses my previous points well. The moral rule for witnessing an unfortunate event should relate to how you would hope somebody else would react if you were the victim. In summary, we have an obligation to act sometimes, depending on the situation we are in and the level of consequence for the victim, but in the case of life or death, everybody always carries a responsibility to act, for it is their civic and human duty.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan originates from the Bible, where it’s told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, so it’s only fitting that another Bible verse should be the rule for how we can uphold ourselves within society and not fall victim to bystander behavior - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. If we can all strive to live our lives by this rule, a tragedy like that of Sherrice Iverson would never have to repeat itself, and I truly believe, that the world would become a much better place.