Another Approach to Ending Violence

About ten years ago I was travelling on the subway early in the evening.

Tired after a long day, I was in no mood to deal with excitement. So when

a large rowdy group of young men got on the car, I moved as far away from

them as possible and buried my nose in my newspaper. They fairly crackled

with belligerence and bravado--and perhaps alcohol and dope.


Several stations passed by as I read, oblivious to all. I heaved a sigh of

relief as the car noticeably quieted when the gang exited at Spadina

Station. But then a woman began to scream. Leaping to my feet, newspaper

forgotten, I saw an old woman on the platform. She stood, arms

outstretched, face pleading, between the toughs and a man lying bleeding on

the platform. The gang rained blows from feet and hands on their

defenceless victim, but the elderly matron interposed herself, braving

fists and boots, to plead with them to stop.


I pulled the emergency cord which stops the train and ran out to help.

Others were gathering around as I knelt by the victim--a young man, too,

but soft-faced and elegant in a stylish jacket and dockers with good

loafers and a look that might have been gay. Blood streamed from his ears,

eyes, mouth and nose as the blows continued to fall on him and me and the

old lady. A crowd was gathering around us but no one but the old lady and

I had come forward.


My First Aid training automatically clicked in as I stood up and looked a

well dressed business man in the eyes. I commanded, "Go for help. Go to

the ticket booth, tell them what is happening, and ask them to get the

police NOW!" The audience snapped out of their shock and several men

jumped in to stop the violence. The first was a tall well built black

teenager -- the living embodiment of so many urban fears. This young man,

obviously trained in the martial arts, confronted several of the rowdy

teens and commanded them to, "STOP NOW!" as he shifted smoothly into a

defensive posture. The gang ran.


I bent to the man on the ground, tearing off my sweat shirt to stop some of

the bleeding (I never got my shirt back -- such is the price of a good

story). The old lady joined me as we cared for him. Soon we were

surrounded and moved aside by emergency personnel--police, ambulance,

transit security, etc.


As we waited by the ticket booth for the police to take our statements, a

woman came out of the crowd and asked me, "Who did this to that poor man?

Were they black?" Both the old lady and I were aghast, our mouths fell

open quite literally. "No," said I, "In fact, the first man to come to our

aid was that young gentleman over there -- and, as you may note, he is



After the police were through with us, the elderly woman, calm and almost

serene until now, begin to cry and shake from head to foot. I put my arms

around her and held her as a story spilled out. "You see", she said in a

thick German accent, "When I was a young girl in Germany, I saw the Nazi

brown shirts beat and kick people just like this. And there was nothing I

could do. I was too young. I swore then that when I grew up I would never

stand by and watch it happen."


This woman, no taller than five feet, frail with ivory skin mottled with

age spots and veined with blue, this person with her lined face wet with

tears, had been willing to stand alone against seven or eight

streetfighters to protect a stranger. I accompanied her home on the subway

because after her courage she was afraid of the dark.


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