An assault, an ethical dilemma, and a wrong decision

I’m walking home from shopping when I see a man of about 25 shouting and holding a can of beer. I’m not sure if he’s on his phone (as most people “taking to themselves” are these days) or disturbed. As I come close to him he throws beer from the can in my face.

“Hey, you shouldn’t have done that. That’s assault,” I say in a manner that might have seemed absurdly calm.

This annoys him. He shouts at me. I carry on walking.

“Turn round, or I swear I’m going to kill you.”

I turn round. He grabs my shirt at my throat. “Are you once sighted or twice sighted? Answer me.”

I say something. I can’t remember exactly what. I’m not scared but I’m wary. My heart rate has not gone up. Something tells me the man is not that dangerous.

“That’s right.” He lets me go.

I walk on, wondering if I should call the police.

A young couple, who must have seen everything come up beside me.

“Are you OK?” asks the woman.


“You took it all remarkably calmly. Craig [or whatever his name was, I can’t remember] would have punched him in the face.”

“I don’t think that would have been wise. He’s crazy.”

Why didn’t I call the police? I made an instant, unthought-through decision not to. But was I wrong? Lin thinks so. The obvious reason to call the police would have been to stop him doing the same thing, or something worse, to somebody else. It might also be that he could be helped: he was in a deranged state.

I didn’t call the police because of an instinctive reluctance to do so, the thought that the incident was minor, an illogical feeling that the criminal justice system is not the best way to deal with the mentally ill, and a feeling that I didn’t need any retribution for myself. I was probably also influenced by not wanting my afternoon taken up with answering police questions and not wanting to appear in court, although the one time I did appear in court–for a day and a half–I enjoyed it; and in this case I would be the victim, so probably not interrogated aggressively.

In retrospect, I did the wrong thing. I should have called the police. I will not feel good if I learn that somebody has been seriously assaulted.


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