The violent confrontation between a group of aggrieved bikers and the driver of a sports utility vehicle (with his family on-board) in Manhattan turned into an ugly incident that left both the driver and one of the cyclists seriously injured. You can see the disturbing video of the attack—captured on one of the cyclist’s helmetcam—-here. Who precipitated the incident will have to be sorted out in court, but the there is little question that only the intervention of bystanders stopped further injury to the driver and perhaps his family—an inspiring example of witnesses to a wrong stepping in at personal risk to themselves and making a difference. One of the rescuers—there were others, not yet named—was Sergio Consuera. Continue reading
Charles Ramsey is a hero without qualification. He saw someone in peril and acted, kicking in his neighbor’s door to help a woman and a child who were strangers to him. This assertive and proactive conduct led to the rescue of three young women missing for a decade. Yet because Ramsey is unrepentantly expressive in the manner of his community and peer group, and is not the typical white, middle class American who tends to dominate the internet, videos of his account of the event, replete with colorful slang and vernacular and his own expressive flourishes, have become objects of mockery and ridicule on the web, with a nasty racist edge. He is now a viral meme, especially his signature quote about knowing something is wrong when “a little pretty white girl” runs into “a black man’s arms.”
Wrong. I love Ramsey, and love his open, clear, emotional, story-teller’s manner. He is articulate in the true spirit of the word—interesting, vivid, clear and genuine. John Kerry should communicate so well. Mitch McConnell should hire him as a coach. If Al Sharpton could convey such sincerity, we’d all be in trouble. Continue reading
Rescue is a frequent topic on Ethics Alarms, usually in a disturbing context. We all have a duty to rescue others in peril, but we should never underestimate the powerful forces that often work against that duty. Rescue can be dangerous or frightening, and often there are perplexing questions about when an individual has done enough to ensure a rescue, and what constitutes “enough,” especially if the rescue fails.
In March, the Star Princess—a luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival—was on a cruise around South America. Three of the passengers were bird-watchers, who eschewed shuffleboard and the other fun activities organized by whoever was the counterpart to Lauren Tewes on “The Love Boat” to use their binoculars and telescopes to spot seabirds from the ship’s decks.
It was March 10 when one of the bird-lovers, Jeff Gilligan from Portland, Oregon., saw a boat with a person standing up in it, waving a dark piece of cloth. The vessel was at least a mile away. Another Oregon bird-watcher, Judy Meredith, told reporters that when she focused her lenses on the boat, it was clear to her that the man waving the cloth was trying to get the Star Princess’s attention, and that the boat was drifting, without an engine. She went inside to try to alert the crew about the situation. After she talked to one crew member, she says, he called the bridge and she talked him through what she and Gilligan had seen.”I was trying to have a sense or urgency in my voice — and tell them that the boat was in distress, and they were trying to get our attention.” Another crew member used Gilligan’s telescope to look at the drifting boat, and confirmed their assessment. The boat was drifting in the open seas and in peril. Gilligan said that at that point “We were a bit relieved because he had confirmed that he had seen what we were describing. We expected the ship to turn back or stop or something.” Continue reading
There are those who say that human beings are incapable of truly altruistic conduct, and that everything we do, no matter how outwardly generous and selfless, is in fact self-serving. There are others, and I am among them, who believe that human beings have natural ethical instincts that lead them to sacrifice for the benefit of society generally, those in peril, and those who are weaker than themselves, especially children. Those instincts can be nurtured by our culture or extinguished by it, but I believe that they are there in most of us….for a while, at least, sometimes weak or dormant, but there, nonetheless.
They were obviously there in Specialist Dennis P. Weichel Jr. of Providence, Rhode Island, a National Guardsman serving in an Afghan province east of Kabul. On March 22, he left the 16-ton gun truck he was riding in to disperse local children who were wandering in front of his heavily armored convoy, searching for treasure, the brass shell casings that could be melted down for other uses or be sold. Suddenly a small girl saw a casing and ran into the path of one of the huge military vehicles. Weichel, a father of three, dashed to her, grabbed her, and threw her to safety unharmed. The gun truck struck the Guardsman instead, fatally injuring him.
Weichel was engaged to be married. He is the first member of the Rhode Island National Guard to die in Afghanistan.
Nothing can erase the tragedy of the U.S. serviceman who turned mass murderer in Afghanistan a month ago, and Weichel’s heroism is unlikely to change any hearts and minds there. That wasn’t Weichel’s objective anyway. He saw a young life in danger and acted, risking his own. It would be a better United States if all of us were raised to react as he did, and if our culture more unambiguously encouraged our best instincts rather than our worst ones. The cliché mouthed by politicians is that our military combat personnel are fighting for American values. Dennis Weichel demonstrated that they also carry American values with them, and in his case, he displayed the very finest.
Weichel was promoted posthumously from specialist to sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star, which is appropriate, and Rhode Island’s flags are being flown at half-mast. The honor he most deserves, however, is to be remembered and emulated by the rest of us.
Robert Biggs is a naturalist who often hikes in California’s Bean Soup Flat area. He was hiking recently there when he came across a mother bear, a yearling and a newborn. Biggs had seen the same bear and its older cub last spring and fall, and said that they developed something of a trusting relationship. “The cub stood up on its hind legs and put its paws up and I got to play patty-cake with it,” he said. He said the mother bear watched the two play and her only reaction was to call the cub back.
Yes, Biggs is apparently insane. But never mind.
After watching his patty-caking bear family, Biggs continued on his hike up the trail. As he turned to go, a mountain lion lept on his back, knocking him to the ground. “They usually grab hold of your head with all four paws, but my backpack was up above my head and the lion grabbed it instead,” Biggs said. “It must have been stalking the little bear, but it was on me in seconds.”
He tried to fight off the predator, but it didn’t let go. Suddenly, Biggs’ pal the mother bear came from behind and attacked the lion, tearing its grip from the backpack. They fought as Biggs sought safety; the big cat finally retreated. Biggs had bite marks, scratches and bruises to his arm, but was otherwise uninjured. Continue reading
On March 11, 2009, Mark Kinkaid and David Kelley were riding in Kinkaid’s truck when they saw a detached bumper, headlights and all, lying in the middle of Rt. 23. Smoke was rising up from the highway embankment, and the two men concluded that someone was in trouble. The truck stopped, and they got out, hopped a barbed-wire fence, made their way down the steep highway embankment, where they saw a flaming Hummer. Theresa Tanner was trapped inside, screaming for help. They forced their way into the vehicle, pried a door open and pulled Tanner out. She was injured and burned, but after weeks in intensive care, survived.
Now Kinkaid and David Kelley are suing Tanner, claiming that the crash was her fault and that she is liable for the injuries they sustained in rescuing her. They have filed a lawsuit asking for damages of at least $25,000 each. “All I know is that I am not the same man I used to be,” says Kelley, a 39-year-old truck driver and father of five, who says the heavy smoke and fire that day damaged his lungs so that he can’t carry a laundry basket up the three flights of stairs in his home.
The law provides a rationale for such a lawsuit. “The precedent is clear: danger invites rescue … and if you’ve acted recklessly or negligently and someone gets hurt rescuing you, you could be in trouble,” says Stan Darling, a tort law specialist. A well-established principle known as “the Rescue Doctrine” holds that if someone is in peril because of their own negligence or recklessness, an injured rescuer can recover damages if he acted reasonably and can prove that his injuries were caused by the rescue attempt.
That’s the law, however. This is ethics, and your Ethics Quiz today is:
Is it ethical for a rescuer to sue the person he rescued? Continue reading