Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is this what we've come to?

All day today, I've been thinking about that bizarre story out of Western Canada about the bus from Edmonton to Winnipeg and how near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba one passenger suddenly and without warning started stabbing another passenger and then decapitated him.

It is not the gruesome nature of the crime that is shocking, although there is certainly an element of that. I don't think the "banality of evil," a term coined by Hannah Arendt, even begins to cover the concept. It is not just the nature of the crime which was committed without motive and with no reason, but also the fact the other passengers heard and saw the commotion and did not do a single thing to help the victim or to restrain the attacker.

I just don't buy the argument that the other riders were scared to do anything. There were more of them than this one guy with a knife. Of course he could have been stopped.

The "fear" expressed by the passengers on that bus was the same as the "fear" of the male students at L'École Polytechnique à l'Université de Montréal in 1989, at the time of the Montréal Massacre. 15, 20 male students or so could have stopped Marc Lépine? Maybe just one? The maniac orders them out of the room, and all of them obeyed -- every single one. Not one stood up to say no. Not one.

In the United States, in most states, the failure to act to save someone's life might -- in the appropriate circumstances -- be prosecuted as homicide by depraved indifference. Not murder one or even murder two, but a more serious charge than manslaughter. In Canada? The burden of proof is so high that it would be pleaded down to criminal negligence, if the prosecutor was lucky.

We tend to view these crimes as isolated incidents. I respectfully disagree. It's indicative of a much bigger issue ... the increasing lack of respect we have not so much for authority, but for each other. Whether we like it or not, we're becoming more and more like Americans in Canada and in ways I and many others do not like.

As I have from the age of fourteen, I continue to oppose the death penalty. But crimes like this, especially crimes of passion (or lack thereof) need special consideration by the courts. I would have no qualms about designating said suspect a dangerous offender if the evidence as we've heard so far is proven true in court.

One last thing: The bus company, Greyhound, notes that it would be almost impossible to implement airport style security along its bus network, especially when many of its stops are in isolated areas and are little more than shelters with automated ticket kiosks. That may be true, but it wouldn't hurt to have the occasional random spot check both at pickup points but also along the way. It would offer some assurance to paying passengers. Not complete assurance but enough to put confidence back in the system.

I agree with journalist Alexandra Kitty on this one -- we should be "Let's Roll" people, not "Duck and Cover" people.

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Mark Bailey said...

I agree with the spot checks, although a bizarre and rare occurrence Greyhound certainly needs to do something to regain confidence in the system.

As for whether passengers should have intervened, I ask myself the same question, but I think we need more details. From all accounts the attacker simply silently stood up without drawing any attention to himself and them starting stabbing. A blood curdling scream ensued, whether from the attacker or victim I am not sure, but likely from the victim. The victim at this point may have been a messy, gory site. This would be enough to put most people in to shock, panic, and terror.

It is a truly awful scenario to even think about. I have little doubt that the attacker will prove to have a severe psychological history and not on his medication, and in the near future this event will spark a wider debate, not on the death penalty, but on the effectiveness of our mental health services.


BlastFurnace said...

I think your last point is a good one, Mark. I noticed at the comment threat over at the CBC's website that quite a few think this "insane" person should be executed. By definition, an insane person cannot be because he or she was not able to appreciate the consequences of their actions.

I too would like to know this guy's mental health history and if he had been flagged previously. If so then the health authorities in his home province have a lot of explaining to do.

Anonymous said...

This is not anything like la Polytechnique massacre. At all.

Unless of course, you are using this horrifying murder on the Greyhound bus to rehash December 6th, stop right now. A knife is not a semi-automatic rifle. An engineering classroom on the eve of winter session exams in a university is not a intra-city passenger bus.

BlastFurnace said...

A rifle is not a knife. A classroom is not a bus. But a coward is still a coward.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with more security for buses. They are practically fine as they are. This could have happened at a bus stop, on a train, in a doctor's office. It doesn't make anyone any more safe to have spot checks to try and scare people who are as insane as this killer is.

Dan said...

I'm not sure how you would catch this guy in a random spot check. "Excuse me, are you completely crazy and about to hack someone to death? ... Oh, you are? In that case you'd better come with me sir."

deBeauxOs said...

Perhaps you like to think that you could overpower a man in the throes of a profound psychotic episode. Fine. But for the information of your readers, please consider the following.

If someone in your proximity suddenly explodes in homicidal violence, ask yourself if you have the means (a weapon) and/or the skills (martial arts, say) to stop this person by disarming them and physically restraining them. If the answer is no, then the best you can do is to lead as many other potential victims of this raging homicidal assailant out of harm's way, quickly.

In the abstract, we all imagine that this killer could have been stopped before he had done irreparable injury to his seating companion. In reality, I believe not. By the time he may have been stopped, he would have likely injured many other passengers, some of them grievously too and his original victim would have died of trauma wounds anyway.

But go ahead, do judge the passengers of this bus from the relative safety of your computer bench.

BlastFurnace said...

I'll leave it to the passengers on the bus to defend themselves. My question is simply, there could have been one to stop it -- or at least try to. Maybe they couldn't have saved the victim. But at least they could have stopped the part where he was decapitated. No one deserves that.

David said...

Maybe they couldn't have saved the victim. But at least they could have stopped the part where he was decapitated. No one deserves that.

That's crazy talk. With all due respect.

I think you really really REALLY underestimate the terror of that incident. Maybe you would have acted differently, but the human instinct for self-preservation is strong and that was an extremely fast-moving and brutal scene in a confined space. It was getting late. People were dozing. None of those people was prepared to intervene in a murder. That lunatic just went off like an explosion. Instant terror.

Think about the space. Yes, there were enough passengers to outnumber the armed person. But in a bus there is no easy way to surround and overwhelm someone. One of you will be the front of the line dealing pretty much one-on-one with the crazy guy holding the big big knife. And he might well kill you.

I doubt that anyone had time to process that sort of information on the conscious level. But our minds work fast, and survival took over in the first few seconds. And then you're off the bus. Feel like making a brave dash back in? Good luck, pally, but howsabout you give me the contact info for your next of kin, just in case.

So I think you ought to hold off with the E-Z judgments. Especially, I think that it's crass to suggest that this is some kind of barometer reading of the Canadian spirit. This is a total outlier incident.

In the United States, in most states, the failure to act to save someone's life might -- in the appropriate circumstances -- be prosecuted as homicide by depraved indifference.

Cite, please.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! All of the passengers on that bus are victims. They will all suffer from recollections and flashbacks of this horrific event. I find your blaming the victims to be insensitive in the extreme.

One passenger has been quoted as saying he wanted to stop the guy and called out for others to help him do so. They were too busy fleeing for their lives.

Like many people, I can watch a horror film and even the occasional slasher movie without much cringing. Real life, however, is a different story.

Several years ago, I was one of the first on the scene of a traffic accident. Being a tradesman, I was trained in first aid and carried a well-equipped first aid kit in my work van. I stopped and walked to the mangled vehicle where a few others had already gathered. It was obvious that the driver was dead and another first responder advised me as much. I only caught a brief glimpse of the unfortunate individual. That was about 15 years ago. The vision still haunts me.

According to witnesses in this Greyhound thing, the stabbing victim had been repeatedly stabbed in the throat with a large hunting knife. The chances of disarming that madman and saving the victim were essentially nil. To have attempted would have only meant more injuries and possibly more deaths. Considering how this played out, I think the passengers did the right thing by evacuating and barricading the door.

I will not compound the trauma and stress of those passenger-victims with recriminations and accusations. By the time they had an inkling of the horror unfolding, the stabbing victim was beyond help.


Anonymous said...

Well next time (God forbid) there's an unemotive psychopath on a bus methodically gutting someone with a butcher knife, I hope you're on the bus so you can stop him, tough guy.

Nastyboy said...

A rifle is not a knife. A classroom is not a bus. But a coward is still a coward.

Oh bullshit. You'd shit your pants and run, just like everyone else on the bus. Is your subscription to "Internet Tough Guy" magazine paid up? It's real easy to know what to do behind the confines of a keyboard isn't it?

Unknown said...

I'm glad nobody stood up to defend this poor man.

That these kinds of things happen so rarely in our society is precisely why we panic, go into shock, and develop instant and unutterable fear. Only the kind of person who regularly sees this kind of horror could stand up and take action. The normal human response if paralyzing fear, and rightly so.

We are not raised to react with honour and courage to such incomprehensible events. Well, ok, I was, but only because I took "Disarming a crazed psycho with a kinfe on a bus 101" in Junior High. The rest of us have to go through Vietnam or WWI to get this kind of training. If you haven't been there, you probably would run screaming too, and that's just fine.

Steve V said...

People where literally throwing up, which to me speaks to the sheer horror. It's easy to comment, from the confines of your warm, calm environment.