The town of Turlock, Ca., was shocked when a 27-year-old man beat and stomped his 2-year-old son to death on a rural road. What was nearly as stunning for many people was that none of the motorists and their passengers who stopped and saw the attack tried to tackle the man, says the San Francisco Chronicle. Police officers and psychologists familiar with violent emergencies said they weren’t surprised. A volunteer firefighter and at least five others saw Sergio Aguiar assaulting his son Saturday night but it wasn’t until a police officer arrived in a helicopter that the attack ended. Aguiar refused to stop and raised his middle finger at the officer, who shot him to death.
Bystanders are justifiably scared and confused in such situations, experts said, and they lack the experience needed to respond with force. They can also be mesmerized by shock. John Conaty, a veteran homicide detective and former patrol officer in Pittsburg, Ca., said that in interviews of witnesses to violence, “the common thing you hear is, ‘I was frozen in fear. I just couldn’t take action.’ “”I would not condemn these people,” said John Darley, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University who has studied how bystanders react in emergency situations. “Ordinary people aren’t going to tackle a psychotic. Royjindar Singh, a spokesman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, acknowledged there was some “Monday morning quarterbacking” taking place, but said his agency had no problem with the actions of the witnesses.