How To Respond To Racist Attacks: A Bystander's Guide

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The world is full of nuts these days, so being ready to defend a victim is a major concern for many of us. Here's how to do so safely and effectively.

Man holding a V sign with his fingers.Seeing helpless victims fall prey to hateful individuals is never an easy task. Still, the natural instinct to help may lead good Samaritans into dark rabbit holes, putting them in great danger.

In order to help our readers have a better understanding of what's at stake, we have put together a guide that will help anyone who's willing to do the right thing get their message across. By following these tips, you will be helping to stand up for what's right without putting yourself — or others — in danger.

1. Assess the situation

You're on a bus, a train, or on the street, and you see a bully attacking someone for their religion, the color of their skin, or their political beliefs. At that moment, you ask yourself if you should confront the attacker or try to de-escalate the situation. 

According to Andrew J. Scott, retired police chief and president of AJS Consulting, that is the main dilemma individuals face when witnessing abusive incidents. 

“In this society, we're raised to not allow bullies to engage in racist behavior and to intervene verbally," Scott told CNN. "Bullies tend to back down when verbally challenged.”

But in cases such as the Portland, Oregon, stabbing attack, the bully wasn't just someone trying to intimidate his victims.

“[The attacker in this case] is a sociopath or a psychopath, and it's not the norm,” Scott said.

So before intervening, ask yourself whether the attacker appears to be intoxicated or mentally unstable. If you're alone, and the assailant seems ready to harm others, call the police.

If the perpetrator isn't much larger than you and you have already established that you're not cornered and may easily escape if the altercation becomes violent, you might decide to verbally intervene. But according to Scott, you should never ignore that these situations are fluid, and that they may escalate quickly.

2. Stay calm

When blinded by fear and frustration, we tend to act irrationally. Much like the attacker, we tend to let emotions run the show when we're in an altered state of mind, keeping us from being able to get the important points across. Instead of losing control of your emotions, take a deep breath and let the attacker know what you think about his or her behavior.

Not all bullies are violent or unreasonable; sometimes they will stop and listen if approached correctly.

If you're calm, collected, and you're mentally prepared to discuss why he or she is wrong instead of verbally attacking the instigator, chances are you might even change someone's mind in the process.

3. Act accordingly

If the attacker appears to be getting aggressive or violent, do not try to stop him on your own if you're not physically able to do so. As Scott told CNN, larger, stronger attackers may end up hurting you, and then hurting others if you try to intervene.

If you're in an environment where you're not the only one standing up to the attacker, the assailant may back down out of fear of being tackled. But if you're alone, call for help.

Have 911 and other emergency numbers set on speed dial on your phone and be ready to give officers the information necessary to ensure the attacker is easily recognized. Do not attempt to be a hero if you aren't capable of stopping an aggressive, unstable person who may be carrying a weapon.

But, if the attacker isn't being violent or showing signs of aggression, simply stand firm and make your case. Still, keep in mind, you should never physically touch the attacker as he or she might interpret that as an attack.

If someone else is standing up to a bully, and you are the witness, obtain footage of the confrontation on your phone if possible so the good Samaritan has proof later that he or she was in the right.

Regardless of what you choose to do, keep in mind that being prepared and staying calm will boost your chances of success.

So, do not overreact, assess the situation and environment first, and be ready to call for help if needed.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user mathiaswasik

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