How to be a good bystander
You’re a good, responsible bystander. You know that if someone is getting harassed or attacked, you might be able to help. You have 911 and all the appropriate emergency seven-digit numbers programmed in your cell phone so you can call the right agency, fast, in order to get police or medical help when you or someone else needs it.
(If you don't, take a minute to find the direct lines for your local police department(s) and put them into your phone so they're handy when you need them.)
But did you know that calling 911 might not always be the most appropriate thing to do? There’s a possibility that the person you’re trying to help might not want to speak to law enforcement because of current fear or past experience.
“46% of all transgender and gender non‐conforming people are 'uncomfortable' seeking police help.”* It’s a terrible fact, but both people of color and people in the queer and trans community are at higher risk of facing police harassment and arrest simply by being in public.
How can you know what’s right to do in the heat of the moment? It’s simple. There are only two parts:
- Ask: “Do you want me to call the police?”
- Respect the answer you’re given.
Maybe you wouldn’t make the same choice, if you were in the same situation. But as a bystander, that’s just the point. We’re not in the same situation. We’re noticing it, witnessing it. We're acting to help the best we safely can, and that includes respecting the wishes of the person we want to help.
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