The Cost of Doing the Right Thing

Patti Davis recounts a time she spoke up about a life-and-death situation, and the unwelcome responses.

by Patti Davis • More.com columnist
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Growing up, I was taught the importance of taking a stand against the mistreatment of others. When you see a wrong or an injustice, you do something about it. When my father was playing football at Eureka College and his team had an away game, he refused to stay in a hotel that didn’t allow his black teammates.

In the simplicity of childhood, I believed this was how the world worked--most of the time anyway. I was 12 years old when Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her Queens, New York apartment building in 1964. Neighbors heard her screams but did nothing. I still recall my shock that such a thing could happen. The Genovese case gave rise to a phrase called the “bystander effect.” Simply put, if more people are around when a violent incident occurs, they are less likely to intervene. They figure no one else is doing anything, so why should they?

In March of this year, Jayna Murray was murdered in a Lululemon store in Bethesda, Maryland while two Apple employees stood listening on the other side of the wall. She is this generation’s Kitty Genovese. The Apple employees heard her sobbing for help, but decided it was probably just “drama.” The attack lasted over a half hour; 331 wounds were inflicted. No one even called 911.

In a perfect world, people wouldn’t think twice about helping someone in need; they wouldn’t refuse to get involved and they wouldn’t worry about a backlash if they did.

I experienced the latter recently–-not with something as extreme as a murder, but it was serious enough.

At the small gym where I was working out, a trainer kept leaving his dog locked in the car in the parking lot for hours every day. I spoke to him numerous times about how dangerous it was. He said he took the dog out sometimes to walk him, so there was no problem. I spoke to the manager and to other trainers who said they would also tell the man how dangerous this is. I gave the dog cups of water through the partially open window. I considered calling the police, but I wanted to deal with it in a more civil manner.

The temperature inside a car can reach 145 degrees in minutes; a person or an animal can die of heatstroke in that amount of time. It’s illegal in California and many other states to leave a dog locked in a car. Despite being told this, the trainer kept doing it.

Finally one morning, when the temperature was nearly 80 and the dog was locked in the car with only one window partly down, I approached this trainer again. Anticipating what I was about to say, he launched into an angry tirade, telling me I didn’t know anything, I was interrupting him, and he didn’t care what people said. I left the gym, e-mailed the manager, said I was canceling my membership and explained in detail why, pointing out that this was against animal cruelty laws and the gym had an obligation to address the situation.

The manager turned the tables on me, saying I should come in and discuss this. He also claimed the trainer had never yelled at me, essentially calling me a liar. I pointed out there was nothing to discuss, I repeated my previous points about animal cruelty and said I wouldn’t be back. The final e-mail I got was fairly rude, but the e-mail trail was worse. The manager’s message to his accountant said I was “getting personal and threatening” and they needed to “end this drama now.”

I found out from someone else who works out there that the dog is no longer being kept in the car, although I shudder to think where he might be instead. There are moments when I wish I’d called the police since civility didn’t work.

The backlash was so uncomfortable that I actually can see why some people refuse to get involved, but to anyone who does think that way, I would say, If not you, then who?

There is that poignant quote from Pastor Martin Neimoller: "First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Want MORE from Patti Davis? Read: Are All Men Fixated on Their You-Know-Whats?

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First Published Wed, 2011-12-21 15:27

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