On the afternoon of July 4 in Washington DC, a teenager with a knife boarded a crowded metro train and attacked a 24-year-old man, Kevin Joseph Sutherland, stabbing him 30 or 40 times and kicking his head repeatedly until he was dead. No one tried to stop him.
The Washington Post reports that “passengers trapped in the moving train huddled at both ends of the car and watched in horror” as the attack took place. There were about ten people on the car, but no one intervened. They just watched Sutherland get beaten and stabbed to death right in front of them.
The story goes on to describe the 18-year-old attacker, Jasper Spires, robbing other passengers, who handed over their cash and tried to avoid even looking at him, hoping to be spared.
“You’re not really sure what you need to do,” said one witness, a 52-year-old woman. “This man is holding a bloody knife. I don’t think anyone was going to try and stop him.” Perhaps that’s not surprising coming from a 52-year-old woman. In general, it’s hard to fault people in this situation for failing to intervene—even though they obviously should have.
I’m Not Sorry I Put Myself First
What is more surprising is a failure to express regret for not having intervened to save a man’s life. One eyewitness posted his account on Reddit, showing no remorse about failing to intervene, and expressing no sacrificial impulse:
…What I don’t wish is that I had somehow tried to attack the assailant. I am a little bit larger than he was, but I would not have won. It’s scary, because if we had been sitting closer and had seen the attack start I probably would have tried to help, and would have been stabbed.
We asked the police if we could/should have done something differently, and they said that we did the right thing—get to safety and get help (well, I guess my wife did the right thing, I’m kind of a dumbass). On top of that, they said to focus on remembering everything you can about the assailant.
I am lucky to be alive. But Kevin is not, and my heart breaks every time I think about it.
This is beta male rationalizing at its finest—and it is terrifying. Here is a full-grown man, larger than the attacker, who instead of thinking afterwards, “Maybe if I had stepped in and done something, that guy would be alive,” can only thank his lucky stars it wasn’t him.
Men Without Chests
That Spires had a knife—what the police said was a “small, black folding knife” they later recovered from a trash can—is no excuse. Any two adult men in that subway car could have stopped him, no matter how crazy or strong he was, and saved Sutherland’s life.
That no one did displays not just cowardice but also a callous and unthinking selfishness. The Reddit eyewitness had no idea at the time how many more people Spires would kill, no idea if he would attack the 52-year-old woman or an elderly passenger. He just let him walk off the train into the subway, covered in Sutherland’s blood.
This is essentially the opposite of the spirit of United Flight 93—the heroic selflessness that prompted a group of courageous passengers on 9/11 to attack their hijackers, forcing them to crash the plane in a Pennsylvania field. Once they heard about the attacks in New York and the Pentagon, and knew many more would die if they failed to act, they knew what they had to do—no matter what happened to them.
Morally, the choice facing the passengers on that subway car on July 4 was no different than the one facing the United 93 passengers on 9/11. It doesn’t matter if it’s one life or one thousand, the principle is what counts.
The United 93 passengers understood that principle, which in fact is nothing more than the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I, for one, would want someone to help me if a man with a knife attacked me on the subway, especially if he were winning the fight.
Tragically for Sutherland, no one on his subway car that day had the courage to live by this rule.