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Opinion: The fallen man on the sidewalk

November 5th, 2010 at 3:55 am | Posted by admin

by Ryan Miller

Last night a man fell down at 14th Avenue South and South College Street and it took an hour and a half for medical personnel to arrive. I witnessed a small part of this sad event during an evening jog (which occurs more rarely than it should). Around 7:15 pm, I passed by a man lying on his back half in the grass and half on the sidewalk. Embarrassingly, I ran past without stopping since it looked like a few other folks were within a couple of yards and, I rationalized, must be helping the downed man. I continued running a half block before guilt and a smallish tinge of good Samaritan ethic overcame me. Back near the fallen man were two men sitting on a wall paralleling the sidewalk (perhaps waiting for the bus—is there even a bus stop there?—or more likely keeping an eye on the fallen man), they replied to my query that the police had been called but no one had come. A woman standing much closer to the fallen man told me she had called 911 but no one had shown yet. I looked at the man on the ground who appeared incoherent and noticed the cane and bottle of prescription drugs lying next to him.

I called 911 and was happily shocked to be connected to an operator after only a few rings. The operator acknowledged that emergency services had been notified but were backed up (he said the police were very busy) and the fire department had been sent.

I hung up and reported the news to the folks nearby. The man sitting five yards away on the wall replied, “y’all shouldn’t have voted down those taxes last night, now we’ll never get any help.” (I may have actually inserted the ‘y’all’ since I’m in the minority of Seattleites using that gender neutral contraction, but that was the gist of it.) I’m not sure if by “y’all” he was referring to voters in general (and presumably he didn’t vote), or perhaps he meant Seattle voters (and thereby he was visiting from out-of-town or out-of-state), or he meant white people (and I don’t feel up to presuming the level of disenfranchisement he must have felt with our government if that was the group he was putting me into). Of course, I let him know that I too was sickened over the shortsighted and fiscally irresponsible outcome from Tuesday’s election.

A fire truck and four staff did arrive shortly thereafter. The man sitting on the wall stood up and waved them over and told the personnel that he had seen the man fall and watched a few people try to help him back to his feet unsuccessfully. He added that it had happened an hour and a half ago and the fallen man was complaining of being cold; he had watched over the fallen man because this wasn’t the safest neighborhood. The fallen man reeked strongly of alcohol, and I couldn’t actually discern anything he said, but he did mumble a few times while I was there.

Fallen, drunken individuals are not uncommon on Beacon Hill. I’ve previously encountered one before who was far more vocal (loudly so) and sitting in her own urine. After determining that she had no idea where she lived, I called 911 only to be told that they couldn’t do anything unless the woman wanted help, which she didn’t (my call set off a serious of loud and angry protestations from her that I feared would wake up the neighborhood at 3:00 am). However, the sitting man’s accusation that Washington’s poor decisions on the recent initiatives would further contribute to slower response times for our emergency services seemed to ring true for me. None of the initiatives actually concerned funding Seattle city emergency services (although 1107 has been predicted to raise $272.3 million for state government and $58.2 million for local governments through June 2013, and 1098 would have reduced state property and B&O taxes while raising around a billion more dollars for education and healthcare through an income tax on the wealthy), but money in the government is money that can be spent on all sorts of programs and services that benefit us all.

It’s achingly apparent to me that the man sitting on the wall nearby had it right. Perhaps I’m just feeling as disenfranchised as his accusation may indicate he feels, but I ask myself, will I ever stop to help someone if I know it’ll take over an hour for help to arrive? What if it takes five hours? Will people in Seattle become as heartless as those in New York city where more than 20 people walk past a man bleeding to death without helping?

I don’t want to be the type of person that walks past people in need, but, to be honest, I do it all the time. I’ve given money to people begging on the street, and I’ve given money to people that weren’t begging but looked to need it all the same. I’ve also ignored people that looked like they needed money and those that begged for it. I don’t know who needs it the most and I’m not sure it isn’t going to buy drugs. I’d rather my money went to a well-organized institution that would make our communities safer and healthier. I’d rather everyone in the community pay as they can for those services. For me, that institution is our government. It’s too bad the majority of Washingtonians don’t agree.

(Editor’s note: See this LiveJournal post about the same incident, from one of the other people who were there.)

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