Why do we turn away from those who need help?

Christa Avampato
2 min readApr 7, 2024
Photo by Margarida Afonso on Unsplash

At 3am on Friday morning, I was woken up out of a sound sleep. A man was on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, which my apartment faces, screaming. “Help! Someone please help me! Please!”

He was rolling around on the ground. It was cold, windy, and dark. He was alone. People were walking by him, not paying him any mind. There was something so earnest in his voice, so bone-chilling. I called 911.

The 911 operator asked for my name, phone number, address, and any details about the man, though I had very little to offer except his location. I hung up, and 10 seconds later my local police precinct called me back. The sergeant asked all the same questions the operator asked me. My guess is they were checking to make sure this wasn’t some kind of prank. When I told him the man had been crying out for a few minutes, he said, “Really? You’re the only call we’ve gotten.”

30 seconds later, two police cars and an ambulance pulled up to the corner. The man’s cries quieted. The EMTs immediately got him onto a gurney and wrapped him in blankets. One of the police officers walked down the block and collected a backpack and a walker. He loaded them into the ambulance with the man and the EMTs. I don’t know why his walker and backpack were so far from where he was. Was he attacked? Was he disoriented? I’ll never know. I do know I’m glad I called. I’m glad he got help.I’m glad the system worked.

I went back to bed after the scene was cleared. I said a prayer hoping he would get all the help he needed. I thought about how no one else had called, not the people walking by the man, not even the attendants at the 24-hour gas stations or bodegas on the corner.

I wonder what’s happening to us in this world, how and why we’ve become immune to cries for help, why we assume people in desperate need have somehow brought the situation on themselves. I wonder why our sense of humanity and decency is eroding. Why are we not helping when the need is so clear and persistent?

A European friend of mine once said to me he thought the saddest thing about America is that it has no social safety net. What I realized in those early hours of Friday night is that we do have a social safety net, and it’s us. We have to be the social safety net for each other. When someone cries out for help, we need to show up and extend a hand. We’re all just walking each other home.

--

--

Christa Avampato

Award-winning author & writer—Product Dev — Biomimicry scientist — Podcaster. Runs on curiosity & joy. twitter.com/christanyc / instagram.com/christarosenyc