After we “grew up”, my siblings and I moved away from our little town to a small city.
One day, one of my younger brothers and I were milling about downtown, going into music and bookshops, just passing time.
It was hot; I was thirsty, and wanted some lager. There was an Asian restaurant right around the corner, a place we both frequented; we knew the owner by name, and so off we went.
When we got within sight of the place, we saw something we didn’t expect.
The owner, Pete, was beating his wife in broad daylight as she was trying to escape into a taxi.
My brother immediately began to stride over to the scene.
“For God’s sake, are we really going to do this?” I asked. “Let the police handle it.”
He glared at me and said, “Do you see any police around here? I’m going. Are you coming or not?”
You have to back your brother’s play, so I went.
He proceeded to beat the living daylights out of this man, while I, the coward, kept looking around for the police, not because I wanted their help, but because I didn’t want to spend the night in jail.
After Pete got a bit of an education, his wife was able to get into the taxi and flee. Pete also fled, into his restaurant.
And my brother followed him.
We both knew that he had a gun behind the counter.
“Stop,” I said. “She got away. It’s finished.”
“Well, I’m not finished.”
My brother is not a violent man, quite the opposite in fact, but seeing violence against women sets him off, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit. I tried to physically restrain him, because I was no longer worried about jail, but about my brother being shot. He shrugged me off and went into Pete’s place, where he was standing behind the counter, sweating and red-faced.
“This is my place! You leave! Go! Now!”
My brother reached across the counter, grabbed Pete by his shoulders, and spat into his face. Pete fled into his office and locked the door.
“Okay,” my brother said. “Now I’m finished.”
I had to have my lager someplace else that day.
A few years later, I was sitting home alone, bored, and decided to walk across the street and buy some beer and a DVD. Just some mindless entertainment.
The store was adjacent to a very popular restaurant/pub, which was always packed. As I was walking through the car park, I saw a crowd of people on their cell phones, watching a man beating his wife. They had just left the pub; he was too drunk too drive; and she had been trying to stop him from doing so. None of these people were calling the police; they were calling their friends, telling them about their own experience with mindless entertainment.
I waded through the crowd. The man had his wife half in and half out of their vehicle, and was beating her to death. I was behind him, and he didn’t notice me, but she did, and said “Don’t! He has a knife!”
I had one too (always do) but I didn’t want to get into a knife fight, because usually the “winner” of a knife fight is the guy who dies in hospital the next day.
It was around Christmas, and the store I was headed to usually employed a security guard around that time, due to the large amount of cash they had on hand.
So I went in, told the woman behind the counter to call the police, and then enlisted the help of the security guard.
Who was older than dirt.
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You go out in front of him, and I’ll go out behind him; you don’t have to do anything; just stand there.”
He looked at me with a comically depressed look on his face, but he went, because even though he wasn’t getting paid to do this, he had a conscience. Which none of the spectators did.
And he saved the day. Once we were in position, the drunk wife-beater saw the security guard and mistook his uniform for that of a policeman. He took off running. One of the women who was standing around chatting with her friends while watching the incident said, “Someone should really go after him”, and pointedly looked at me.
I did go after him, at a distance, because I didn’t want him to know I was following, but he soon picked up on me, and started running like hell, so I did, too. He went into a fast food place, I followed, he exited the opposite door, I followed; and then he slipped around the corner into the shadows.
I lost him. Wasn’t sorry about it.
I went back to check up on his wife, which is what I should have done in the first place, rather than chase the man; by this time, the police had arrived, and I gave them a description of the man and a statement. They caught him. And he was better off for it.
Why did I do this?
A sense of guilt, which I still feel to this day.
You see, in the little town where I grew up, domestic violence was rampant, as it is everywhere. Part of our “Troubles”. The largest trouble is that people don’t want to intervene; I was constantly advised as a youth to never intervene between an altercation between a man and a woman, because most often, the woman will turn on you in the hopes of saving herself from another beating from her partner.
I lived on the highest mountain in my county; I could see for miles, and hear for miles. One of the things my brother and I heard as kids was a man, well-known as a drunken abuser of his wife and children by everyone in our town, repeatedly plying his “trade”.
No one did anything about it. It just wasn’t done. Business between a man and a woman, everyone said. Leave it alone. If she wants to leave, she can leave.
Of course, it’s not that simple.
One day, this man’s wife took her daughter to a doctor.
He discovered that she was pregnant.
At first, her mother was furious that her daughter was sexually active; but after the doctor calmed everyone down, and after some gentle coaxing, he asked who the father of the child was.
It was her own father.
That night, after taking another beating, this woman waited until her husband passed out drunk and shot him dead with his own revolver. She turned herself into the police.
At trial, she entered a plea of “not guilty.”
The prosecutor asked her if she had shot her husband; she replied in the affirmative; he then asked her how she could possibly not be guilty.
“Because he needed killing.”
The jury acquitted her. Know why?
Because they knew they were guilty. I was guilty. Everyone in the whole damn town was guilty, because we all knew something wrong was going on, and no one did anything to stop it.
The family moved away directly after the mother’s acquittal, never to be heard from again.
By the way, that little girl was eleven years old.
The reason I’m relating this is in response to the sickening attack on a young woman in Belfast the night before last; I have no idea if she was singled out because of a domestic issue, sectarian issue, or just plain thuggery; it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that people stepped up and helped the best they could.
If I only knew then what I know now….