The Bystander Effect: When the Good Guys Are Viewed As Bad Guys
By Ari Bolden
As a doorman, I’ve seen more violence and conflict than the average person. In fact, I have a fascination with conflict and how people react to it. But one of the most puzzling and frustrating scenarios for anyone in a ‘combat situation’ is the Bystander Effect.
My definition of the Bystander Effect is: A third party who begins to yell or interfere in some fashion when a professional (law enforcement officer, security professional, or bouncer) is trying to execute a physical restraint in the course of their duty.
Now, the Bystander Effect occurs because:
They are not fully informed: Having only seen a part of the conflict, the bystander doesn’t know how and why the violence is occurring. They assume that the ‘professional’ is acting excessively against someone who doesn’t deserve it.
They are unfamiliar with violence: Perhaps the only violence the bystander has seen has been in the movies. They do not know that real world violence is quick, nasty, and uncoordinated at times. The violence shocks their system and they automatically pick on the authority figure that is “winning” and “restraining” the combative person.
They place themselves in the shoes of the person: People will often place themselves in someone else’s shoes who they can relate to. Bystanders cannot relate to LEO or Security Professionals because they have no formal experience of the job. Therefore, they assume the role (mentally) of the combative person.
They don’t understand resistance: They have no idea how hard it is to restrain someone who doesn’t want to be restrained. They think that the professional should be able to hold the combative person down with little to no force. They may not realize that the combative person may be much stronger than the professional so harder techniques will have to be employed.
They are misinformed about body dynamics and combative training: In order to fully restrain someone, a certain amount of force and pressure has to be applied to the body. This pressure is being applied to STOP the combative person from fighting. Once that has occurred, just enough pressure is applied to hold or take the person into custody. The bystander may think a bouncer or martial artist have special bullet proof moves to keep people in place.
They do not know what the force continuum is: Again, they have no idea what type of physical response would be used with a combative person. Actively aggressive persons cannot be controlled with light escort or pain compliance techniques.
They think authority figures are bullies: Many bystanders who interfere have problems themselves with authority figures and make the sweeping judgment that all are bullies, toughs, and ego driven monsters. They may have an axe to grind or a past negative experience with one of these professionals.
How do you change the mind of a bystander?
Let me first say that I have 25 years of martial and combative experience behind my belt. I’ve also been involved in over 400 physical confrontations during my 16 years bouncing (from fights to brawls to arrests of aggressive patrons). I am what the average person would call “skilled”. However, trying to control or restrain someone who doesn’t want to be is no walk in the park. The fluid nature of combat, including movement, objects, weapons, and other potential hazards on the street, makes easy restraint quite difficult.
Don’t believe me? Just ask a friend to try and not let you hold on to their wrist. They will pull, turn, jab, kick and trip you in order to get their wrist free. They win because they don’t have to play by the same rules as you. You are just trying to hold on while they can do what they please to avoid it. The analogy is touch vs. tackle football. You play touch and they get to play tackle.
Therefore, the type of professionals I mentioned above realize that simple restraints against a non compliant combative person is NOT going to work. They have to change their game to “play tackle” in order to gain control of the subject. This doesn’t mean they hammer on them, only that they have to up the level of force against a non compliant person to gain control over them.
The bystander has to realize that these professions deal with violence on a common and frequent basis. The average citizen gets to walk blindly through their everyday tasks while cops and bouncers are rolling around in alley ways with junkies and criminals. These professionals protect the bystander from the ugly consequence of violence.
If you are a bystander, next time you see a conflict occur between these two groups, take a deep breath and realize that it is more than likely that the person the professional is trying to restrain just committed a crime (commonly assault of another poor bystander). The professionals’ job is often thankless and the bystander effect is like the rubbing salt in the wound of what they do.
I help people. I hate victimization. And I would surely hope some of you would help me if I was in trouble one day because, for the past ten years, my only reward for helping strangers has been that they get to return home safely to their love ones.