As grotesque as this act of savagery was, the aftermath was even more unsettling. The perpetrators did not, as the Tsarnaev brothers did in Boston, attempt to escape. Instead, they held court in the street gloating over their trophy, and flagged down a London bus to demand the passengers record their triumph on film. As the crowd of bystanders swelled, the remarkably urbane savages posed for photographs with the remains of their victim while discoursing on the iniquities of Britain toward the Muslim world. Having killed Drummer Rigby, they were killing time: It took 20 minutes for the somnolent British constabulary to show up. And so television viewers were treated to the spectacle of a young man, speaking in the vowels of south London, chatting calmly with his “fellow Britons” about his geopolitical grievances and apologizing to the ladies present for any discomfort his beheading of Drummer Rigby might have caused them, all while drenched in blood and still wielding his cleaver.
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Once, long ago, I was in an altercation where someone pulled a switchblade, and ever since have been mindful of Jimmy Hoffa’s observation that he’d rather jump a gun than a knife. Nevertheless, there is a disturbing passivity to this scene: a street full of able-bodied citizens being lectured to by blood-soaked murderers who have no fear that anyone will be minded to interrupt their diatribes. In fairness to the people of Boston, they were ordered to “shelter in place” by the governor of Massachusetts. In Woolwich, a large crowd of Londoners apparently volunteered to “shelter in place,” instinctively. Consider how that will play when these guys’ jihadist snuff video is being hawked around the bazaars of the Muslim world. Behold the infidels, content to be bystanders in their own fate.
Styen, and others, have blamed the overwhelming, stifling political correctness of Britain the lack of response from bystanders. Many of the comments I've read suggest that such passivity would not have occurred in the U.S. Given the same circumstances--no weapons and facing two young men that were obviously capable of violence, with police officers on the scene but not acting--I'm not sure a large crowd of bystanders would necessarily reacted differently in an American city.
The reason is the bystander effect, widely researched after the infamous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York (although the apathy of possible bystanders has been exaggerated). (See also here). The issue is discussed in this article of a 2008 murder in California:
The town of Turlock and much of the rest of the nation was shocked when a 27-year-old man beat and stomped his 2-year-old son to death on a rural road. But what was nearly as stunning for many people was that none of the motorists and their passengers who stopped and saw the attack tried to tackle the man.
Police officers and psychologists familiar with violent emergencies, however, said they weren't surprised at all.
A volunteer firefighter and at least five others saw Sergio Casian Aguiar assaulting his son Saturday night on the road west of Turlock (Stanislaus County), but it wasn't until a police officer arrived in a helicopter that the attack finally ended. Aguiar refused to halt the attack and raised his middle finger at the officer, who shot him to death, authorities said.
Bystanders are justifiably scared and confused in such situations, the experts said Wednesday, and they lack the experience needed to respond with force. They can also be mesmerized by shock.
John Conaty, a veteran homicide detective and former patrol officer in Pittsburg, said that in interviews of witnesses to violence, "the common thing you hear is, 'I was frozen in fear. I just couldn't take action.' "
Conaty questioned whether the witnesses had even been capable of stopping Aguiar. "If they were physically able, you have to take a look at whether they were psychologically prepared to intervene," he said.
"I would not condemn these people," said John Darley, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University who has studied how bystanders react in emergency situations. "Ordinary people aren't going to tackle a psychotic.
"What we have here," Darley said, "is a group of family and friends who are not pre-organized to deal with this stuff. They don't know who should do what. ... If you had five volunteer firefighters pull up, you would expect them to have planned responses and a division of labor. But that's not what we had here."
Darley said he was also not surprised that people who weren't at the scene of the killing believe they would have been heroic Good Samaritans.
"It's an aspiration," he said. "They hope they would have done differently."However, the Turlock, CA, and Kitty Genovese cases raise a different issue, which was the police response. In the situation of Genovese, the killer initially left from fear of encountering police, and only returned after he realized that the police were not going arrive. In the Turlock incident, the police officer promptly shot the murderer. In the Woolwich incident, the killers evidenced no fear of the police, but strutted around apparently waiting for armed police officers to arrive. (Unarmed police arrived earlier, but did nothing). The Powerline Blog notes:
The idea of policemen in one of the world’s major cities “wait[ing] helplessly for armed officers to arrive,” while murderers parade up and down the street soaked in blood and the body of a half-beheaded soldier lies in the street, is almost unbelievable. And yet that is the state of law enforcement in Great Britain. The average American household is better armed than a London policeman, and as a result, it was left to a few women from the crowd of bystanders to try to deal with cleaver-wielding murderers.To add insult to injury, British law enforcement has promptly charged anyone that dared criticize Islam for the murder.
The British police have become worse than useless. It is bad enough that the murderers did not fear or respect law enforcement, but that law enforcement responds in such a contemptible manner in squelching free speech. A hundred years ago, anyone in the world would have rightly feared the consequences of murdering a British soldier. No so much now.
Update: French soldier stabbed in apparent copy-cat incident. The difference is that the perp ran away.