Responsibilities of bystanders in question after viral video of teen beating

While fights among teenagers are nothing new, the viral video of students beating a teenager in Riviere des Prairies brings up new questions about the responsibilities of bystanders.

“It’s just awful,” said Eric Sutton, a longtime criminal defence lawyer, who has seen and heard a lot in court.

Sutton said the video is hard to watch.

“It’s very disturbing,” he said, adding that there’s no doubt in his mind criminal charges should be laid.

“When you watch the video, you come to the conclusion that a crime has been committed by several youths,” he said. “It appears to be at the very least an assault causing bodily harm.”

But what about the actions or inaction of teens who watched it unfold before their eyes, some even videoing it on their phones?

“In this case, they became spectators, which is troubling. Very few of them seemed to react, which is troubling,” he said.

Under Quebec’s Charter of human rights and freedoms: “Every person must come to the aid of anyone whose life is in peril, either personally or calling for aid, by giving him the necessary and immediate physical assistance, unless it involves danger to himself or a third person, or he has another valid reason.”

That could mean calling 911, which police say none of the kids did.

The law doesn’t demand bystanders intervene in a crime if intervening could be dangerous for them.

“We see yet again bystander apathy, bystander inaction,” said child psychologist Dr. Perry Adler.

Adler believes that was likely the case with many of the students watching on Tuesday.

“If I was in the crowd, maybe I wouldn’t come forward even if I have the best intention, because maybe I might have then had my head kicked on,” he said, adding that it doesn’t excuse none of them from calling for help.

“If you have the power and the time to pull out a smartphone and record it, you have the power and the time to call 911,” he said.

Adler is concerned about their desensitization to a constant stream of violence, real and fake.

He said there is a disconnect brought on by looking at much of life through a small screen.

“As a result it’s almost like, ‘I’m not really here. I’m almost at home and I’ll just wait for a commercial to come on or click on the next hyperlink and on to the next thing.’ We don’t feel as much as we used to,” he said.

That lack of empathy and a compulsion to document events may turn out in this case, however, to have a silver lining.

“The fact that there’s a video, might be of great assistance to the prosecution,” said Sutton.

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