A man robbed a middle-aged woman of her purse last week, and was then pursued by witnesses down Grace Street. How did the Good Samaritans intervene, and just how far should one risk their own life for the sake of another?
It’s a crime famously depicted in television and movies: a woman blindsided by a young man who yanks the purse from her unsuspecting hands. This very crime occurred last week downtown, and while many purse-snatchers get away, this perpetrator ran into an unforeseen obstacle: Richmond citizens.
A 39-year-old woman had just exited Bar Code, located at 6 East Grace Street, just shy of 10:30pm. While still on the sidewalk, Murphy Hughes, 31, approached the victim and told her that he had a gun. He plucked the purse from the victim’s hands and fled.
Richmond Police Captain Yvonne Crowder said that several witnesses in the vicinity began chasing the purse-snatcher. At least one of the Good Samaritans simultaneously used his or her cell phone to contact and update police with the thief’s whereabouts during the pursuit. Police officers of the Fourth Precinct later arrived and took Hughes into custody not far from Bar Code after witnesses identified him as the offender. No weapons were found on Hughes’s person, the victim was unharmed, and Police returned her purse.
“That is good news all around,” said Dr. Jay Albanese, a Criminal Justice Professor at VCU and author of Professional Ethics in Criminal Justice: Being Ethical When No One is Looking. “That’s what being a Good Samaritan is all about.” Dr. Albanese said that the witnesses who pursued the thief while keeping in contact with 911 operators highlights a new asset for those who want to help even complete strangers. “In our cellphone-era I think it’s easier to be responsible.” However, Dr. Albanese cautions that not all Good Samaritans intervene with impunity. “Sometimes the outcome is not what’s intended.”
Earlier this month in Lynwood, California, two Good Samaritans were shot after intervening in an armed robbery at a meat market. Recently, an off-duty Denver police officer intervened during a robbery at a pharmacy. The officer pulled her weapon against the two robbers, one of whom attacked the police officer and stole her gun before the pair fled the scene. Just last week, a New Orleans man was shot to death after intervening during a car jacking.
“Resistance works in Steven Seagal movies,” said Dr. Albanese. “It rarely works in real life.” He says that when bystanders confront either a criminal or medical emergency, the first move should be to dial 911. Once in touch with a dispatcher, Good Samaritans can channel information between first responders and victims. “The utility is in the information rather than wrestling the guy to the ground,” said Dr. Albanese. “You don’t want to risk your life for someone who has [merely] lost property.”
photo by AnnieGreenSprings