Ann McFeatters: If you see something, say something

  • Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 12:19 a.m.

We live in a culture caught between “if you see something, say something” and “live and let live.”

It’s hard to believe how a Cleveland neighborhood ignored a man now suspected of kidnapping three girls and hiding them for 10 years — as well as one of their daughters — in his rundown house.


It’s hard to believe that the friends and families of the two young men accused of blowing up the Boston Marathon did not report anything suspicious.

All these years later, it’s hard to believe how a dozen neighbors who heard Kitty Genovese scream while being stabbed to death near her home in Queens in 1964 did nothing to help her.

We’ve all heard of Good Samaritans being injured, killed or sued. And you often hear someone saying, “I just don’t want to get involved.”

But in America, our heroes and heroines are those who do get involved, who do go out of their way and make a difference in helping someone else, usually a stranger.

Nearly every night, the TV networks point to someone who has made a difference — a child raising money or awareness about a rare illness, a woman who makes clothes for African children and started a network of other women to help, a man who risked his life to save a child caught in a storm drain.

A few days ago, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Global Youth Service Day. More than 4,000 service projects were completed by children, such as promoting rainwater collection tactics in Uganda.

Every time there is a disaster in America, from Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Sandy, from dreadful fires on the West Coast to droughts in the South East, American cash donations and American volunteers make a difference.

Sometimes, we don’t say or do anything because we don’t want to be embarrassed if we’ve made a mistake. Yet how many of us have spent hours worrying whether our inaction or silence could have prevented harm? How many of us have seen outright child abuse in a public domain but hesitate to interfere because “parents have a right to discipline their children”?

At work, we don’t want to be “tattletales” who run prattling to the boss about minor offenses by colleagues. Yet sometimes it is our moral duty to act. Somebody had to know about the building shortcuts at the garment factories in Bangladesh that have led to hundreds of deaths — or the parking garage collapse in Miami last October.

There’s a worrisome trend among some in America who feel estranged from society and fear their government. Hence, the horror of any kind of gun restrictions, even background checks. That’s the live-and-let-live mentality. Even more, it’s a decision to stockpile weapons out of the belief that someday the government will turn on you and all you will have for protection is your trusty hidden assault rifle, if your child has not found it and killed a playmate with it.

It has become easy to stoke fear of government, and many people are doing it, most of them hoping to profit in some way, whether by money or political gain.

But it is dangerous and, ultimately, un-American, and it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment.

It is undermining the deep-rooted belief that in America, we help each other. We help our neighbor, and we trust law enforcement, and if government lets us down, we vote for change.

Despite some horrific examples lately, where failure to speak ended in tragedy, more Americans than not can be relied upon to do the right thing, even to their own discomfort or detriment. And a goodly number of them are mothers.

Sometimes, cliches and bromides really do tell us what to do. For example: Better safe than sorry. What would your mother do? If you see something, say something.

Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email amcfeattershotmail.com.

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