This story highlights the issue of the bystander effect, and the ease of which some are able to shirk a moral responsibility to help a person in need, in the belief that someone else will come along and do so instead. A homeless Guatemalan immigrant man named Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was both the hero and ultimate victim in this tragic story.
On the morning in question he selflessly jumped to the aid of a woman on 144th Street at 88th Road in Jamaica, Queens. He was saving her from a knife attack. An intervention that resulted in Mr Tale-Yax being stabbed several times in the chest.
After attempting to chase down his assailant, Tale-Yax collapsed in the street from his wounds. CCTV footage then captured over 20 people walk past him without coming to his aid. Some would stare, none it seemed were prepared to help. The woman he had saved also fled the scene and never came forward.
In the wake of the bloodshed, a man came out of a nearby building and coldly took a cellphone picture of Tale-Yax before leaving. In several instances, pairs of people stopped and stared at him before moving on regardless. One person even lifted his body, exposing what appeared to be blood on the pavement and then walks away.
Others merely turned their heads toward the body, revealing some curiosity as they hurried along. A full hour goes by before emergency services arrive and by then it is too late. Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was dead in the very same spot he had collapsed.
The circumstances surrounding the death of this man quite rightly caused outrage at the time, prompting New Yorkers to question whether their city had become more heartless.
“Is anybody human anymore?” asked Raechelle Groce, whose grandmother lived in flat near where Mr Tale-Yax died. “What’s wrong with humanity?”
“I think it’s horrific,” said Marla Cohan, a teacher at a school across the street from where he died. “I think people are just afraid to step in; they don’t want to get involved; who knows what their reasons are?”
Of course we will never know what was going through the minds of the people who walked past without coming to his aid. However, there is no denying that death of Mr Tale-Yax is all the more heart-breaking due to the fact he was actually trying to help someone.
“I’m afraid what we’ve got here is a situation of people failing to help, and the failure appears to be a moral failure,” John Darley, a professor of psychology at Princeton University told the New York Times. “He did what you’re supposed to do, and we let the person who did what he was supposed to do, die.”