None of us are free, when one of us is chained

Last night, I witnessed a car accident. It was a minor accident, a so called (and literal) fender bender. A large black pickup truck, with Idaho plates, struck a Yellow Cab. My first form of witness was hearing a bang. I turned my head, and looked, and saw and heard a second bang. The cab was rear-ended. Twice, technically.

I was half a block away, waiting at a bus stop. I started walking towards the incident. The truck was clearly at fault, and I'm a believer in being the type of witness who will go and report what they've seen, to help out a wronged person, whatever the situation. So I walked closer, and got out my phone (the only camera I had with me at the time), and took a couple of pictures, and making mental notes of what had happened. I then switched to video mode, so I could also make some actual recorded notes, via speech, about what I'd seen. While I was recording, the driver of the pick-up truck drove away. It had just escalated into a hit-and-run.

I crossed the street, to check in with the cabbie (here's hoping that's not a derogative term -- I certainly mean it only as a description of their occupation at the time). I was received with an apparent wino, asserting that he'd just gotten a ride from down the block. I didn't realize at the time, but was later assured by another witness (my girlfriend, Laura), that this person had gotten out of the pick-up truck. I could go into the speculations we had about why the guy was picked up, but making assumptions about that would be wrong in ways only incidentally related to the main thing I want to talk about here.

I had photos. I had video. It had been a hit-and-run. Sadly, I did not have the license plate -- I didn't get a clear picture of it (though I did get an unclear picture of it -- I was trying), and I hadn't made any other note of it, other than a mental one of the state.

Meanwhile, the wino (there are assumptions here, too, but I'm going to go with that as the best description I can come up with at the moment for this person) was getting up in my grill, which was interfering with my ability to check in with the cab driver, which was my first priority. I told him I had no business with him, and to let me do my think. In clarity of hindsight, I wish I'd gotten more of his story, or perhaps even a photo of him. What I did do, though, was to move on to my 2nd priority: Calling the police.

So I dialed. 9-1-1. I described to the dispatcher what I had just witnessed. I answered some questions, gave some pertinent details to the "radio" person (i.e. someone actually dispatching details to police, rather than the operator I was initially speaking to), and then was told (by the original operator), after a few more questions, that a car would be at my location shortly.

And there was. A police officer (whose name and/or ID number, alas, I didn't think to get -- I'll freely admit that I'm not always the most prepared thinker in these situations, though hopefully I'm learning to be better as I go) arrived, talk to the cabbie, talked to me, talked to Laura, got IDs from each of us, looked at my video evidence, etc. Another officer arrived at one point, had a brief interaction, and then went off in the last-known direction of the offending vehicle.

Another cab driver, apparently (and later ostensibly) a friend to the one who had been struck, arrived on the scene. The police officer got into his cruiser and was making notes. He eventually came back out, gave Laura and I back our IDs, and let us know that we were free to go. The other cabbie at that point asked us where we needed to go, offering to take us, apparently in thanks for our assistance.

The first cabbie asked for our contact information, and it was agreed (I'm pretty sure -- hopefully the struck cabbie was actually in agreement with this plan; I never actually spoke with him terribly much, alas) that we'd give it to the other cabbie, as we drove. (Meanwhile, the police car raced off with lights going shortly after we pulled away. In pursuit of the driver, who had been caught by the other police car, I hoped... though really, I'm guessing that it's more likely that it was in response to an unrelated call. Who knows?)

And we did do that. Laura and I each wrote our names and numbers down on a piece of paper.

Which brings us, almost, to the real point of this story. This second cabbie (whose name I'll keep from reporting here, for reasons which will soon be apparent) and we had a little conversation in the cab, and he thanked us for our help, and we thanked him for his, and he dropped us off at home.

This morning, a phone call came in. I had stayed up late (for completely unrelated reasons), and so even a late-morning call was (literally) a wake-up call. An unknown number, and I was still half-asleep, so I didn't answer. A little while later, though, the same number called again. And then the same number called Laura. I was starting to be more awake at this point. Neither of us had answered, but clearly they were calling specifically for us, or they wouldn't have called those two numbers in such quick succession. So I sent back a text message, asking who they were, and saying to leave a message. And after sending that, it clicked: I know who this is -- at least roughly: It's either one of the cabbies, or someone from the police (but no, they'd have left a message), or someone related to that incident.

And so when the phone rang again, I answered it. And here's where the meat of the story comes in. It was the second cabbie, the one who had given us a ride home.

His English was imperfect, and so are cell-to-cell phone calls (I'd given him my home number, but that currently forwards to my cell phone), so it was a bit difficult to understand what he was saying. With some repetition and some effort on my part to understand him, though, I eventually figured out (and here's the crux of it):

He wanted me to not report anything further to the police, or, especially, to Yellow Cab. The other cabbie, he told me, had decided that he wanted to just handle it himself. He was unhurt, and it would be less expense and less hassle if this did not go on his record, did not get reported to the cab company, and did not get reported to his insurance. Even though he was clearly not at fault, if the cab company or his insurance found out about it, it would be points on his record, increased premiums, and the hassle of reports to fill out.

I believe this is wrong. Let me be more specific: I believe that this decision, upon the part of the cabbie, was understandable but unfortunate; I believe that the fact that he was motivated to make this decision -- by what I presume is the very real expectation that it would cost him time, money, and hassle -- is wrong. He should, I deem, have had very little if any reason not to give a full report, and various reasons to give such a report.

This is my assertion. To have an insurance company and/or a cab company that holds cab drivers (or any drivers) to account for an incident which can clearly be shown to not be their fault: this is an injustice. And this I am railing against, and hence the reason for this blog post.

And yet I feel somewhat trapped, as I genuinely do believe that if the incident was reported, that it would in fact do harm to the livelihood of this driver. So I don't want to say all I know. What I instead am doing, is writing this blog post. And I implore any readers of this, and I quite possibly myself will, contact yellow cab, and ask them to change their policies, such that incidents such as this one are not something that their drivers are inclined to keep quiet. Because whatever else may or may not be true, one thing is certain: There is a driver out there somewhere who fled the scene of an accident that he (and I did see that it was a he) was at fault for. And for a variety of reasons, this is unacceptable behavior. I don't know if this person was caught or not. I'm guessing not. There are a lot of turns one can make in the minute or two that at a very minimum had transpired between when he left the scene and when I got to the point of talking to the radio dispatcher, let alone however long it took to get the message out. Then again, radio signals travel faster than any vehicle, so there's some vague hope.

At any rate, I believe that a wrongness exists, and I've come to believe in the idea, from
Barry Mann et al, that "none of us are free, if one of us is chained". This cabbie is chained, figuratively, from the freedom of doing the right thing, and making a report about a wrong that was done. And so I will not take the action of "if you don't say it's wrong, then that says it's right." This is wrong. I encourage you to join me in efforts to "get the message, send it out loud and clear".

But really, Solomon Burke sings it so much more poignantly than I can write it:

None of us are free. Giving people reasons to avoid reporting wrongs is, itself, wrong. Make it stop.

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