Before last night I don’t know whether I have ever dialed 911 before. I frequently called the police while working as a newspaper reporter and I’ve called dispatch for a number of the many mundane reasons one calls for public safety services, like car accidents, problem neighbors, etc. There have been a couple of times when I’ve regretted not calling the police. Really regretted it. But I think I did the right thing last night.
I returned home on the F train a little after midnight after spending the evening at the library working on my final papers for school. As I reached the subway exit I saw a man sitting on the stairs, crying and talking on a cell phone. He looked extremely upset, and maybe a little bit drunk. I started to walk past him when I overheard him tell the person on the phone, “I called to say goodbye. I’m going to jump in front of the train.”
I took a couple of steps and paused. Then I went back inside and told the station attendant. But the agent looked disinterested. So I walked back above ground where I decided that the situation seemed serious enough to call 911. This was actually a very difficult decision to make, and I questioned my action all the way home despite the fact while I was making the call another concerned passerby asked if I was contacting the police and looked relieved when I confirmed that indeed I was.
It’s hard for someone just overhearing part of a conversation to know whether the man was making empty threats to a friend or family member or if it was really a call for help. Also, eight police officers showed up in response to my 911 call. That is an intense use of resources and could be a traumatic experience for the man in question in itself. Of course, the alternative of the man committing suicide was much worse.
I was really shaken up after the incident. I still am. In 2003 my brother took his own life, without any sign or warning. I have often wondered what if there had been just one person who had intervened… what if?
I didn’t stick around to see what happened with the police. It was too much for me. I’m not sure if I was this man’s “what if,” but I hope he’s okay.