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Jewish World Review
August 4, 2009 / 14 Menachem-Av 5769
No Individual Initiative Please! We're Americans
A plucky teller foiled a robbery attempt at Key Bank in Seattle.
But the story does not end happily. When a small man in a beanie cap, dark
clothing, and sunglasses pushed a backpack across the counter and announced,
"This is a ransom. Fill the bag with money," teller Jim Nicholson ignored
his training and "instinct took over." He lunged across the counter and
attempted to grab the thief by the throat or at least to pull his glasses
off. The nonplussed would-be robber bolted for the door with Nicholson on
his heels. A couple of blocks away, with the help of others, Nicholson
tackled the guy and held him until police arrived.
Two days later, Key Bank got in touch with Nicholson. A bonus
perhaps? A commendation? Not quite. He was fired. It seems he had violated
the bank's strict policy that tellers should always comply with robber
demands. A Key Bank spokesman has not returned a call asking for comment.
"We always recommend citizens, including employees of
institutions, be good witnesses," Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told the
Seattle Times. "When confronted by a violent criminal, it is best to comply
unless they feel their personal safety is in jeopardy. It is possible that
taking action and confronting the criminal may lead to the injury of the
victim or other bystanders."
A nation of "good witnesses" is that what we aspire to be?
Tame victims who hand over the money and file legible police reports?
Mentioned in passing in the AP's account is a factor that may be more
important than any other in explaining the passivity banks require of their
employees: "Police and the FBI discourage such heroics" for money that is
"federally insured." Now we get to the nub.
Federal insurance has doubtless spared the nation the agony of
bank runs. But by immediately replacing losses due to crime, it saps some of
the righteous anger from victims. Don't attempt to nab the guy, just fill
out the proper paperwork.
My husband and I had the experience of being robbed by a
babysitter who found my blank checks and wrote herself the most generous
compensation for a three-hour work shift in the history of baby-sitting. I
was shocked, when I reported this to bank employees, at their utter lack of
interest in details about the larcenist. I had her address, phone number,
and likely whereabouts. Yawn. Not interested (nor were the police a story
for another day). Bank employees assured me that our $5,000 would be
immediately credited to our account. As for the thief no action.
Compensation thus undermines justice.
Deposit insurance cannot explain all of it, though. Some of this
is the bureaucratization of America the deliberate attempt to drain
individual judgment and initiative from life. While Nicholson was sprinting
after a thief, a Fairfax County, Va., man was issued a ticket for stopping
traffic to permit a gaggle of geese to cross a four-lane highway safely.
We see Canadian geese crossing roadways all the time here in
Fairfax County. Usually it's an adult goose followed by four to six fuzzy
gray goslings with another adult goose bringing up the rear. One assumes a
family unit. Jozsef Vamosi was driving to work around 9:30 a.m. when he saw
such a family assembling to cross a busy thoroughfare. "They were walking
like gentlemen," Vamosi told the Washington Post. "Like the Beatles on
'Abbey Road.'" Vamosi got out of his car, held up a hand to stop traffic and
escorted the birds to the median. He then did the same thing on the other
side of the road. The geese went safely on their way. "Everything came out
fantastic," the Hungarian immigrant explained. That is, until a Fairfax
County police officer arrived on the scene berating Vamosi and questioning
his sanity. Vamosi was issued a ticket for jaywalking. A police spokesman
advised, "We can appreciate the citizen's response and compassion for
wildlife. But a more prudent response would be to pull off the road and use
their cellphone. Call the police, and have them respond."
By the time even the most responsive police could have arrived
for such a call (and don't they have more important matters to attend to?)
the geese would have been pate. Nicholson and Vamosi acted on impulse and
I for one would not like to live in a country where such instincts have been
ironed out of us.
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