Why no one cared if Auckland teen was alive or dead

OPINION: Remember when the New Zealand Police released a series of videos asking if we cared enough to help someone in need?

Based on what I saw on my way to work this morning, it appears we don't.

As I looked for somewhere to wait at my central Auckland bus stop, I noticed a dead-looking kid lying beneath a street bench.

To me, he looked about 16, lying with his eyes rolled back in his head, arms spread wide open, legs straight. A little like he was Jesus, waiting to be lifted to heaven.

There were a number of people already waiting. I looked around, searching for another set of eyes to ask, "Is he okay?"

People looked down and up and at smartphones; anywhere but at the comatose kid lying metres away.

It wasn't until I asked, "Is he okay? Shall I call an ambulance?" that there was a flurry of action.

A couple of women came over, checked his pulse and helped put him into the recovery position.

Meanwhile his mate, who was in no state to be looking after anyone, announced: "He's fine. He's just horsed. I wanna stay up all night and all morning and I don't want no cops."

There was not so much as an eye flutter or mumble from the helpless teen.

By this stage, I was halfway through a conversation with 111 describing the boy's age, ethnicity, level of consciousness. Was he still breathing? Was he changing colour? Did he have a weapon?

"I bloody hope not," I thought to myself.

I looked over at the boy, still unresponsive, still barely breathing. Then I realised that the people who had appeared so concerned a moment ago were getting on a bus to Mt Eden.

If the bus left once an hour, or if they were rushing to their daughter's wedding, I would have understood. But that bus leaves every 10 minutes and off they went, without saying a word.

One of the women realised her mistake and tried to mouth something to me through the bus window, but it was too late. The doors were closed and the 277 had departed.

'Bystander effect', or 'Genovese syndrome', is a known phenomenon. It's the idea that the presence of other witnesses discourages someone from helping in an emergency situation.

It's named after murder victim Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed and raped in a New York alley in 1964.

After her murder, the New York Times ran a story with the headline: Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police. 

Why? Because each of them thought there were 37 others who had already dialled 911.

Fortunately, today's story doesn't end like Kitty's.

A St John crew arrived in minutes and got the situation under control. They grabbed him by the scruff of his neck - at first he barely reacted, then he made it to his knees, then he collapsed again.

By the third or fourth grab he'd come to. He didn't know his name but he was speaking and his eyes were desperately trying to focus on the bright sunrise.

At the end of the police video, a man and his dog stop to check on the man lying on the ground. He cared enough. I cared enough. And next time you see someone in a desperate state, please stop, because you should care too.