General Question

weeveeship's avatar

What would you do if you witnessed a fight break out?

Asked by weeveeship (4610points) September 12th, 2010

(This is for a scene in my fiction. Since I am writing realistic fiction, I just want to know if my characters’ reactions were realistic.)

Let’s say that you were in a public place, let’s say a school or a mall or some place (not a dark alley). Two people that you have met before but who are not your friends suddenly start fighting. You have no idea why they are fighting. All you know is that both of them have a reputation for being mean to others.

Seeing the fight start, what would you do? Would you call 911? Try to break up the fight? Walk away because it is none of your business? Something else?

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31 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

Call the authorities, and if I thought I was able to, try and end the fight.

There are way too many by-standers in today’s society.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Stand there and watch the fight, unless one of them is armed, then i would step in to try and disable that person.

Ben_Dover's avatar

It depends. sometimes I break the fights up, sometimes I watch, sometimes i turn and leave.

Circumstances dictate response.

muppetish's avatar

At my university, I would alert campus security (they are an emergency contact on my phone.) Outside of campus, I would call the cops.

lillycoyote's avatar

I certainly wouldn’t try to break it up because I’m not certified or qualified physically for that sort of thing. :-) I would call the cops if they weren’t already on the way and then I would maybe watch for a second or two and then get the hell out of there because you never know when a fist fight between two people is going to escalate into an all out brawl, and you never know whether people are armed or not. I would feel really stupid if I allowed myself to be wounded or killed by a stray bullet and I’ve seen someone get stabbed during a fight and I didn’t enjoy seeing that all that much. It was a relatively minor wound, but still, I didn’t really like the experience.

heresjohnny's avatar

Call the police, be the best witness you can. You have no guarantee that, should you try to break them up, one of them wouldn’t turn on you.

Randy's avatar

I’d watch it play out until it got serious. With most fights these days, both fighters walk away with very little damage done.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Randy Unless somebody pulls out a gun and then the damage can get very big very quickly.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I’d get the authorities, myself. It’s what I’ve always done. I’m not walking in the middle of a fight. I’m not that tough.

Berserker's avatar

Call the cops. I’ve done it before.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’d just walk away. I don’t think the cops need to be brought into it unless one of them has a weapon or it is an unfair fight (like 2 on 1). I don’t see the point in sticking around and watching a fight.

AmWiser's avatar

I would take out my camera and video tape the fight, while hoping someone is calling the police.

Nullo's avatar

It depends on who’s fighting, and where. I’m more or less with @Seaofclouds on this one.
@lillycoyote The gun – weapons in general -, I expect, comes out first. Militaries can afford to scale response, but a brawl probably wouldn’t.
Two of my customers got into a fight over a parking space once. That got police attention as well as that of the Loss Prevention people. It’s not good to make a scene.

sandalman's avatar

I’d get between them and try to end it asap, before getting them to talk things out in order to resolve any differences between them.

Your_Majesty's avatar

I will try to separate them if I am capable of doing so. If it’s some kind of mouth fight or if they’re children/one of them is a child then I can handle it,but if the fight will involve physical action such as punching then I’ll walk away but without calling the police since this is their personal problem and I’m not sure if it’s against the law.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The qualifier of “Knowing their reputation” makes a big big difference. I have been in, and witnessed many a fight in my day. Gun fights, knife fights, gang fights, fist fights, girl fights, cop fights, and many a friend fights.

The particular situation you describe would get a specific reaction from me, unlike the reaction I would offer to other scenarios. Since I would already “know” of their reputation, without necessarily knowing them personally, then they would more than likely also know of my reputation as well.

I would stand and watch them. I wouldn’t call the cops. I wouldn’t run for help. I would stand and watch them settle their differences man to man. I would very much let them know that I was watching them.

But if I had children around, or a girlfriend, or knew the details of the situation deeper than described, my actions would be totally different.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Nullo With the stabbing I witnessed the knife didn’t come out until near the end, when it looked liked the fists were going to simply make it end in a draw.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Knives do change the game a bit. Best always be prepared to enact a few options.

Randy's avatar

@lillycoyote True, if guns come out then it can be damaging but then it’s not exactly a fight anymore. At that point, it’s attempted murder which is MUCH more serious.

zophu's avatar

If it looked serious, and I couldn’t help break it up, I might call the police if no one else was already. If it was an uneven fight and it was getting brutal, I might try to help the underdog if I thought I could. If there was a gun involved, I’d probably run away or at least get behind something; with another weapon I’d probably still keep my distance. Most young people just stand and watch the average fight if it seems to be contained, especially if it’s between two tough guys they don’t really know. People with senses of authority, older men especially, are more likely to try to break them up.

People react to situations in many different ways. In fiction, even in realistic fiction, it’s intriguing to see characters do things in unique ways. Even a normalized personity can become unpredictable in a situation like this. If the readers sympathize with the character’s thought process, they’ll accept their actions even if they aren’t what would be expected.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Nullo I’m just saying that things escalate and that people are not armies. People may start out arguing about a parking space or some other sort of nonsense and then things go from bad to worse. Pulling out the gun or the knife is not necessarily going to be how they start off.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It all depends on the entirety of the scenario.

A fight in a playground or a parking lot in the middle of the day warrants a different response than a fight under a bridge at midnight.

A fight in a place where innocent bystanders (especially children, but also elderly, disabled, etc.) can be hurt or otherwise involved merits different consideration than a fight that’s apart from others.

The reason for the fight may be germane. An agreed-upon fight between two long-time enemies trying to even a score is different from a fight started by a sucker punch or ambush.

If they’re impeding traffic or commerce, then even a fight-by-agreement should be stopped, even if the participants aren’t in favor of that.

Considerations and circumstances.

LuckyGuy's avatar

911. Now.

Zaku's avatar

It depends on what my thoughts are about them, why they are fighting, and what is likely to happen if I do or don’t. I’ve been in a similar situation (but with people I did not know) a few times, and I always stopped and watched to figure out what was happening. In one case, someone else eventually intervened and broke up the fight. In another case, I waited until one side launched into an attack and then attacked that person myself, then stood with the other two until the guy decided he’d attack all three of us, then I called for the police (by yelling) and they did too, and someone else called them and they showed up quickly. In other cases I’ve just watched until they broke up by themselves. Generally I am always watching to make sure nothing too bad happens, and waiting to intervene when if and how it seems appropriate or needed.

anartist's avatar

Leave. Or withdraw discreetly and watch, providing no guns.

weeveeship's avatar

Thanks for the responses. If you called the cops, would they expect you to be a witness in the event that there is a trial for the fight (assault and battery, etc.)? Because if you know that both people are mean, then there is reason for you to fear retaliation if you reported them.

I guess you can do an anonymous report, but then doesn’t 911 or the cops still have your phone number?

heresjohnny's avatar

@weeveeship There probably wouldn’t be a trial. Something like 95% of cases are pled out. The DA would probably lower the charge in exchange for the parties pleading guilty, if they were charged at all.

The police would probably question you at the scene for information to put into their report. They would probably take your contact info, and I guess, in the unlikely event that it went to trial, they might subpoena you and have you testify. But likely I said, not very likely.

Zaku's avatar

Depends on how severe the fight was. In the case when we called out loud for the police, they talked to me at the scene about what happened and recommended I not intervene in future, but I don’t think they even took my contact info.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@weeveeship if you called the cops then they might want you to sign a complaint, but there are no compulsions to do that. Even if you do sign a complaint (this is all very preliminary; there may not even have been an arrest yet), you are not obligated to be a prosecution witness. (However, if you are a “material witness”, then I think that you can be compelled to testify at a subsequent trial, if one is held. I’m not certain of the legal definition of “material witness”, so that might be worth looking up.)

For most misdemeanor offenses such as “fighting in public” (assuming no one is killed or gravely injured, and no one other than the police presses charges), there may not be a trial, as @heresjohnny suggests. The thing would be plea-bargained down to some type of “nuisance” charge and the sentence (at least for a first-time offender) would likely be “time served” (waiting in the lockup for arraignment, for example). For a non-first timer, there may be charges brought, but the cost of a trial would still compel the District Attorney to bargain for some kind of agreement with the offender, with a resulting lighter sentence that a judge would sign off on.

If the offense happens in a “three-strikes” state, and this is a repeat offender (if one of the combatants is identified as an instigator or even a target of a prosecutor’s wish to “clear the streets”), then there may be a formal trial with “full measure of the law” brought, in order to put the guy away for life. (The vagaries of our system, sometimes.)

Calls can still be made anonymously from public phones, and you could always say that your phone was not in your possession when a call was placed. Even calls from one’s home phone can be explained as “not by me”, if the potential for multiple callers exists, such as at a party, for example.

tearsxsolitude's avatar

I’d stand and watch to be quite honest.

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