French police have released surveillance footage taken at a Paris Metro station showing a pickpocket who dashed back to save the life of a man he just robbed after the victim stumbled onto train tracks and fell right in front of a train. The pickpocket rushed to save his victim’s life while a “law abiding citizen” stood by idly with his hands in his pocket and refused to help save a man’s life.
The footage showing the transformation of a man within seconds from a villain to a hero has sparked a lively philosophical debate online.
The approximately ninety-second footage narrated by Emanuelle Oster, a senior French police officer, was first aired by France 5 last week as part of a documentary on bystander apathy.
It shows a thief who spotted a man sitting asleep on a bench at a Paris Metro station. The thief approached the sleeping man — who was probably drunk — and sat next to him on the right side. He searched through his victim’s right pocket and appeared to remove an object, possibly a phone.
He moved to the left side, rifled through his victim’s pocket once again and appeared to remove another object. Then he walked away from the crime scene.
But moments later, the victim rose from the bench and appeared to be sleepwalking. He walked unsteadily across the platform to the edge and fell onto the tracks as a train pulled into the station. A bystander who saw the sleepwalker fall on the tracks simply looked for a while then turned around with his hands in his pocket and walked away casually as the train approached the platform. The train stopped inches away from the sleepwalker nearly running over him.
The thief who picked the sleepwalker’s pockets moments before now came sprinting along the platform in a desperate effort to reach his victim on the train tracks and rescue him before the train took off. He reached the sleepwalker still lying on the tracks and pulled him to safety while other commuters watched.
It was not clear from the footage if the thief was eventually arrested based on the evidence of the surveillance footage, or whether the victim suffered any injuries from the fall, but the footage, which emerged on YouTube on Dec. 9, 2015, has been viewed millions of times. The unlikely turn of events in which a presumably law abiding citizen refused to assist a man whose life was in imminent danger and a thief who rushed to help has sparked lively philosophical debate online.
Oster pointed out that police are familiar with the fact that pickpockets often go out early in the morning to rob exhausted passengers on their way home from night parties. She described such thieves as “corpse robbers of dawn.”
The police officer noted that the footage presents viewers with the “paradox” of a criminal who returns to aid his victim while a presumably law abiding citizen who would normally claim moral superiority to a criminal did nothing to help.
“He knows he’s a thief, and maybe that makes him a ‘bastard.’ But he isn’t so much of a bastard as to let this guy get electrocuted on the tracks,” Oster commented. “There’s a philosophical lesson to be learned here: Inside every thief there’s a human being, and in every innocent bystander there could be a bastard.”
Oster added that people may call the thief a “bastard” but he reacted like a “human being” to the sight of a fellow human in danger.
[Image via Joseph Barillari/Wikimedia]