Helping others should always be in our ‘jurisdiction’

As my friends and I were walking to a coffee shop to work on our final papers, we noticed two men carrying a Subway bag and looking rather confused. Slowing down, they noticed us and walked over to tell us that they had gotten lost when they left their home to get sandwiches. As soon as the older man began talking, I realized that both were special needs. Keeping a tight grip on the younger man, who didn’t talk to us at all, he tried explaining where “home” was, but could only give us what seemed like a numerical address. No street. We didn’t know what to do, and though we tried to keep them talking to us so that one of us could get help, they wandered off, apologizing to us.

Continuing to walk, we talked amongst ourselves, trying to figure out where they could possibly have been going. On our way, we noticed a police car stopped at a red light, and one of my friends attempted to hail it before realizing the futile attempt, and just ran over to the policeman to explain what we had just seen. The returned response was that the officer was sorry, but that this particular area of town was “outside of his jurisdiction.”

Of course, I understood what the officer meant, but for some reason, I was particularly upset by his response. How could the concern for the welfare of two individuals who obviously needed help be outside of anyone’s jurisdiction?

This, I thought, was a problem with our society: a lack of caring for others. Certainly, if the area was outside of the officer’s boundaries, couldn’t he have still given us a number to call or advice on what to do? It wouldn’t have taken a very long time to go to where we had seen the men walking and try to figure out where they were going, and how the officer could help.

In the end, we decided to call 911 and explain the situation. By that time, the men had vanished from our view, and we were unable to find out if they had been found and directed back home.

The officer’s response stuck out in my mind, continuing to haunt me. How often do we hear about or witness people who turn their backs on situations that are seemingly beyond their control, or out of an unwillingness to become involved? As one of my friends said, at first, she was a little scared – we didn’t know the men: they could have been anybody.

But I think that what clued us in to the situation was the look of confusion and helplessness on both of their faces. Something was wrong, and they came to us for help. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so.

In situations like these, I always try to put myself in the other person’s predicament. In this case, it wasn’t very difficult. With a sister who has special needs, I immediately thought of what I would have wanted someone to do if something like this had ever happened to her. I would have wanted someone to reach out.

We certainly can’t provide help for the entire world, but I think we can try to provide help to those we encounter. And, I think that the mindset that things are “beyond our jurisdiction” should begin to change. Humanity and compassion are always within our jurisdictions: We are called to love and serve one another.

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at

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