MICHEL MARTIN, host: Finally, you remember when Attorney General Eric Holder famously said that we are a nation of cowards when it comes to race? Well, based on two recent stories that have been in the news, you might think he should have left it at cowards.
The first story I am talking about might be one that escaped your attention unless you live in the Washington, D.C., area. That's where a jury last week convicted a young woman named Brittany Norwood of viciously stabbing her co-worker, Jayna Murray, to death, evidently because Murray had caught Norwood stealing a pair of yoga pants.
That's awful enough, especially after Norwood terrified her neighbors and tried to distract the police by blaming the crime she committed on two stranger-rapists who did not exist. But what makes the whole thing even more horrible is the fact that two Apple store managers right next door - one male, one female - heard a violent commotion; heard grunting, screaming, and a woman begging for help; and did absolutely nothing about it - except, apparently, tell a store security guard to check it out.
There was no call to 911. There was no banging on the wall. No nothing, except their testimony to confirm what we already knew - that a young woman's life was taken for no good reason at all.
And then there's the second story that might have escaped your attention unless you follow sports, and that's about the legendary Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky, now retired, has been arrested and charged with molesting as many as eight young boys over a 15-year period, some of whom were participating in programs connected with the children's charity with which he was involved. And yes, he deserves his day in court for these terrible crimes, as do the university officials who have also been charged because, according to the indictment, they were allegedly told of this behavior by direct eyewitnesses to it but again, chose to do nothing. Nothing, that is, except order Sandusky not to bring children to Penn State's locker rooms.
Can I just tell you? It's easy to sit here and condemn these people, rage against them. And I will confess, I've spent more than a few minutes composing in my head the insults I'd like to deliver to them all. If you've ever been victimized, is there anything worse than knowing that someone knew, that someone could have helped you and didn't?
Those who did or are alleged to have committed crimes themselves will be brought to account, and indeed, already have been. Brittany Norwood is going to prison. All the Penn State officials who have been implicated profess their innocence, and the process will go forward. But what about those who stood by, who could have said something, even just made a phone call, but did not?
No doubt these cases will end up in somebody's case study. There are already all kinds of theories, such as people don't step in if they can't see the actual victim, or if they don't identify with him or her. But how does that explain the graduate student assistant who, allegedly, actually saw a little boy being raped and according to the indictment, told Penn State's head football coach, Joe Paterno, who told athletic director Tim Curley - but no one told the police? Weren't we all kids once?
In the meantime, I might humbly suggest that the people we all need to hold to account are ourselves. Because how many times have we all done it - walked away when we could have stopped, kept driving when we could have turned the car around? How many times have we acted like that kid being beaten, that the woman being threatened, the co-worker being harassed, had nothing to do with us - when we are the us, or could be?
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.