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Subway dilemma: Be a hero or just human?

NEED TO KNOW
  • After a New York man dies when he is pushed in front of a train, questions fly
  • Is the photographer to blame, a NYC newspaper -- or society?
Did a photographer do all that he could to help a man who was shoved onto a New York City subway track.

Why wasn't there a hero?

That seems to be the central question after a horrific incident in New York this week in which a man was killed after being thrown in front of a subway train as dazed passengers watched. The suspect was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, but for many that's not where the blame solely lies.

The scorn has fallen on the photographer that snapped a picture of the victim seconds before his death, as well as the New York Post newspaper which ran the controversial photo showing 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han, a husband and father to a little girl, on the subway tracks seconds before a train hit him.

But questions -- many of them soul-piercing and puzzling -- remain about whether the photographer, a freelancer for the New York Post, R. Umar Abbasi, had a duty -- some say, the humanity -- to do more than just snap a picture in such a time of duress.

Abbasi told CNN/HLN that he would only talk to the network if it paid him, but in a first-person account to his client, the New York Post, Abbasi said that there was only so much he could do as the man who pushed the victim on the tracks was still in the vicinity and was a potentially looming threat to bystanders.

"I just started running. I had my camera up — it wasn’t even set to the right settings — and I just kept shooting and flashing, hoping the train driver would see something and be able to stop," he says in the Post. "I had no idea what I was shooting. I’m not even sure it was registering with me what was happening. I was just looking at that train coming.

'I was afraid he might push me onto the tracks'

Abbasi told the Post that the incident transpired in a matter of seconds.

"It all went so quickly; from the time I heard the shouting until the time the train hit the man was about 22 seconds. At the same time, the perp was running toward me. I was afraid he might push me onto the tracks."

VIDEO: NYC subway death photo: Was there a bystander effect?

But many people are not only disappointed in the photographer and the Post -- but they are angry.

"I mean it would be one thing if he just froze in panic, unsure what to do, but he clearly comprehended the situation and chose to raise his camera and take a picture instead of trying to help the guy," a commenter on Gawker, which posted a thoughtful discussion of the story from several respected photographers, said Wednesday. "Not saying he would have necessarily succeeded but he certainly had a moral obligation to try."

'People instead take pictures ... such a sick society'

Some New Yorkers didn't know what they would do -- but it would be something other than what the photographer did. “I wouldn’t do the wrong thing,” one man waiting for the train told the New York Times Tuesday. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Some Internet commenters have blamed not one person but a tech culture that has bred what they see as a voyeuristic society. "Twenty-two seconds to rescue the guy while he was helplessly screaming and trying to get back on platform, and people instead take pictures of him before he gets hit and sell them to the press. Such a sick society," said a commenter on an ABC story about the incident.

Another commenter questioned the victim.

"What role did the victim have in his own death? Wasn't he warned by the perp to leave him alone numerous times? What would you do if a drunken man is in your face bothering you? Not all the blame should be placed on the guy that shoved him on the subway track," said a Washington Post commenter.

"I think that decision was encouragement to others to take pictures and videos of people in trouble instead of trying to help them," said a commenter on HLN's story. "Bad judgment on both the photographer's and the newspaper's parts. I see a lawsuit by family and friends of the victim possibly in both of their futures."

Kenny Irby, a Poynter Institute expert in the ethics of visual journalism, told the Washington Post the photographer didn't necessarily cross a line. “What was done was not necessarily unethical,” Irby told the paper. “It depends on the individual at the time of action.”

His questions included whether Abbasi was strong enough to lift the man, but the bottom line he said was: “I would argue that you’re a human being before you’re a journalist.”

Perhaps the most important angle to the story is that media reports show that New Yorkers did indeed try to help.

"A security guard and I performed 3-4 minutes of chest compressions," Dr. Laura Kaplan, a medical resident at Beth Israel Medical Center who witnessed the incident, told ABC News. "I hope the family may find some comfort in knowing about the kindness of these good Samaritans, as they endure this terrible loss," Kaplan said. "I would like the family to know that many people in the station tried to help Mr. Han by alerting the subway personnel," she said.

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