When NewsWorks freelance photographer Bas Slabbers got jumped May 31 while minding his business on SEPTA’s Route 23 bus, not too many people noticed.
Beyond the fellow passengers who did nothing to intervene, the initial story on the incident didn’t gain much traction.
Then along came Wednesday, when Philadelphia Police publicly released video of footage culled from an onboard camera. Two days later, the perpetrator would be arrested not because of the video, but thanks to dogged SEPTA police work.
Local media outlets posted and, in some cases, led their websites with it. Many followed up with calls for interviews, requests that Slabbers granted. From there, websites with national readerships picked up on the story.
On Thursday, he was called into the police detective bureau for a suspect photo lineup. (He said he recognized suspect Cassie Darby instantly).
On Friday morning, about an hour before he learned an arrest was made, Slabbers discussed the post-attack experience.
When violent videos go viral
If Slabbers hoped the incident would not become a symbol upon which political and social leanings were projected, he made the mistake of watching the YouTube view counter and briefly delving into the comments on the stories written about his misfortune.
“I was shocked when I saw the video, because I was not seeing it as the video showed it,” said Slabbers, who moved to Philadelphia from the Netherlands in 2010.
He noted that he still sees it through the lens of what he saw and felt while sitting on that Route 23 seat. For example, what the video shows lasted less than 30 seconds felt like more than two minutes.
When the video was released, some reporters knocked on his door while others blew up his cell phone with calls seeking an interview. This was when he noticed the Police Department video getting more and more views on Wednesday. In other words, he’d been repeatedly forced to relive it.
“It had about 4,000 [views] when we went out to get a coffee table we’d bought on Craigslist,” he recalled. “When we got back, there were 78,000. It showed up on [the] Drudge [Report website] and 4chan. I didn’t focus on the comments until then.”
What people are saying
Now, Slabbers noticed people commenting about the racial intricacies of the situation — as in the suspect is black, the victim is white and none of the black passengers jumped in to help him — while others questioned his manhood.
“Somebody told me [the day it happened] that I’m lucky the bus didn’t turn against me,” said Slabbers, noting most online comments were substantially more harsh. “There were comments that my mother should have raised me tougher, that I should have stood up for myself.”
Slabbers did not pay much heed to those nameless commenters, though. He acknowledged “living in a dream world where public transportation should be safe. … I’m just a sweet guy who would jump into a fight to break it up.”
A conversation starter
Asked his thoughts on the attacker, he didn’t talk about anger; he said he would like to know what her rationale was, what happened in her life which caused her to lash out.
Slabbers noted that cultural differences have struck him as he thinks about the issue. In the Netherlands, “keeping your curtains open to see what’s going on” and helping police solve cases is a positive attribute.
“Here in the City of Brotherly Love, ‘brotherly love’ means you don’t snitch, that the cops are the enemy,” he said. “‘Brotherly Love’ and ‘Sisterly Affection’ got me punched in the face, but this inspires me. Maybe it will open up a discussion, because that’s what those comments are, a discussion. Open it up. It’s time to talk about this. Am I the person who has to say, ‘C’mon, dudes, chill?'”