A Local Hero – and the Rest of Us

By Jim Smith

When Paul Banke got on the bus in Venice on the morning of Oct. 3, he wasn’t thinking of acting heroically. He was just setting out to find some day labor on a construction project.

But at a bus stop on Pico Blvd., Paul noticed a big thug get on the bus. At six feet tall with bulging muscles, he was nearly twice as big as either Paul or the bus driver. He would have been a heavyweight had he been a boxer. He was still wearing his bracelet from county jail.

The big man didn’t take a seat, but began arguing with the bus driver, then he began slapping the driver. This wasn’t a private dispute. The bus was full of people who were depending on the bus driver.

Paul acted without thinking. He walked to the front of the bus and decked the attacker with one punch. Paul dragged the gangster out of the bus and on to the sidewalk where he sat watching birds and stars circle his head.

When Paul climbed back on the bus, he was applauded by everyone. The elderly ladies got up to hug and kiss him. The border brothers (undocumented workers) in the back of the bus smiled but kept their seats, always afraid an immigration officer would notice them.

It wasn’t the first heroic act for Paul Banke. In the early 90s, Paul won the World Super Bantamweight boxing title (under 122 pounds). In his boxing days, Paul was called The Real Paul Banke because of his courage. In the face of a barrage of punches from his opponent, Paul would just keep on coming, until he wore the other fighter down.

In 1995, Paul began a lifelong battle with a far more dangerous opponent, AIDS. Yet, even against this deadly virus, Paul fought courageously. As new, more effective, drug “cocktails” were developed, Paul was again able to work, as he did on that October day.

Paul’s courage against the thug stands in stark contrast to the sheep-like behavior that too many of us exhibits. In today’s America Paul Banke’s heroism seems to be as rare as hen’s teeth.

There is the strange case of Andrew Meyer, a University of Florida student, who had the temerity to ask Sen. John Kerry a question at a campus forum on Sept. 17.

Kerry took Meyer’s rambling question about fake elections, impeachment and Iraq in stride, and was in the midst of answering it when police came up behind Meyer, pulled him away from the microphone, wrestled him down the aisle and shot him with a Taser gun. Everyone in the hall, except apparently Kerry who droned on, was aware of what was happening. Meyer’s terror was quite apparent as he screamed, “Help me! Help! What are you doing! Get off of me! Don’t Taser me, bro! Oh my God! Oh my God!”

All in a day’s work for U of F’s finest, who were reportedly incensed about some of Meyer’s questions to Kerry: “Though Sen. Kerry directed that Meyer be allowed to ask his question, police reported that Meyer did not ask any specific question and instead “badgered” the senator, and at one point said something about President Clinton being impeached over a sexual act. At that point, police reported that University of Florida administrator, Max Tyroler, turned off Meyer’s microphone and asked police to escort him out of the auditorium, saying, “He had said enough,” according to Officer Mallo’s report.

What should be troubling about this incident is not Kerry’s obliviousness (we know him too well to be bothered by that), but the reaction of the audience of university students. There was no reaction (see photo).
In the video of the incident, not one spectator can be seen speaking out or rising in their seats to protest the gestapo tactics of the police, let alone going to his assistance (as Paul Banke probably would have done). Instead, they seem to be anesthetized.

Coincidentally, on the victim’s website - theandrewmeyer.com - is an essay entitled: A disorganized diatribe involving the desensitization of the American people and the irresponsibility of the American press. Did Meyer have a premonition that his “sensitization” would bring him to the attention of the police?

Meyer’s essay is about America’s desensitization to the massive body count in Iraq. A point well taken when considering the poor turnout of national and local protests over the illegal invasion and occupation. On Oct. 27, barely 2,000 people turned out for what was billed as a major anti-war march and rally in downtown L.A.

Even in Venice, where opposition to the war is nearly unanimous it is hard to get more than a handful of Venetians to turn out to protest. When pressed, people may say that “it doesn’t do any good to protest,” or “I’m too busy doing _____” (fill in the blank). But both of these and other rationalizations are more evidence of mass desensitization.

Protesting the war is not the only time we have the opportunity to have a full human existence. Have you ever seen an act of violence - or even an act of harassment - and done nothing? Sure, speaking up can be dangerous, as Andrew Meyer found out. But isn’t the alternative - doing nothing - even more dangerous, both personally and socially, in the long run? What would you have done if you had been in that Florida audience when Meyer was attacked? What would you do tomorrow if you saw a defenseless person being attacked? Would you have helped the bus driver who was confronted by a thug? Your response might well determine what kind of person you really are down deep - under the dark glasses and designer clothes.

How have we all become so desensitized? It might make an interesting seminar at the University of Florida, or the University of Venice. The answer is no doubt important. Is it mindless TV viewing, video games, spectator sports, sensory overload, work-related stress, some additive in our food, or in the air? This list is endless.

Whatever the reason, the mass desensitization of the population is arguably more dangerous to the future of the country than a passel of Bushes. Any tyrant can be opposed, and ultimately brought down, by an aroused citizenry. But if the body public is infected with a generalized anesthesia, then we are, indeed, in trouble.

Posted: Thu - November 1, 2007 at 01:58 PM