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This video has gone viral in France. I couldn’t find a version subtitled in English, so I’ll walk you through it with a rough translation.
A particular kind of pickpocket works the early-morning shift in the Métro. They target passengers who are trying to get a few extra winks in before work, or people who are still drunk after partying all night. “The corpse robbers of dawn,” the cops call them.
The scene below was recorded by a security camera. Police officer Emmanuelle Oster, who’s narrating, is the chief of investigations for Paris transportation.
Here’s the approach technique. He [the pickpocket] is going to sit by him. He pushes on his knee to see if the gentleman is sleeping.
“I tap with my hand on one side, I see what he has in his pocket — some keys, a phone, something that interests me? And now, done with the the right pocket, time for the left.”
Characteristic. An infraction. A theft.
And now we see a passenger appear. It’s very obvious from his behavior that he’s a commuter waiting for his morning train.
And now? [as the victim stands up] What’s going on in his head, I don’t know. Look, he’s — I’ll pause.
The frame freezes, and she points:
Look [at the victim]. He doesn’t look well. He’s doubled over, he even looks as if he might vomit. Anyone would say, “Look, he really isn’t okay, he’s sick.”
The clip starts again:
And there [pointing] — the passenger sees it. And you’re going to see that the victim is staggering. Until now, it’s possible the passenger didn’t understand. But now, it’s impossible he doesn’t grasp that the guy is completely drunk. And he watches him approach the precipice — look, he’s two centimeters away — and his hands are still in his pockets.
He sees it. There is absolutely no doubt about it. But his attitude doesn’t change.
And he falls. [Pointing] Voilà. The fall is there, the person is here. Look at the passenger’s attitude. He turns around and walks the other direction, with his hands still in his pockets.
So. He saw. He saw that there was absolutely no danger to him. The train arrives. That still doesn’t move him. Not only might the man be knocked out, electrocuted, killed — but there’s a risk of him being crushed by the train.
The camera turns to Officer Oster:
At no moment did this passenger do a single positive thing to help. He didn’t sound the emergency alarm, interrupt anything, rush toward him, raise his arms, cry out …. he just left. Totally indifferent. Like a coward, very obviously.
And paradoxically, the author of the crime came to his assistance. Look at the thief. The thief comes running.
And there’s the passenger, who certainly saw the man fall — with his hands still in his pockets. He didn’t say or do anything — and now he’s even about to get on the train.
It’s the thief who’s running to save him. He’s about to extend his hand and pull him out.
By luck, the young man wasn’t hurt — he was just a bit stunned. Thanks to his pickpocket, he no doubt narrowly escaped the worst.
This reflex to help, it clearly shows that there’s humanity there. The thief didn’t react like a thief, he reacted like a human being, telling himself, “Maybe I’m a thief, maybe I’m a bastard because I’m a thief, but I’m not so much of a bastard that I’d let this person be electrocuted.” And you see him running toward the individual. So you see that humanity got the better of the thief.
Perhaps it’s an elegant lesson. In every thief, perhaps there’s a human being. And in everyone who passively does nothing, perhaps there’s a bastard.
As you can see from her body language, she was stunned that a commuter could blithely turn around and ignore the sight of a passenger staggering on to the tracks. I am too.
But she seems equally stunned that the pickpocket ran to help. I’m not surprised: How could anyone ignore that?
Perhaps if you’re chief of transport investigations in Paris, you become just that cynical about thieves and pickpockets — to the point of saying, “there might be a human being in some of them.”
For those of you who work in law enforcement: Have you ever seen anything like that? On a security camera or live? Would you be surprised to see a pickpocket do that? I certainly wasn’t surprised to see that there could be honor among thieves. But perhaps that’s the innocence of someone who doesn’t spend her life hunting them down and arresting them.