This is how the story began:
A man was driving his truck in a major American city, when a child jumped out into the street in front of his vehicle. He hit the child. It was an accident. No one disputes that fact, as the child jumping in front of the man’s car was caught on video. As a decent human being, or at least a law abiding one, the driver stopped his truck and got out to see what he could do for the child. At that point a mob descended on him. Many of them were young men, angry young men, and they started to beat the driver with their fists, and kick him with their feet. The young men and the child who was injured were all of the same race. The driver of the truck was of a different race. For nine days he lay in a coma. He remains in a hospital, still recovering from his injuries.
The driver’s name is Steve Utash. He is white, and his assailants are black. Four of them have been charged with attempted murder, after a Judge reviewed their statements and heard eyewitness testimony. It’s likely they were not the only people who assaulted Mr. Utash. An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Charlie LeDuff posits that the beating Mr. Utash suffered was likely motivated by racism on the part of the young men now charged with attempted murder. As Mr. LeDuff notes, employing more than a little understatement, “This is America, after all.”
This is not the uncommon part of the story, however.
You see, Mr. Utash had a solitary savior. One woman who put herself between the mob beating Mr. Utash and single-handedly stopped the attack. A retired nurse, she risked a great deal to save Mr. Utash’s life. She certainly was under no obligation to do so, and I know that many people in her situation would have stood by, as others in the crowd that day did, and simply watched as Mr. Utash was beaten by all those angry peoiple. Yet, she made the decision that the risk to herself was worth the chance to save a fellow human being’s life.
Her name is Deborah Hughes, she is a a retired nurse. She just happens to be an African American, as well. I’ll let Mr. Leduff’s describe what she did that awful day:
[Steve Utash] was saved by Deborah Hughes, a black woman and a retired nurse who carries a .38. After attending to the child, who was not critically injured, Ms. Hughes lay across the body of Mr. Utash and promised herself that she would put a bullet in the next person to strike him.
First things first. I’m not writing this diary to show how guns can save lives. I do not pass judgment one way or another regarding Deborah Hughes brandishing her firearm. For all she knew, Mr. Utash was already beaten so badly that he would not survive. For all I know, she felt she had no choice but to threaten the men beating Mr. Utash to get them to stop.
I’m writing about this woman because over the last several days the news has been dominated by a man in Nevada, a scofflaw and racist, whose own words demonstrate that he does not consider African Americans, or as he called them collectively, “The Negro,” fully human. I strongly suspect, that under such circumstances, that gentlemen, observing a group of young white men beating an older black man, would have stood idly by and watched, or perhaps he might even have participated in beating up “the Negro.” I’ll never know, of course, but I do know what one woman with dark skin did to help a man with white skin when his life was threatened.
In her own words:
The retired nurse said Monday she didn’t hesitate when she saw a group of men savagely beating Steven Utash last week, after he got out of his pickup on the city’s east side to check on a 10-year-old boy he had hit with his vehicle.
“Nothing was really going through my head, other than ‘They need to stop beating this man,’ ” said Hughes, 56.
Nothing was really going through my head, other than ‘They need to stop beating this man.’ Well, I can tell you plenty of other thoughts would have been going through my mind. I freely confess that I am not as courageous or decent a person as Ms. Hughes. If I came across a group of angry white men beating a black man I would call 911 from a safe distance and pray the cops arrived in time. I would not risk my life for that person. I imagine I am not the only one who would react that way. Inserting myself into a violent situation in order to protect a person of a different race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation than me is regrettably a trait I fear I do not possess. I’m 57 years old. I’d be scared to death that a mob of younger, stronger people beating anyone would happily beat me up as well if I attempted to intervene in their “fun.”
Fortunately for Steve Utash, Deborah Hughes is not like me. She saw a fellow human being in danger and did not care who was kicking the crap out of him. She did not care that he was white. All she knew was that someone had to stop the people beating Steve Utash before they killed him. And that someone was her.
Perhaps she acted to help Steve Utash because she was a nurse. The first action she took was to check out the child who was struck by Utash’s truck, after all. In fact, that was what she was doing when Mr. Utash appeared next to her after getting out of his vehicle.
“I saw the boy all by himself, crying,” Hughes said. “His father was in the store. He came out, and I told him, ‘I’m a nurse; don’t touch him. Let him lay there.’ The baby was crying so hard, and I talked to him and tried to calm him down.
“About that time, I saw (Utash) get out of his truck; he came running up saying, ‘Oh, my God, tell me he’s all right. Please tell me he’s all right.’ He was hysterical.”
However, helping an injured child is one thing. Saving the life of a man who injured that child from being killed by an angry mob of younger, stronger people is something else entirely. Especially if the color of that man’s skin is different than your own. This is America, after all.
It requires looking past our differences in race and culture. It requires seeing a person with those differences as a human being like yourself, entitled to the same measure of kindness and consideration and compassion you are owed from others. It requires courage, and not just physical bravery, but moral courage, to do what Deborah Hughes did for Steve Utash. To stand up against an angry mob and say this violence must stop and to put your own life on the line to see that it does stop – that is special.
Deborah Hughes is not a better person than me because she is black or a woman or a nurse. There are many people like Deborah Hughes on this earth and they come in many guises. Some are white. Some are people of color. Some are Muslims, some are Buddhists, some are Christians, and some have another faith or no faith in any God. Some are straight or gay or simply “It’s none of your business who I choose to love” people. Every day, somewhere in the world, someone like Deborah Hughes is acting to help another person in the face of hatred, racism, and the all too human urge to do violence upon other members of the species Homo Sapiens for any reason or no reason at all.
I called this an uncommon story, but perhaps that is inaccurate and misleading. Perhaps the story of Deborah Hughes is more common than we know. Our news media focuses on the bad acts that happen in this world. “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the old newspaper motto. The Clive Bundy’s of the world, and all the other bad actors, dominate the headlines. The Deborah Hughes of the world get short shrift. Stories of murder and violence of every kind are so much more entertaining for some reason, or so the news coverage would have us believe. Maybe this is an uncommon story because stories like it are so rarely reported. Even Deborah Hughes herself downplays what she did.
Hughes shrugged off claims that she’s a hero.
“You just have to do the right thing,” she said.
Sounds corny, I suppose, when you read the words “Do the right thing.” But it shouldn’t. And the right thing starts with acknowledging the basic humanity of all people. Then it continues with accepting that all of us owe each other, not hatred and violence, but respect and love. And lastly, it requires us to act toward others, regardless of who they are or what they believe or how they treat us, out of love and respect.
We all can’t be as heroic as Deborah Hughes. But we can at least try to do the right thing when the opportunity presents itself. We can choose to act out of love or we can choose to act out of hate. It’s up to us. It’s easy to follow along with the mob. That’s the safe thing to do. It’s hard to stand up against those who proudly and loudly scream their vitriol, calling for war instead of acting for peace. Hard, but not impossible. And when someone does “do the right thing” we sure as hell should let the world know who they are and what they did.
Thank you, Deborah Hughes. You are a hero even if you refuse that title. Hopefully you will inspire more of your fellow human beings, flawed as we are, to follow your example.