Nine years ago, a so-called “ordinary” New Zealander, Austin Hemmings, 44, came to the aid of a woman being assaulted in an Auckland street. In the fracas, he was mortally wounded and died;
The woman Austin Hemmings died trying to save says he stood in front of her to shield her from a knife-wielding attacker and ordered her to run just moments before he was stabbed to death.
“Who does that? Who dies for someone they don’t know?” the woman told the Sunday Star-Times yesterday in her first interview since her September 25 ordeal.
The 26-year-old West Auckland woman, who has name suppression, calls Hemmings her guardian angel and says he stayed calm as he tried to talk to the attacker.
The woman had taken a break from her job at the call centre in a downtown Auckland office block to talk to a male friend on her cellphone when she was approached by a man she recognised as her cousin. She waved at him and he started talking to her. “It was really confrontational, up in my face.”
Frightened, she told the friend on the phone to call the police. “I just got frozen and all that came out of my mouth was `Help, can somebody help me?’ And there was no one until Austin came.”
She said she saw Hemmings, who had just left work, out of the corner of her eye.
“I said, `Excuse me, sir, can you please help me?’ He just stood in the middle of myself and [the accused] and just said to him, `What’s going on here?’ And [the accused] ignored him and said `Get out of the way, it’s none of your business’.
“And Austin was like, `I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I can’t leave you to do what you’re doing’ sort of thing.
Less than a minute later, Hemmings turned to her.
“All I can remember is him saying, `Run!’ And I get to the lift and it’s so unreal, you press the elevator and it’s not there. I remember thinking, `Are you serious?’ And [the accused] was running after me, and I prayed that someone would be in the elevator, and it comes. No one. My heart sank, and I thought, `Is this what it’s meant to be’?”
The doors opened. They fought in the lift. “I prayed not to black out … I pushed him out with all that was left in me.”
He fell, got up and ran, and the lift doors closed. They opened again on the floor of her work. “All I remember is our receptionist’s eyes wide open. I said, `Call the cops’.”
Her nose and lips were bleeding. Her colleagues wiped her down with paper towels before police arrived and took her back down to the street.
She says she asked people if they knew what happened to the man who’d helped her. “No one answered me.”
Then she was checked over by an ambulance officer. “I said, `How’s that man?’ and he stopped for a second and looked at his clipboard and said `Oh, he’s dead’.
“I broke down. I’m just crying because I’m like, `Who does that? Who dies for someone that they don’t know’?”
Austin Hemmings’ killer – whose name does not merit repeating, nor remembering – was sentenced to a minimum of sixteen years in prison.
On 27 July 2011, the late Mr Hemmings was posthumously awarded the New Zealand Bravery Star by the Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, and Lady Susan Satyanand. The medal was presented to Mr Hemmings’ wife, Jennifer Hemmings;
Eight years later, in Portland, Oregon, United States, three “ordinary” Americans stood up against another thug. This time two courageous men lost their lives to a violent, knife-wielding, foul-mouthed, bigot. The two heroes were Taliesin Meche and Ricky Best;
Two men wereon Friday after they tried to intervene while a man shouted racial slurs at two women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, police said.
Police on Saturday identified the victims as 53-year-old Ricky John Best and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche. Best died at the scene, and Meche died at a hospital, police said. Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, of Portland was also stabbed in the attack and is in serious condition at a Portland hospital, police said. His injuries are not believed to be life-threatening, police said.
In a press conference Saturday, Mayor Ted Wheeler said the victims were heroes, CBS affiliate KOIN reports.
“They were attacked because they did the right thing,” Wheeler said. “Their actions were brave and selfless and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. They are heroes.”
Ricky Best was a father of four, three teenage sons and a 12-year-old daughter. He was a public servant, working for Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, and a U.S. army veteran. He had survived tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Note the irony that he was murdered by a fellow American, whilst protecting two muslim women.)
Taliesin Namkai-Meche was a Portland native and had recently graduated at Reed College in economics. His tutor, Professor Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, described Namkai-Meche;
“I still remember where he sat in conference and the types of probing, intelligent questions I could anticipate him asking. He was thoughtful, humble, smart, inquisitive, and compassionate.”
A third man who intervened, Micah David-Cole Fletcher (21), was treated for serious knife-injuries but is expected to heal.
The assailant was a low-level criminal with right-wing, white supremacist racist views. He was filmed at a far-right “free speech” rally giving Nazi salutes and screaming “Die Muslims. Die fake Christians. Die Jews“.
The assailant, a stocky male, towered over the two young muslim women, threatening and abusing them verbally.
The assailant will also not be named here.
Instead, I pay tribute to people like Namkai-Meche, Best, and Fletcher who valiantly stood up to bigotry. They did not know the two young women being threatened, but they knew it was not right.
Just as Austin Hemmings did in 2008, these men stood up to what they saw as unacceptable thuggish behaviour. They refused to stay silent and look the other way.
There is an impulse in human nature to do good; to be altruistic; to stand up and help others even though they may be total strangers. It is this indomitable spark of humanity which is perhaps our single, most powerful, saving grace. If we, as a species survive, it will be due to that innate impulse to act altruistically even when we may personally not benefit. Or even face personal danger.
That is why I hold the belief that, in the end, bigotry will not triumph. Prejudice runs counter to our inner impulse for fairness and acting decently in the face of brutish bigotry.
As a blogger researching the events which swirl around us in the second decade of the 21st century, I often read depressing things which makes me wonder if our children and their children will survive to see the dawn of the 22nd century and the marvels of art, architecture, music, science, literature, and technology to come. And if we will live to further understand, appreciate, and respect the delicate inter-woven intracacies of our natural blue-green world and the myriad of other creatures we share it with.
Writing stories like this is soberingly sad, but it also offers hope. Hope that everything we do has not – will not – be in vain.
In the end, sometimes, that is what we have left to guide us and reaffirm our humanity: hope.
NZ Herald: Farewell to a man who did the right thing
Governor-General: Austin Hemmings
Facebook: Dan Rather
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