Joe Solomon, Methuen’s 58-year-old police chief, understood the feel-good nature of Monday night’s Channel 5 newscast in which a shopper re-enacted how an assailant reached into her car outside the Market Basket, grabbed her throat and was shoving her further inside the vehicle when a Good Samaritan named Jay Sarcione came to her rescue before chasing after the hooligan.
It was the stuff of neighborliness and gallantry, reminiscent of the kind of society we once were.
“If you had asked me what I thought 20 years ago,” Solomon said, “I’d have told you, ‘I’m so glad he did that; I wish more people would get involved the way he did.’ And everyone would have been telling me, ‘Good for you, Chief!’
“But today I’ve got to be careful what I say, or I’ll have the ACLU claiming I’m encouraging vigilantism. These are different times. My personal feelings may not have changed but what’s considered an appropriate comment by a public official isn’t what it used to be.
“I’ll tell you one thing for sure: This isn’t the world I grew up in.”
So even while saluting Sarcione’s instinct to help, Solomon felt he had to wave a cautionary flag.
“Coming to someone’s aid is different than engaging in a pursuit,” he noted. “Suppose the guy he was chasing had a gun, turned and shot him? Or suppose (Sarcione) had been struck by a car while running along Haverhill Street?”
Then again, Solomon suggested, suppose it was the perpetrator who got injured.
“He falls down, breaks a leg and what does he do? He hires a lawyer and sues you. Look, I need to be careful what I’m saying, but this country’s whole thought process is becoming crazy.
“We’ve all seen stories where a man breaks into another man’s house, trips, hurts himself, then sues the homeowner! How did we get to the point where the victim becomes the suspect?”
It was a rhetorical question.
“Hey, I give this kid (Sarcione) credit for helping us get this guy because chances are he’d have done the same thing to someone else. Personally? I’d have done the same thing. But as a police chief I can’t be encouraging him to put himself in harm’s way
“The best thing to do in that situation would be to blast the horn, yell, ‘What are you doing to her?’ and holler for someone to call 911.”
Then Solomon sighed, as if not truly comfortable with his own advice.
“I’m afraid this little town I grew up in has become a city.”
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