Real Life Heroes of the Colorado Shooting [Exclusive]
Experts say African Americans more likely to act heroically than whites
When James Holmes allegedly entered a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. last Friday, set off smoke bombs and started shooting, Jarell Brooks did what most would in that situation — he ran. But as he stumbled through the mass of other moviegoers, trying to get out, he noticed Patricia Legarreta, 25, and her two young children crouched on the floor. Lagarreta was doing her best to protect her 4-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son as she struggled to get to the exit. Brooks then stopped and did what most wouldn’t — he shielded Legarreta and her children with his body, getting shot in the process, and managed to shepherd them safely out.
Brooks, 19, who is at home recuperating from the gunshot wound to his leg, is being hailed as a hero.
“I don’t know where I would be,” Legarreta told ABC News. “I thank him because having him there next to me, knowing that there was somebody there, just, it’s comforting, knowing that somebody was willing to help.”
Eric Hunter, who pulled two girls to safety in a neighboring theater before shutting the door as the shooter was about to enter, thereby saving dozens of others, is also being recognized for his heroic act.
Both Brooks and Hunter are African American, and the image of two young black men as real life superheroes is a welcome contrast to the negative images of African American youth that are often shown on television.
Interestingly, studies show that minorities are more likely than whites to commit acts of heroism. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford and president of the Heroic Imagination Project, did a study of 4000 people and found that African Americans were twice as likely to have acted heroically than whites.
In doing studies on random acts of kindness in several cities worldwide, Dr. Robert Levine, professor of psychology at California State University, Fresno, found that in general, minorities were more likely than whites to help others.
The question is, why?
Experts don’t yet have a concrete answer, but Zimbardo suggests: “Perhaps minorities have experienced more disadvantage and suffering, which makes them more compassionate.”
Location is also a factor. Most African Americans live in urban areas, where there is more crime than in rural areas, presenting more opportunities for people to act heroically.
Zimbardo also thinks that faith, and having a strong moral compass, may play a part. A 2007 Pew Forum study shows that African Americans are markedly more religious than the rest of the population, with 79 percent of African Americans saying that religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of the total population.
Brooks comes from a religious family. His father, Jeffrey Brooks, is the pastor of New Life Worship Center in Commerce City, Colo., and his mother, Eirz Scott, says that Brooks was raised according to their faith, to be selfless and compassionate.
“Jarell and his siblings were raised to respect each other, to be respectable, and to think of others,” says Scott. “They were taught godly values, to know that their relationship with God and with their fellow man is everything.”
Brooks says that he acted instinctively in helping Legarreta and her children:
“I couldn’t be selfish,” he says. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I got out and this woman and her children died. My parents taught me respect towards women; don’t put yourself first.”
Brooks is understandably still shaken, and broke down in tears as he recalled last Friday’s events. Though he has been interviewed on news programs, Brooks himself is not emotionally in a place where he can watch footage of what happened that night.
Brooks believes that in helping Lagaretta and her children, he may well have saved his own life.
“It’s a good feeling to know that God blessed me enough to not just save my life, but to also save someone else’s life,” he says. “God blessed me with a second chance, because if I hadn’t ducked to help Patricia, I would probably have been killed myself.”