The morning after

This morning, at about 9:30, I hopped on the 4, headed to my bazillionth obstetrician appointment. (Due date was Sunday and BB2B, who is apparently taking after Big Sister, does not seem eager to make an appearance.) It started out as an uneventful ride–a crowded and quiet (wrapped) trolley inching its way west on Jefferson toward downtown–until we pulled up to the stop at 12th.

Even though I had brought my bus read, I chose to spend the ride staring out the window and daydreaming, so I immediately noticed an odd woman standing at the stop, pulling her t-shirt up over her nose and flailing her arms (as if preparing for a race) while everyone else was boarding. Just as the driver was about to take off, she ran to the back entrance and grabbed both doors, leaving her sweatshirt and bag on the bench behind her. She held the doors for at least 30 seconds, then rushed aboard the bus and attacked the woman sitting directly behind me. It became clear almost immediately that: 1) the attacker did not know her victim and 2) she was completely out of her mind.

She grabbed a fistful of the woman’s hair and yanked, slapping and hitting her anywhere she could reach, all the while yelling and ranting at the top of her lungs. Another woman tried to stop the assault and was hit several times for her trouble. To our shero’s credit, she didn’t let up. The attacker continued to lunge at her victim, only letting go of her hair long enough to fend off the shero and to slap a man sitting nearby.

SPD arrived within a minute. The woman ran off the bus as soon as she saw the cops, though whether it was to get away from or confront them, I am not sure. Whatever the case, they apprehended her without much effort, though not before she managed to tear off her t-shirt and toss it at them. She was arrested, face down on the sidewalk, in nothing but her bra.

I’m still rattled, for so many reasons it’s hard to isolate why.

I’ve been riding Metro buses for 30(+) years, and I’ve witnessed my share of drama, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt afraid on a ride. I should say, of course, that this attack wasn’t specific to the bus; it could just have easily happened to someone walking by this woman on the street. (And Lord knows, crazy people attacking at random, in all kinds of settings, is far too common of late.) But, since this particular act of violence did happen on the bus, while I was riding, it’s worth discussing.

This wasn’t a fight between people with a specific beef, which can be disturbing but rarely feels threatening; it was a random attack on a woman who was minding her own business on her way to work. (It also happened to be a woman I’ve been seeing on buses for years–and who I consider to be part of my “bus family“–which made it hit closer to home.) I travel on the 4 with Chicklet all the time. What would I have done (and how would I have been able to protect her) if that woman had come after us?

I take normal precautions to stay safe (don’t travel alone at night except to places with substantial foot traffic, don’t wait at isolated stops, stay aware of my surroundings), but I’ve always felt that broad daylight on a crowded bus (or street) is about as safe as it can get. All of a sudden, even though I know intellectually that these types of incidents don’t happen often, I feel vulnerable in ways I haven’t in the past.

And that’s another thing: Only one person on that entire crowded bus lifted a finger to help the woman who was being attacked. Yes, we were all in shock (and many of us–especially big, lumbering, off-balance me–wouldn’t have been of much help), but mostly, I think, we were just worried about our own safety. I wanted the attacker to stop hurting the woman, but I was spending most of my brain cycles figuring out how to keep her from hurting me.

And that, after all of yesterday‘s celebrating and marching and talking and thinking and teaching my kid about peace and justice and concern for one’s fellow human, is more than a little disappointing.

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