David Fernandes
Producer, Director, Writer

Archive for the ‘Toronto’ Category

When push comes to shove, what would YOU do?

Thu ,26/02/2009

You’re just sitting on the streetcar, passively people watching, phasing in and out of daydreams, and next thing you know, two woman are bashing each other’s faces in, right on top of you.


In the moment, you don’t really know what to do.

Today, without thinking, I got involved.

Rewind to a few minutes earlier, a young white girl, maybe sixteen or so, gets in a huff about how a late 30′s east asian woman ‘sat on her stuff’, when she sat down at one of the few available seats on the crowded, rush-hour streetcar. The girl yells at her and starts pulling macho crap I’ve only ever heard come from young men before. ‘Who said you could touch my stuff, you bitch? You wanna go right now? Me and you outside?’

Not taking any crap from a mouthy teen, the woman explained that the seats were for everybody and she couldn’t keep her bag there.

Taking that as a taunt, the girl’s friend (also white) jumped in to further harass the woman, chastising her and hurling out racist slurs.

The woman, now trembling with anger, told them they have no right to talk to her like that and refused to budge. Which led the first girl to physically shove her off the seat.

The next few moments are a bit of a blur as the woman got up and started punching the girl in the face, and then her friend joined in and they both started beating on the woman.

I immediately threw myself into the fray, and with the help of Janet (who I know and just happened to be in the seat behind them), managed to pull the two sides apart and appeal for calm.

They stopped fighting. My appeal for calmness, however, didn’t get very far.

The driver, somehow unaware that people were screaming and fighting, kept driving.

White girl, now feeling victimized and sporting a swelling lip, ramped up her racist barrage. Myself and Janet told her off, but she kept going, emboldened by all the attention.

The woman, crying and red with anger, again asserted herself, telling the girl she needed to be taught a lesson. The girl went off on it threatening to get off the streetcar with her and beat her up. ‘You better watch when you get of bitch, we’re getting off at the same stop and I’m gonna fuck you up.’

I asked the woman if she was ok or needed anything. She decided to call the cops on her cell phone since the driver obviously wasn’t going to do anything.

Even while the woman was on the phone, with the police, the white girl continued her tough talk, threatening her, calling her racist names. By this point, other passengers were speaking up and telling the girl to shut up. Her friend, worried about the police, took her aside and tried to calm her down.

I went up with the woman to tell the driver what was going on and that the cops were on their way.

A few passengers at the front expressed support for the woman and thanked me for challenging the girl.

The cops showed up and myself and another man about my age gave a quick statement. We were worried that the girls would lie and make it look like the woman just started wailing on them for no reason.

The streetcar left with the woman in the back seat of a cop car and the two girls getting grilled by two cops on the street.

Back at home now, the whole incident has me a bit shaken.

The two young girls will likely be charged with assault. It’s not a good feeling to think that I helped incarcerate two young women, as absolutely obnoxious and racist as they were. Criminal justice isn’t going to help them one bit – if anything, it will make them worse.

And as for the woman, having myself been the victim of bullying in the past, I totally understand the urge to strike back, to show that weak, insecure fool that you can’t be messed with.

But I can’t help but wonder if the whole fight could have been avoided if the woman had just gone up to the driver and asked him to call security from the outset. And heck, since I was sitting right beside her, and witnessed the whole vulgar escalation, why didn’t *I* go up and ask the driver to call security?

The whole thing was disturbing on a number of levels. The race dynamics of two young white women bullying and taunting an east asian woman, twice their age. The woman beating on a girl half her age. The streetcar driver who did nothing and took no serious note of the major commotion. And the silence that most people kept during the whole incident.

What would you do?

Would you have challenged the girls earlier and weakened their perceived power over the woman?

Would you have offered to switch seats in order to create a buffer between them?

Would you have gone up to the driver and asked for security to intervene?

Or would you just move seats or do your best to ignore them?

In the future, I’m going to speak out sooner, and remove myself from the privilege of being a passive observer.

If anything, it might help avoid an ugly, unnecessary fight between strangers.