When I was 15, I was on my way home from my part-time job on the train when a man approached me and asked if I wanted to go to his apartment. No conversation. No hesitation. He just sat right next to me in my Warner Bros denim jacket with my school backpack and propositioned me.
I first responded that I was only 15. This man, a brown Latino who had clearly been drinking, was unfazed. He continued leaning close to me and asking if I wanted to go to his apartment. I cursed him out. Loudly. And not a soul on that train, despite dozens of adult men and women looking on as a grown man attempted to lure a child to his home, came to my aid or defense.
That was neither the first nor last time I was harassed by a man on public transportation. A motley crew of men have sexually harassed, propositioned or threatened violence against me in the more than 25 years since I began riding the train alone. And while violent harassment from men is nothing foreign me or any woman, men and all other manner of predators seem especially emboldened by the closed space of trains and buses, taking full advantage of the opportunity to act out their violent, racist, misogynist, homophobic or otherwise oppressive instincts on the marginalized people who depend on their city’s transit system to commute.
That’s why as gut-wrenching and infuriating as it was to see, I was unsurprised when video surfaced online of 36-year-old Marc Gomez of Yonkers kicking a 78-year-old womanin her face and upper body repeatedly while young men did nothing but record and “ooooohhhhhhh.” That woman was elderly and Black, and by most reports also homeless and appeared to be battling some mental illness. She is the definitive vulnerable person who is forced to use public transportation. And she is also the definitive demonstration of how the hate, bigotry and anger this country breeds bubbles to explosion in the various transit systems of its major cities.
While transit cops roam subways in New York City, DC, Oakland and Chicago eager to apprehend citizens for fare evasion or drinking a soda on the platform, men grope little girls on crowded trains, brutal homophobic attacks are committed, naked men are permitted to enter and ride the subway, blind passengers are assaulted, young Black women are murdered by white supremacistsand Black women are stabbed to death in broad daylight on the train.
In an America – and throughout imperialist Europe as well – where society teaches that it’s always acceptable to invalidate, demean, assault or otherwise victimize the marginalized, it stands to reason that when those same marginalized people are forced – trapped even – into spaces with those who hold power over them, they will be subject to abuses and violations of their rights. There is no mystery surrounding why public transportation provides the ideal setting for crime nor why it is most often women, the disabled, the homeless and racial power minorities who are usually victims.
America grooms white people to hate Black and brown people, then sets them out on mass transit with their warped idas about lazy, violent Black people and illegal immigrants taking their jobs to launch into racist tirades or worse, physically attack those they view as the real problem with America. This country teaches men that they are entitled to women’s attention, affection and bodies, then sends these same men to subways to grab women’s breasts or punch them for their rejection. We live in a nation that encourages us to mock, laugh at and ignore people with disabilities, only to take our ableist minds on MTA, WMATA, CTA, MARTA or BART and antagonize people who having mental breakdowns or proudly beat them. The United States discards its elderly, enforcing the idea that your value is only as much as a capitalist society can extract from you, then leaves them to commute with people who show no respect or deference for them, so much so that after kicking a woman who’s lived nearly 80 years in the face, a grown, young, able-bodied man looks into a camera and boasts, “Worldstar that, my nigga!” This place criminalizes poverty and queerness, then leaves the poor and queer to navigate its transportation systems with homophobes who believe a queer person’s objection is cause to break her spine.
America is so fucked up, so bigoted, so racist, so completely and utterly consumed with exterminating, oppressing and alienating anybody who is not white, male and straight, that even its most basic of infrastructures, the public vehicles essential to moving its citizens to conduct the business of living on this colonized, stolen land serves as a hub for the manifestation of its hate and fearmongering. And even knowing that mass transit is a cesspool of hate crime, the state’s concern is whether somebody avoids paying $3.00 to ride a few stops rather than keeping Black and other PoC, women, children, the disabled and the queer safe. But then again, America builds and maintains the stage for this shit. So why would it tolerate or expect anything less in its commuter systems?