Metro Conversations: Violence in the Public Space

Sunday night at the Metro. Wardlow stop in Long Beach. Waiting to go back to LA via the Blue Line.

15 minutes after I get to the stop, the Blue Line to LA comes. I walk in at the end of one car, flip my bike over, see a family occupying the first few rows of seats, walk to an open window seat next to a young black lady.

Plop down. Look around.

In front of me, a black family of 6. Behind me, a middle-aged Asian couple. Nothing too remarkable, just every day on the Blue Line.

At the Imperial/Wilmington station, a pair of white kids come in. One of them looks like NBA Basketballer Dirk Nowitzki. They sit on the side adjacent to me, divided only by the aisle.

I don't notice that one of the white kids looked like Dirk Nowitzki until minutes later when a flying sour patch kid pegs him. Pegs as in darts right at him. Right in the back.

The throw looked very intentional. It came from where our backs were turned.

The flying sour patch kid originated from one snickering pre-teen, early-teen black kid near the mid-car door. He was laughing it up with about 5 or 6 other snickering pre-teen, early-teen black kids.

Another flying sour patch kid was thrown Dirk Nowitzki's way. I looked his way and he and his friend were getting visibly annoyed.

I was too.

30 seconds later.

Another one. Kid in the back smiling mischievously.

He finally turned back and looked at them.

Apprehensive about what he might say, he finally said in a British accent, "Can you please stop that?"

The British accent didn't do him any favors. The kids ripped into and played with his accent. They told the sour-patch kid thrower that he was going to get beat up by the British guy. In the meanwhile, they also flirted with the idea of possibly beating the British kid down.

The British guy could only sit looking back at them.

Before you know it, a sour patch kid, obviously thrown, landed where I was seated.

Slightly empowered by the British guy's reaction, I looked back at the offender and put my hands up as if to say "What?"

It wasn't meant to be a threatening I'm-gonna-fuck-you-up-What?" more like a "what the fuck are you doing" kind of What?

They left me alone for a good 5 minutes after I did that.

Under their breath, the British kids who'd incurred that initial barrage of flying sour patch kids were building tension. I heard one of them mumble "they're just niggers anyway." Being in this situation, I could understand why they would think that, not that I condoned race-baiting.

The black kids spent the 5 minutes they left me alone verbally playing/taunting a young Latina girl who was seated behind the British kids.

They asked her multiple times if she gave head. Witty in her own right, she said that she was surprised that anyone would consider having sex with any of them.

One of the boys then said that they would pop her. It wasn't clear whether that popping was sexual or violent, but either, way it's not really a way you'd talk to someone you don't know. She was trying to stand her ground, but faced them as if she knew them.

By this time, the entire train had grown visibly annoyed at what these boys were doing. They were annoyed at the rowdyness, the harrassment of ordinary folk.

But no one was speaking up. The Asian couple would've done a million other things than be on the Blue Line. A Latino dude with a bike and a Rose Bowl 2007 Michigan sweater looked every once in a while to the back where those boys were.

Tired of the verbal games that these boys were playing, the girl moved into the open seat next to me. I had my bag slightly on the other chair, but the Asian guy in the back lightly nudged me to move my bag so that this girl could sit.

The boys saw this and chided her out loud.

They said that she was "a ho running to her boyfriend." Having done nothing except move my bag slightly so she could sit next to me, I became the target of laughter again and said that "you in the glasses, you just protecting her to get pussy."

I looked back at one of the boys diagonal to me, remembering Adriel Luis' facebook wall post on my wall and trying to bring good vibes, I said "C'mon fam."

I wasn't trying to be mocking or anything by calling him 'fam and in a way that some would consider "deficient" English, I was just genuinely trying to engage with them.

He said, "Fam? I'm not your fam!"

I said, "Well, I don't know, you could be."

After a slight pause, I looked at one of the group members with glasses and another kid behind him he was taking up two seats.

I said, "I ain't trying to fight ya'll. You know, just chill ya'll, folks are just trying to get home." I was just trying to tell em that it shouldn't get that serious and that they were seriously stirring up something.

They nodded and seemed to be getting where I was going. I was just trying to establish an air of respect for them.

One of them remarked "man, he got a duck tail," referring to my newfound tail haircut.

I said, "yeah, it took a while to get."

One of them asked, "yeah, how long did it take you?"

I said, "eh...about 4 months."

I wish I could say that we talked some more. I wish I could say that the mocking, and them being loud in public all ceased after the interaction. It didn't.

About 2 more sour patch kids landed my way.

However, the throwing was not really recognized or celebrated by the rest of the boys. They didn't mock anyone else or me for the duration of the ride, least out loud.

The rest of the trip, we just heard them banging on drums and freestyling, conquering the shared Metro car airwaves of a Sunday Night on the Blue Line.

After interaction with the kids in the back died down, I looked at the white British kid and his friend. Reading the tension in their bodies, I told one of them "not to mind, they're just kids," hoping that perhaps they would just dismiss the incident to "being kids", rather than "being black."

That these kids

But I could easily seeing them get into all kinds of trouble with that public bravado. Perhaps the same need for bravado that drove Cambodian and Latino kids to kill each other in Long Beach during the 1990s and 2000s.

I wanted to tell these kids that they were fostering resentment in ordinary people of other people in their category. I wanted to tell them who Oscar Grant was. Someone was really annoyed by him in the moment as well.

I could see the violence wanting to rage out in the white British kids and the black kids as the white kids walked pass them to exit towards the Staples Center/Convention Center. The white British kids wanted to show that they weren't punks, the black kids hit the window back to show that they were a force to be reckoned with.

Violence or the threat thereof, sadly one of the more used languages in America.

I figured that the black kids really were just looking to talk. Keyword is "kids." And by "kids" I mean people who can be talked to and perhaps should be talked to, instead of having "other" elements, technologies, or entities (namely institutions) "deal" with "them." Elements, technologies, entities dealing with them instead of individuals dealing with them. Albeit on a television show, individuals showed to be less willing to deal face-to-face with black kids.

These kids on the Metro on this Sunday night were an outburst of energy. They were just calling attention to themselves, probably cause they had nothing better to do. I just did my best to try and engage.

Better that than dismiss and leave them to be put in another trash bag that we call our prison-industrial complex.

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