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“Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” – Christopher Hitchens

I am disappointed with myself.

I am disappointed I didn’t speak up when I witnessed injustice.

This happened on Friday when I took the train to go home.  I didn’t see the beginning of the exchange between the conductor and the 3 passengers. What I saw and heard was the train door beeping (signaling that the door is about to close) and the conductor yelling for 3 guys to get off of the train.

I was not sure what was going on but eventually I understood that the conductor was mad that, supposedly, one of the guys held the door open with his foot so his friend could get in.

The conductor was yelling that they needed to get off of the train. One of them did but the other 2 stated they did nothing wrong and moved up the train car and stood in the vestibule where they normally stayed. This was not my regular train but I had seen those guys before. They are Hispanic and work in construction in the city.

The conductor continued to berate them and, because by this time the train had already left the station, said that they would have to exit at the next station. They tried to talk to him and tell him they didn’t do anything wrong and the door just closed on them as they were boarding, but the conductor was not listening.

Even if holding the train door was illegal, which I am not even sure if it is, it doesn’t justify how rude and demeaning the conductor was treating the 2 men. Holding the train door open is something that every commuter has done at some point. I have, many times, sneaked in as the doors are closing and even stood at the door for somebody to get in.

In 16 years of taking the train twice a day I have never seen anyone being told to get off of train for that reason.

I felt this pang in my heart and gut that told me that the conductor would never behave in such a way towards someone that was better dressed and didn’t speak with an accent. I kept hoping that someone would speak up, but why couldn’t I do it myself? What was holding my voice inside?

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. – Desmond Tutu

I was also telling myself that I didn’t see the actual interaction in the beginning so perhaps there was more to it, but still I couldn’t imagine that anything would justify such rude behavior. I guess by that I was just trying to justify my silence.

When the next station approached the conductor stood by the door and yelled at them to get off and wait for the next train. One of the guys tried to beg him to stay saying that all they wanted to do was get home and they didn’t hold the door open, the door was closing as they got in. But the conductor was having none of that.  He just continued the yelling.  When one of them asked why they need to get off, he replied: “Because I told you so.  This is my train!”

Resigned they walked towards the door to exit.  At this moment a guy sitting across the aisle from me got up and said to them: Do not leave! You guys didn’t do anything wrong. Your only crime is not wearing a suit and tie! (he said that in Spanish, but I understood and agree wholeheartdly). He was, like me, probably an immigrant himself.

At this point I joined in and said I agreed.  I could have kissed that guy I was so happy that somebody had had the guts to speak up!

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” -william Faulkner

The 2 men knowing that they had support backed away from the door and said they weren’t leaving.  The conductor become even more irate and went crazy with the yellign and screaming.  He said he was going to call the police and that they were going to spend the night in jail.

After realizing that even with the threat of police they wouldn’t leave he walked firmly to the front of the car as if going to radio the police and saying they were going to spend the night in jail.

At this point I decided that if the police were to show up at the next stop I would say something. By now 3 African American women joined in to express their disgust at the way the conductor behaved.

I am happy to say that no police showed up and the guys exited the train on their stop with no other issues. I felt extreme relief.

Still I am disappointed I couldn’t speak up and only did so after someone had done first. Was it fear? It is certainly something that I need to work on. Sticking up for others shouldn’t be a matter of debate for me, I just need to follow my gut and do it.

What gave that conductor the the idea that he can treat anyone in such manner?

I was also disappointed that the only people that said something was the minority.  But why should I judge, if I couldn’t speak up why should I expect others to do so?

A somber thought crossed my mind: Trump.  It scares me to think how much power some people, racist and bigots included, would get if Trump was in power.  I feel a lot of them are already feeling empowered to behave in ways they wouldn’t otherwise.

God please watch over us and grant us strenght and voice to speak up when we see injustice no matter how small. Also please be kind and merciful to the poor souls that think they need to berate the weaker to fell strong.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

 

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