One of the big stories over the last few weeks has been a video of the terrible beating a white kid received at the hands of three black thugs. There are several different aspects of this event worth exploring but I want to discuss the grief that the bus driver is taking. It is easy to blame someone for how he acted in a given situation when you yourself have not been in that situation. I know because watching that video reminded me of an incident that happen to me about fifteen years ago.
While I was heading home one day after teaching I pulled into a 7-11 type convenience store. As I started to pump my gas I noticed 3 or 4 teenagers menacing a smaller teenager. They seemed slightly younger than the 3 teens in that video. They were not physically attacking their victim but definitely were acting in a threatening manner to the victim. My first honest thought was to get the gas in my car as fast as possible and get out of there. I did not want to get involved. But as I looked around I saw that everyone else was seeing what I saw. There were a couple of elderly individuals and a young woman also pumping gas. It would have been nice if one of them intervened but I knew that they would not do so. If I did not do anything, this young kid was going to be totally at the mercy of the young punks. I finished pumping my gas with the hope that the situation would resolve itself before I was done. But I was not so lucky. The teens were still harassing the kid. So for me it was now or never.
I walked up to the teens and inserted myself into that group. I had no intention of fighting the bullies. Although I outweighed any of them by at least 40 pounds if all of them attacked me, I would have been in trouble. But I told the kids that they needed to leave or I would go into the store to call the cops. My hope was that the fear of the police would be enough to scare them off. At first it looked like my hope would be dashed. The lead thug did not look like he wanted to move. He looked like we wanted to go ahead and jump the boy. If he did would I just abandon the boy to go call the cops or would I engage in an outnumbered battle? Neither option sounded appealing. But I figured it was too late to back down. In for a penny, in for a pound. So I said, “Did you not hear me, you need to leave or I am going in the store to call the police”. That seemed to work. The boys sheepishly backed away and slowly left. The kid who was being picked on quickly thanked me and then went in the other direction. Maybe the bullies will catch up with him later and do what they were going to do. But for now he was safe. When I went back to my car one of the elderly individuals thanked me as well and there was a look of appreciation on the faces of the other customers.
It is easy for me to feel good about what I had done. But look at who I was at the time. I was a fairly young, tall black man in good shape. Those qualities helped me to have an intimidation factor so that the kids would not try to push me around. Even though I was not trying to go Chuck Norris on those thugs, it was important to be a person they could not threaten if I was going to influence them to stop their bullying. It is not fair to expect the elderly individuals or the woman to take a chance to confront those kids. Nor is it fair to expect a 64 year old bus driver to confront 3 fifteen year old punks. This is why so much of the criticism he has faced is unfair.
Even given my physical presence I was afraid as I walked to confront those boys. I did not want to do it. If I had been on that bus I am not sure I would have intervened even though I did fifteen years ago because I know what sort of fear a person has when confronted with such a situation. Those boys were bigger than the boys I confronted and they were already hitting and kicking the kid. To intervene would almost certainly mean some degree of physical contact where I would be at a disadvantage. I am not sure I am brave enough for that. I may have felt limited to what the bus driver did which is to yell at the boys and call the police. I hear people talk about how they would have attacked those three thugs when they attacked that young boy. My response is, how do you know this? Until you have actually had to deal with kids who may turn on you and beat you then you do not know how you will react. It is easy, and more than a little arrogant, to simply state all that you would have done if you were there. I have been there in another circumstance, but I am not sure if I would have had the courage to confront those boys.
So let’s cut the driver a little slack. He is human and if he was fearful then he had every right to feel that way. This was not a movie in which the hero escapes unscathed. He did the best he could in a terrible situation. Let us put the blame where it belongs which is on the three punks who picked on a defenseless kid.