Posted on April 17, 2012

Why I No Longer Feel Safe on Metro

Kurtis Hiatt, Washington Post, April 13, 2012

The man’s yells reverberated through the Metrorail car, breaking the quiet typical of an early-morning ride. I turned down the music on my iPhone. What was that? “[Expletive] the white man!” he screamed again. {snip} I couldn’t see the man, but I did note that I seemed to be one of very few white men in the car. Still, I brushed it off. It’s not unusual to encounter crazy behavior while riding Metro. Rarely do things turn serious. As the train arrived at L’Enfant Plaza, I briefly considered switching cars. I didn’t.

I should have.

What happened next is a blur. I remember hearing “Look me in the eyes!” Now the voice was close — too close. I turned. The man had squared up directly in front of me, his face level with mine. I met his rage-filled eyes the moment before he head-butted me. Then his right fist came around in a hook, connecting just above my cheek.

“What are you doing?” was all I could yell, rather lamely, as I shoved him away. He turned his punches toward another victim as other passengers came to our aid. One of them pulled the man’s jacket over his head in a hockey-like maneuver. A woman was pushing the emergency call button. Feeling stunned, I remember wondering: Why isn’t the conductor responding?


We arrived at the Smithsonian station. The doors opened, and I ran to the conductor. Did he know what was going on? I didn’t get an answer — or any acknowledgment at all, in fact — but he appeared to be talking to someone on his radio. I ran to the escalator to get the station manager, knowing I’d have to pass the car where the assailant had been. Was he still there? What if he had a gun? As I headed up, the train began pulling away as if nothing had happened. How could the conductor possibly know whether the offender had gotten off the train? The answer: He couldn’t.

Luckily, the man wasn’t still on board. As I reached the manager’s kiosk, the assailant jumped the exit gates. Other passengers and I pointed him out and yelled. Was the station manager calling the police? Was he doing anything? It was impossible to tell. So I ran to the outside escalator to get cellphone reception to call 911 myself. The dispatcher said I had to be transferred to Metro Transit Police. Seriously? Fine, I thought, as long as it means a cop will show up.

Fortunately, one did show up. Unfortunately, it was a full 15 minutes later.

In the meantime, my frustration with the Metro dispatcher grew as two other riders and I followed the assailant for blocks. In one minute, I had given her an exact location, the offender’s description and a full account of what had happened. But then five minutes passed. Then 10. {snip}

{snip} Later, after the man was finally arrested, I learned that the responding officer had to travel from Alexandria to our location near the Smithsonian stop; apparently no Metro police were in the area that Saturday morning. {snip}