- A woman restrained. (Photo: YouTube/despell07)
What does a fight on the Metro look like? It's violence in a box. On the WMATA trains, a person has little recourse when the train is in motion. There's no security camera, there's no police, and there's no way to avoid the people who are at time packed up against each other on the commute. And on a practical level, changing these facts wouldn't be easy.
So when a fight does break out, it's intense and happening in a closed space. The best riders can do is get out of the way and, potentially, attempt to contact the train operator through the WMATA intercom.
I've been thinking a lot on Metro fights lately due to a three-minute video that shows a particularly passionate fight breaking out on the Green Line. The video was uploaded on October 26 by a 24-year-old man named De'Sean, whose instinct was apparently not to call for help so much as to capture the wild scene on film. He sums up the fight simply enough: "A bunch of girls jump this one girl and dude for stealing from her..." His tags mention "Anacostia" and "Congress Heights" (not to mention "catfight"). And sure enough, the fight does involve a lot of young women. Despite its ferocity, few people appear badly injured throughout the scuffle, luckily, at least from what we observe. All of the individuals are relatively young, reminding me of Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn's remarks that "young people" commit most simple assaults on the Metro. "Total animals," the video's one comment states.
Today the Metro board has spent countless minutes, after spending countless before, talking about how we should rename the different Metro stations. I've listened with interest but think there's far more to the system than this admittedly important element. Let's review the video instead.
I reached out to both Metro as well as De'Sean, the man who uploaded the video, to see if there were any more details on this incident. Did the actions truly happen in late October when the video was uploaded or earlier? Were there any reports on this violence? I strongly suspect the video was shot this fall because many of the riders are wearing light autumn jackets. But I'm not sure those details matter. Fights like this do break out sporadically on the system, for any number of reasons, and often fade away as quickly as they flare. On U Street I once witnessed a beating begin and cease within a minute as police swarmed on the men involved. The Examiner reports that a "mob of teens brawled" at the Foggy Bottom Metro station on Halloween. Actual video of a fight illustrates how these fights happen and show what it really looks like for a commuter within the system.
Close to a dozen people seem to be involved in this fight. There's screaming. The women initially run down the Metro train to the center to tackle the two people who, allegedly and according to the uploader of the video, attempted to steal something from them. We can clearly see the Green Line's name lit up in the car. As people began shoving one another in the center of the car, bodies are pressed up against the Metro doors. Things calm for a moment in a tense standoff at a Metro stop. At least a couple of the individuals step off the train. But a woman, restrained by others, keeps shouting to the people outside the car, screaming "You are dead!" and over and over repeating the final word ("Dead! Dead! Dead!"), and others hold the train doors open. They succeed in pulling the doors fully open, and some people barrel back onto the train and ready to fight. Amid the noise you can hear a person muttering: "Crazy!" he says. One man has pulled his phone out and is also documenting the chaos. He laughs in disbelief as the fighting continues and seems to spill out onto the Metro platform.
Again there's a pause but not for long.
A leather-jacketed man and a woman with short hair — presumably the alleged robbers — begin walking down the Metro train around the three-minute mark, and multiple of the aggrieved women push past any restraints and even climb over Metro seats and down the narrow car lane to run at the two individuals who have fled to the other end of the car. The women show surprising fierceness, especially given that at least one is wearing a short skirt and jangly jewelry. At the other end of the Metro car, a big woman, her arms outstretched, attempts to stop the rushing women. It's hard to tell what happens next but it seems like the back door of the Metro car opens up, potentially to allow the two individuals to escape from the women.
Before anything else can happen, the Metro doors open at the train's next stop and people pour off the train. I imagine that the women are sweeping over onto the other Metro car to find the man and woman there. Those remaining are in shock.
"Where does she live?" one woman asks, bewildered.
"Goddamn!" another man says. "Oh man..."
The camera briefly turns back to the couple individuals who have been recording the proceedings. It's here we receive confirmation of just where on the Green Line all this is unfolding. The train's next stop is lit up at the end of the car: "Southern Avenue." This sign, along with the Anacostia and Congress Heights tags to the YouTube clip, lead me to suspect that this incident did indeed happen along those two Metro stations on the Green Line, heading from central D.C. deeper into Southeast.