Please note. . .

Don't Be Silent DC has been inactive since March 2008 and has not been accepting entries since. If you are in the DC area and have a harassment story to share, please go to HollaBack DC. If you are outside the DC area and want to submit your story, go to Stop Street Harassment. Thank you.

As of 3/1/08, I will no longer be working on this blog. Please read this post for more details.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Alert! Alert! DC has an infestation. . .

(2/11/08---Accidentally had the comment settings on "Blog admins only"---fixed it so anyone registered with Blogger can comment. I apologize for the inconvenience.)

. . .and I'm not talking about the rodents. I'm talking about the horribly-behaving, no common sense-having kids and teens running rampant in the streets. These kids have a negative outlook on life and horrible demeanors. When on public transportation, they make the trip for the common commuter painful and excruciating. Street harassment isn't only sexual harassment, so I'm using this post to talk about badly behaving kids.

I just got off the most painful train ride ever. At about 9:30 this evening, a mob of about 20 or so kids rushed onto the train at Rhode Island Avenue Station. They were screaming this-that, one made a comment about "stabbin' a n**** in the head" (this is their form of everyday "friendly" conversation) and they were running their mouths about a fight about to happen. These kids wanted to jump back off the train and fight on the platform. A station manager boarded and told the driver to close the door. The kids started copping attitudes. They were screaming, hollering and itching to fight. They got so loud that a little baby in a stroller started to cry. These fools were talking about jumping off the train in-between stops to run back and fight!

It didn't end there. A chunk of them got off at the same stop as I did. They were still walking in a mob, blocking the way, talking about fighting and finally worrying about what their mothers thought.

I'm puzzled. We had bad kids in Buffalo that mobbed together, intimidated people, caused noise and chaos in trains, but instead of sitting there in fear, people took action. Bus drivers would threaten to kick the kids off the train and make them walk. Some carried baseball bats. The drivers and train operators rarely showed fear. When dealing with bad kids at a job I used to work at years ago, one of the most nonsuspecting women---an older, quiet woman---stepped up to them and dealt with them. All said, why the hell are people in DC so afraid to discipline these bad kids?

I know there are a lot of worries about these kids carrying guns, knives and other weapons. However, there had to have been a time when people disciplined their kids and showed them who was in charge. When did adults relinquish this power to the kids?

I've been in many intimidating situations where it was them vs. me. There'd be a mob of them and only me. The worst experience was in Columbia Heights/Adams Morgan a few winters ago. My roommates were throwing a drunken party and I wanted to get away from there. I was going to take a bus to Tryst, but I missed the bus and it was too cold to stand still and wait for the next one (30 minutes). I thought I'd be fine walking (lapse of judgment there), but a group of kids---mostly boys but one girl---tried to crowd around me. I tried to get away. They started snickering and acting like it was funny. One sneaked up on me and when I turned around he ran away laughing. I will admit there that I was frightened. I cursed and screamed at those kids, but all it did was make it worse. Long story short, I was a wreck and petrified to head to that area---an area I frequent on a regular basis---for a good while, even in daytime.

Years later, I feel stronger and less afraid. I find myself more frustrated with than afraid of these kids. Why do they act like junior hoodlums? You can't talk to them like civilians, because to them respect and kindness is a joke. When you take the disciplinarian mode they want to fight. What the hell can we do with these kids?

Two boys from the train were standing at a bus stop across from mine. They gradually moved to be closer to me. (It wasn't an "I changed my mind and am taking a different bus" move. . .it was a sidle-up move.) My BS detector was up. When I heard them talking about "I'mma jump a White boy and rob him for his money!" and laughing, I wasn't having that. I may not be White and I was not their intended target, but I was disgusted regardless.

"You go right ahead and try," I said, with the nastiest sarcastic tone in my voice. "Go right ahead and rob someone."
The boys stopped in their tracks.
"We ain't say nothin' to you!" they said. Then they repeated what I said: Pattern #1 with bad kids---Repeat what you say verbatim as if you didn't remember what you had said.
"You need to go home to your mothers and leave people alone," I said.
They repeated me again. "She said we need to go home to our mothers---"
"Go home and leave people alone," I said. "Go. Home." What I said finally left them speechless.

It's hard for these kids to take me seriously when I get mistaken for a kid. I got on the bus, and girls from the earlier Metro incident boarded as well, screaming and still itching to fight. I dealt with it on the train---I was not going to deal with it on the bus.

"Be quiet and carry yourself like you have some sense," I said. "Show some respect."
Pattern #2 with bad kids: Say something to them, they get this blank look of shock in their faces, then they break out into laughter. That's exactly what happened. Anything said to them goes in one ear and out the other. Dealing with these kids is like dealing with a broken record. They're predictable.

"Who are you talkin' to like that?" the one girl said.
"I'm talking to you," I said. "I dealt with that noise from you on the Metro, and I refuse to deal with it on this bus ride home."
"I know you ain't talkin' to me like that," the girl said. "I'm 18 and a grown-ass woman, boo."
I needed to tell this "grown-ass woman" the truth. I did get up to approach her and her friend. I refused to be afraid.
"I'm 27 [well, I will be] and have got years on you. You need to act like you have some sense."
"I got a sister older than you [so?!], so I don't need to listen to you."
Some guy jumped in and told the girls to sit down and told me "we cool. It's a'ight."
"She tryin' to step up to me like dat," the girl kept complaining. "Who she think she is? She think she my mother."

The bus driver came up to me and asked what was going on. I let him know these girls were trouble. But in the pattern of fear, he acted like he was going to approach them, said something in a soft voice, then went back to the driver's seat. It is definitely them vs. me.

A lot of people tell me that the behavior of these kids is "not your problem." Unfortunately, when the bad behavior is in front of my face and affects what's going on around me, then it becomes my problem. And if more parents stepped in to teach their kids how to grow up and be productive adults, then it wouldn't be my problem.

The rest of the bus ride involved the girls mocking me and getting riled up. I don't know how, but I managed to maintain a sense of cool. I said "Keep on talking" and turned my music up to tune them out. They did a drill and a rap "Girl, get off da bus! Get off da bus!" as I exited the bus, and I gave them a look that read "I'm watching you." More adults need to step up and let these kids know that they won't let their bad behavior cow them.

I'm not saying to throw yourself in a dangerous situation. If a thug who's two times my size is threatening to beat the shit out of me, then I'm not going to approach him---martial arts training or not. These girls were my size, not a physical threat to me, and I didn't feel afraid to approach them. Gauge the situation, and if you feel you can handle it handle it. If not, get the authorities involved in the matter.

I have so many stories about these rowdy kids, but the frustrating thing is the rowdy kids get more attention than good kids. In Buffalo, you could read the Buffalo News and hear about the honor students, see the Super 7 student athletes on News Channel 7, and just know that good kids outshine the bad. I look at the Washington Post and all I hear about are the schools falling apart, failing parents, and kids killing each other. Enough is enough.

Another thing that frustrates me is the racial element. I hate reading comments in the Post from scared White people saying things such as "that's how Black kids are." No, it's not how all Black kids are---just the rowdy ones with no discipline. I'm not denying that there is racial tension between the White middle class and the Black lower class, but I hate how the actions of a few give these clowns reasons to justify their racism.

Other than trying to correct the kids' behavior, there are other ways of helping out. There are various mentor programs throughout DC looking for new recruits. (This is something I admit I am nervous to do, since I fear the mentee would find me "too dorky and rigid" to relate to. But trust me, I would love to do it one day.) Get involved in youth-oriented activities as well. I went to see the kids from Hart Middle School in Southeast from the DC Creative Writing Workshop read their poetry at the Borders on K Street last winter. They were fidgety and clowned around a little, but when each individual kid approached the podium to read their pieces, the tough veneers faded and a vulnerability shown through. I was impressed. It just shows that when you take the time to nurture these kids, they can be steered towards that straight and narrow path.

And I will give kudos to the adults I have seen take the time to discipline these kids:

1) Around summer 2006 when I lived in Alexandria, some boys got on a DASH bus and started critiquing the women on the bus, referring to them as "ugly," "I wanna f*** her," "bitch," etc. This bus driver asked the boys to come to the front of the bus, and he educated them and told them to respect women. That was cool! (This driver is a middle-aged guy with dreads and glasses, so if you see him driving the DASH still, give him the props he deserves.) He also helped me out once when some fool pushed people (myself included) out of the way and got aggressive at Van Dorn Station. The driver asked why I looked upset, I told him, and he got off the bus looking for that fool! (He wasn't found, but the action of his looking for this fool made me feel good.) Once again, this driver usually worked on the DASH 2 and 8 buses. If you see him, give him the respect he deserves.

2) Some rowdy girls got on the train towards Glenmont this past summer, and they were doing the usual screaming and talking about wanting to fight people. (The worst part was that their mother was nearby not doing a thing to control them!) A kindly older woman told them that they should "act like ladies" and tried to steer them towards a conversation about how they spent their day. (They had come from the zoo with their mother.) Though the girls sighed, copped attitudes and sucked their teeth, the woman wouldn't let up. The girls proceeded to scream and holler when they got off the train, but the woman didn't let it stop her from trying to instill values in them. I commended her for her patience with dealing with those girls, and she said "young ladies just need to know they can act like young ladies."

3) A meticulously-dressed older woman and her rowdy granddaughter approached the bus stop I was waiting at two weeks ago. The girl was rapping, her butt was hanging out of her clothes, and the grandmother looked harried. The girl was loud, and the grandmother was quiet. Finally:

"I don't know why that bus driver called the police on us," the girl said with an attitude.
"Because y'all kids don't know how to act," the grandmother replied. "Act like y'all ain't got no sense."
"That's how kids act!" the girl snapped.
"Y'all don't need to act like that," the grandmother said. "You need to learn how to sit and be quiet. I'm glad that woman called the police."

You tell 'em, Grandma!

In the end, we need to let these kids know that we adults are not afraid of them. And the children shall lead, when they get older, wiser, and learn how to stop antagonizing the people of DC and act with decorum and common sense.

(Turning the comments on for this one, since it needs to be discussed.)

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