After tens of thousands of hours riding public transportation, the worst physical violence I had experienced personally were a couple of punches to the head that did no damage. And I’d never seen another passenger assaulted (I’m just lucky, I guess.) Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had my first brush with serious violence.
The first thing I remember about it was walking absently down the concrete steps. Why so many people there, between the Max platform and the bus mall? They were mostly teenagers, milling, shouting, cutting up. Leaning and leaping. Racing by. There were a lot of them at the bottom of the steps, too. Maybe there’d been a game at Grant High School.
Once on the ground, threading my way through the crowd, I heard the angry shouting.
A couple of teenage boys had taken off their shirts and were loudly challenging someone, who was hidden from my view by the multitude. One of the boys was fearsomely muscled. He was bellowing threats and emanating fear. I slunk by – dinner was calling.
About 20 yards from the madness, next to the northbound 75 bus stop, a a young man sat on the curb. His right hand held his neck. Blood was pulsing from between his fingers and soaking his shirt. A man came up next to him, bent over and said a few words while adding his hand to the hand trying to stop the blood flow.
The extra hand slowed the leak to a slow ooze. The crowd was quickly thinning, most of them fleeing up the steps to the Max. A security guard called 911. A couple other bystanders were making phone calls. Most people walked by, either unseeing or uninterested.
The shirtless kids stopped by.
The big one said, “He’s my cousin,” speaking to the amateur EMT and meaning the injured kid. To his cousin he said,“Come on, you got to go.”
The kid shifted in his spot and put a hand down to help himself up but was being held firmly in place by his rescuer, who said “Sit here and stay calm.”
Another man, who looked more like the kid’s cousin than the self-proclaimed cousin, repeated “Stay calm.”
The kid was not going anywhere, and a moment later the shirtless ones had disappeared towards the Max.
For about three minutes – or it may have been just one, time felt sped up – nothing much happened. Hands were on the kid’s neck, blood leaked, people were on phones, people walked by. Some of us were waiting for an ambulance. The kid tried to get up again, but was told to sit and stay calm and did so.
His eyes, which had been restlessly roaming, grew still. He spit up some blood. The man holding the kid’s neck took his hand off, gesturing futilely, and shouted, “If we don’t get an ambulance here quick, he’s gonna bleed out.” I thought so, too. The kid’s shirt and jacket were more shining red than not. The man got his fingers back on the kid’s neck.
I ran down to a medical clinic a block away, realizing it was probably pointless but not knowing what else to do. The clinic was closed. A woman coming out said yes, there were doctors inside but they were not allowed to work outside the building. A siren started up nearby. I went back to the scene.
First came two police cars. At the scene, four cops hit the asphalt and assessed the situation. They were in no rush. A couple of them got within a step of the kid and looked him over. Our hero exchanged words with the cops, which I couldn’t hear.
Next came a fire engine with an ambulance on its tail. The EMTs exited the vehicle already sporting blue latex gloves. At the same time, a small group came out of the building, also in blue latex gloves. Two of this group, young women, stood by like trainees waiting for orders. A third woman in blue gloves joked around with a young man who wore the gloves and a shirt that read “Personal Trainer.”
While the EMTs bandaged the kid’s neck and hoisted him onto a cot, a middle-aged man showed up and tried to convince them to let him ride in the ambulance to the hospital.
“Who are you?”
I couldn’t hear what he said, but the response was “We can’t do that, sir.”
“Somebody who knows that boy should be riding with him.”
I couldn’t hear why the EMTs wouldn’t let him ride in the ambulance, but iI suddenly had a theory of why he wanted the ride
The kid was African-American. Every other one of the dozen or so people in the close vicinity,including the man who had been tending the kid’s wound, was white, except for this black man asking for the ride. I believe he was concerned that the kid might die on the ambulance ride with only white witnesses there to say what happened. I think he didn’t trust the EMTs to do everything they could to save his life.
Makes sense to me.
The story as reported by the Oregonian: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/02/man_suffers_life-threatening_i_2.html
© Nick O’Connor: If you had been commuting an hour each way every weekday between Northeast Portland and the Sunset Transit Center at the border of Portland and Beaverton for two years and occasionally woke up, dislodged an earbud, or spoke to a fellow rider, you would have a few stories to tell, too. Nick blogs at Sardines Are Only Packed Once (where this story originally appeared).