I am complicit.
The man and woman approach the bus stop already well into their argument. She is nervously looking at the people at the stop, embarrassed to have her business in the street, asking him — firmly but quietly — “Don’t do this here. Just walk away from me.” He’s not having any of that social niceties thing, gets up in her face, tells her to shut up.
She tries walking away from him, he follows, right on top of her, using the foot’s difference in their heights to full advantage. “You’re wrong, you think you can just walk away from this, pretend nothing’s happening.”
He escalates, slapping the shopping bag she carries, calling her stupid, telling her not to look at anyone else. In her face. In her face. In her face.
We are at least fifteen people at the bus stop. Two buses are late, so there’s a crowd, an audience. I am not alone. We are all complicit.
After a workshop on intimate partner violence, a student asked what she could do if she saw abuse, saw someone hurting, intimidating, shaming another person. We talked through some possibilities with the counselor, and I mentioned that on occasion, I have intervened by deflecting: I’ve walked up to the couple and asked for directions, put on my most innocent, lost voice and asked how to get somewhere that required a lot of instructions. I’ve only done this twice, but it worked both times, diffused the situation enough to get him focused on being the helpful neighbor and not the abusive partner. Not a long term solution, but a good cosmetic fix.
When I told students about those two occasions, I made the point of saying that I only stepped in after determining my own level of safety in each case (a determination based primarily on whether or not the man had devolved to physical violence.
The man smacks the shopping bag again, almost hard enough to rip the handles and scatter her purchases. His face is hard and tight, just at the edge of the thin-thin line separating him from making her his next target.
I say nothing, look away. A few of the older ladies at the bus stop suck their teeth. Others frown. No one says anything. The bus comes and we board it.
We are all complicit.