That’s Life

Understanding Bystander Intervention

Last week I attended a community workshop where the topic was on how best to approach bystander intervention. With the recent rash of hate crimes, this prevention method is now more important than ever. In theory, bystander intervention is a “philosophy and strategy for prevention of various types of violence, including bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.”

However, in practice, many people have a fear of getting involved in active incidents for a variety of reasons, namely out of fear they will be harmed too. I have been primarily riding public transit for over 20 years and has seen my share of hostile interactions, including ones involving weapons. Using a public space like a bus or a train exposes you to the best and worst of humanity.  I think I have been guilty of not intervening when sh*t goes down. My fear is that you don’t know what the perpetrator is going to do if you get involved.

For instance, I remember riding the Orange Line about 15 years ago and getting off at Mass Ave late at night to meet my boyfriend at the time when I saw a man choking a woman’s neck on the platform. Another man who got off the same car with me immediately jumped in and pushed the perpetrator of the victim. Here is where it got strange. The victim turned around and started hitting the man who just helped her! The transit police rushed onto the platform at that moment and almost arrested the man who tried to help the woman. Luckily, myself and others on the platform told the police that he was actually helping the woman. I later found out that the attacker was a pimp and he was mad at that woman – his prostitute – because she didn’t pay him and they were both high.

I believe that situation scared me off from wanting to get involved in other incidents. Whenever anything goes down on the train or the bus now, I tend to look down at my Kindle, turn up the music on my iPod and zone out. I know this is not a good thing, but this mentally crippling habit turns on inside of me automatically.

But what if you see someone being harassed for being Muslim, transgender or for their skin color? I would like to think I would speak up on behalf of the victim, but I wasn’t sure if I would have the courage to do anything until I went to this community workshop.

The facilitator gave out this really thoughtful illustration on how to deal with an incident and I think it gave me a little more confidence.

It was illustrated by French Muslim illustrator Maeril, who says the following about this illustration:

This is an illustrated guide I made as part of my co-admining work at The Middle Eastern Feminist on Facebook! It will be published there shortly. The technique that is displayed here is a genuine one used in psychology – I forgot the name and couldn’t find it again so if you know about it, feel free to tell me!

Some could say: “Yes but you can use that technique for instances of harassment other than Islamophobic attacks!”, and my reply is: Sure! Please do so, it also works for other “types” of harassment of a lone person in a public space!!

However I’m focusing on protecting Muslims here, as they have been very specific targets lately, and as a French Middle Eastern woman, I wanted to try and do something to raise awareness on how to help when such things happen before our eyes – that way one cannot say they “didn’t know what to do”!

I’d like to insist on two things:

1) Do not, in any way, interact with the attacker. You must absolutely ignore them and focus entirely on the person being attacked!

2) Please make sure to always respect the wishes of the person you’re helping: whether they want you to leave quickly afterward, or not! If you’re in a hurry escort them to a place where someone else can take over – call one of their friends, or one of yours, of if they want to, the police. It all depends on how they feel!

Please don’t hesitate to share this guide as it could push a lot of people to overcome bystander syndrome!!

Also, the American Friends Service Committee created their own do’s and don’ts guide for bystander intervention, which you can read here.

Pedestrians, Cyclists & Drivers: An Unharmonious Union

A new study further highlights the need for better cooperation between pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. According to Smart America Growth’s Dangerous By Design, 46,149 people were struck and killed by cars while walking in the United States between 2005 and 2014. Americans were 7.2 times more likely to die as a pedestrian than from a natural disaster. The report also shows that communities of color and people over 65 years old were more likely to be struck because (1) they are less likely to own a vehicle, (2) live in communities with poorly designed or maintained sidewalks and (3) lack access to proper public transit.

While Greater Boston ranks low on the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI), the city still has many unique pedestrian problems. Unlike most American cities, Boston’s street grid infrastructure wasn’t planned. This dilemma is why there are so many narrow, two-way streets that suddenly become one-way streets. Because the city was founded in 1630, Boston streets are literally designed for just horse and buggy travel.  I have said it here before; the problem also stems from the fact that car-less people are treated like second-class citizens because public transit and infrastructure are viewed as an afterthought and not essential in America’s car-obsessed culture.

Just last month, nine people in Boston were struck by cars in one day! It would be easy to just blame all these problems on cars, but in reality, better cooperation and judgment could also be used by cyclists and pedestrians alike. The two snow storms we had last week highlighted many of these issues that I would like to point out:

Pay attention: Stop looking at your phone when you are driving, walking across the street and even cycling (yes, I see this a lot too). If you have a headset on when you are walking or jogging, make sure the volume is low enough that you can still hear what is going on around you. I usually have a headset on, but I always know what is happening around me. Also, with all the snow banks, it can be hard for drivers to see a pedestrian or cyclist come out of nowhere and cross the street. Always look both ways at least three times and walk out far enough, so drivers see you before crossing.

Sidewalks are for pedestrians only: Yesterday morning as I was walking to the bus stop, I saw three adult cyclists riding ON the sidewalk when there is a dedicated bike lane on this particular road. And then one cyclist decided to suddenly go into the street and go across a moving car without signaling. I’m all for cyclist rights on the road, but you all can’t have it both ways! Cyclists can’t demand the same rights as car drivers while not following basic road rules like turn signaling and stopping at red lights. Adult cyclists should only be allowed on the road. I guess the storm forced them to ride on the sidewalk? In that case, maybe you shouldn’t ride a bike if the roads are impacted. Bikes on sidewalks are just as dangerous to pedestrians because we can be easily struck or clipped if the cyclist doesn’t signal or suddenly rides into the pedestrian’s walking space. It is already hard enough for pedestrians to use sidewalks after snowstorms, which brings me to my next point.

Clear sidewalks and pathways: Car-less people have to walk to places where a bus or a train don’t, so it is important to make sure sidewalks are clear enough for walking. Unfortunately, a lot of homeowners just shovel enough to get to their car.  When the sidewalks aren’t cleared, pedestrians are forced to walk in the streets, where they are more likely to be struck by a vehicle or bicycle. Furthermore, don’t you want your postman or Amazon delivery person to drop off your mail or products? Last year a UPS delivery guy wasn’t able to get to my neighbor’s mailbox because the neighbor didn’t shovel the pathway, so UPS threw the package in the front yard instead. Of course, my neighbor was mad when he found his brand new computer sitting in the snow. I don’t know if UPS is supposed to leave packages like that, but my neighbor could have avoided this if he had shoveled his pathway. I do my best to make sure my sidewalk and pathway are clear enough for easy passage. Sometimes if the snow is too hard or heavy to shovel, I put some rock salt down to at least melt the ice. That way the path is walkable, and no one slips.

Overall, it would make more sense to improve public infrastructure in general for inclement weather that would make everyone’s quality of life better. If there were better quality trains and buses in Boston and the MBTA actually bothered to do its job properly, we could encourage more people to use public transit and ditch cars. If there were fewer cars on the road during storms, there would be fewer traffic accidents, spin-outs, and other safety hazards. If snow removal on sidewalks were enforced better, more people would be able to walk safely. Some people ride bikes year-round, even when snow is on the ground, like a former roommate I had many years ago, so roads need to be clear enough for both cars and bikes.

We all have to cohabitate the same space, so why don’t we cooperate better with each other.  After all, we all have to get somewhere, whether by foot, by car or by bike.

The Importance of Recording Family Life Histories

I recently wrote my mother’s obituary.

No, she is not dead, or terminally ill. She is very healthy and living an exciting life. However, she is in her seventies now, and she is not going to be with me forever. For the last couple of years, I have been hesitant about even bringing up the topic of death and funeral plans with her, as she seemed not to want to talk about it.

However, her sister passed away last September after living with Alzheimer’s for the past ten years. It was painful to watch her wither away in the last 18 months to the point of her having no memory and being in constant physical pain. What made it worse is that I realized that I wished I talked to my aunt more about her life when she was still healthy, namely learning her many great Jamaican recipes. She used to cook for me when I was a kid, and I felt like some of those great memories died with her.

After her death, I think my mother began to think more about her mortality, as her sister was only a couple years older than her. After our Thanksgiving dinner, my mom handed me a two-page biography of her life. She asked me to rewrite as an obituary. This obituary opened up an opportunity for me to not only talk to her more about her life but to also to discuss her funeral plans. I also did a one-hour, wide-ranging audio interview with both of my parents about their lives that I can keep and share with my kids in the future.

I don’t have any problems with discussing death because I used to write obituaries for my local newspaper and I recognize that death is a part of life. I can tell you from my experience that many of the survivors I interviewed for those newspaper obituaries wished they had known more about their deceased loved ones when they were alive. Survivors would tell me “I wished I had asked them this” or “I wished I had known that” about their loved one. But it hit home for me when my aunt died that I need to be more proactive about my family’s memories.

Unfortunately, because we don’t openly discuss death in American society as much as we should, there are a lot of memories that disappear with the deceased. We don’t even discuss funeral plans until someone is terminally ill or already dead.

I think it is an excellent idea to write or record an obituary, or rather a life history. This process is especially important if your loved ones are immigrants, which adds another layer to your family history. My family came to America from Jamaica in the 1970s. Both my parents have memories of life on the island both before and after British colonialism, the Cold War inspired political violence under Michael Manley and what it was like coming to America.

We all have smartphones that we can use today to record their life histories easily. Furthermore, we should be talking to our elders more often anyway. Creating my mother’s life history has brought me closer to her, as I can better recognize and cherish her life, and it makes it easier to deal with her eventual mortality. I am even relearning some of my favorite recipes from her!

It is always a good idea to celebrate life while loved ones are still here before it is too late.

Time to Cut the Cord

I have mentioned here a few times that I was seriously considering getting rid of my cable television subscription. I have been thinking about it for a while due to the growing cost of it and lack of interest in watching most of the hundreds of channels in my package.

This decision is bittersweet. When I was growing up in the early 1990s, we were one of the last households (it seems) to get cable. I remember begging my dad to get us cable TV because it seemed like all the cool kids had it. He didn’t understand why we needed to pay for TV when we could get five broadcast channels for free.

Eventually, he relented, and we got cable, and I finally felt like I was part of the in-crowd. There was a lot of great things to watch back then for a curious kid. I was finally able to watch Teen Summit on BET and Yo! MTV Raps on MTV. I believe Tevin Campbell’s music video for Round and Round was the first video I had ever seen.

MTV was great back then because they actually used to show music videos! There was also this new show called The Real World, which was awesome because it exposed me to people and issues I wouldn’t have seen in my life. I think Pedro from the San Francisco cast was the first openly gay, HIV-positive person I had ever seen, and Tami from Los Angeles left an impression on me when she had her abortion on the show. MTV culture back then was different from today. The VMAs were worth watching back then, Kurt Loder was MTV’s Walter Cronkite, and who could forget Bill Clinton being asked about wearing boxers or briefs?

In my later teens, I started watching more CNN, which helped me decide to become a journalist. I loved watching Christiane Amanpour reporting from Bosnia and Bernard Shaw covering the Gulf War.

Today MTV, CNN, and the many other cable channels have become complete garbage. It is possible that I have “aged out” of MTV’s targeted demographic, but the programming on there now is just awful and lacks any substance. The same is true with CNN, which used to report the news. The last time I turned it on, I was watching Anderson Cooper, who had ten people on his panel yelling at each other. Now with Trump becoming president, I will want to watch even less of the cable news pundit yelling.

Enough, enough, enough!

In the next few weeks, I am going to look into alternative options to replace my cable. I get most of my news and entertainment from online these days. It is funny how life makes a full circle. Most of the shows that I like to watch today are on broadcast channels, like Law and Order SVU, Jane the Virgin, Designated Survivor, Quantico and Madame Secretary. The only regular newscast beside local news that I watch are Democracy Now, BBC, CBC, France 24 and CNN International online.

If you have any suggestions for the cable weening process, please let me know. I need to get off this cable habit real quick!