October 8, 2012

Last night, when I was on the bus from Cambridge to Waltham, there was a guy in the back of the bus who did some loud coughing.  I was at the front of the bus.  I looked over and saw that the guy was rubbing and even picking his nose.  I let it go the first time, and then he kept doing it.

I raised my camera to take a picture of him, and, as I did so, the woman who was in front of him put her hand over her nose.

I took the picture.

Some time later, she walked up to the front of the bus.  She had a young child with her.  She said “Did you take my picture?”  I said “Yes.”  She said “You can’t take my picture without my permission.”  I said “It’s legal to take pictures on public transportation.”  She tried to argue with me, and I said “I don’t have to have to have this conversation with you.”  She said “If you don’t erase that picture from your camera, I’m going to take the camera out of your hand and smash it.”

I said “Would you like me to call the police?”

She said “Sure.”

I thought that I’d rather resolve the situation without it getting to that point.  While I was thinking about what to do next, she said “I’m going to get off at the next bus stop with you.”

I went to the bus driver, who was only a few feet away, and said “She’s threatening me; she’s telling me that she’s going to smash my camera, and she’s also saying that she’s going to get off at the next bus stop with me.  I’d rather not have to call the police about it; can you ask her to leave the bus at the next bus stop?”  He said “I can’t ask her to leave the bus; all I can do is call the police.”

I don’t know why he thought that he couldn’t ask her to leave the bus.  He could hear everything that had happened, and she also repeated her intention to get off at the next bus stop with me, so even thought I might have been willing to resolve the situation by leaving the bus myself, I couldn’t do that because she was saying that she’d follow me off the bus.

He called the police.  We got to Waltham.  I called the MBTA and told the customer service representative what was going on.  I was told to wait for the police.

The bus driver stopped at the main bus stop in Waltham.  I didn’t think that I could leave the bus; I thought that the woman would follow me off the bus, continue to try to argue with me, maybe try to take my camera, maybe try to hit me, and that if I tried to defend myself, I would likely get arrested for assault.  I pointed to the security camera at the front of the bus and said “There’s the security camera; I’m going to stay here so that it can record what happens.”  The woman was across the aisle from me, still with her child.

The man who had coughed at me at the bus stop on the morning of October 6, 2012, of whom I’d taken a picture and told him that what he was doing was sexual harassment, was also there last night.  The last picture in the photo gallery of 10/06/12 is of him.  He said “What’s the problem?” and then said to me “Didn’t you take a picture of me yesterday?”  I said “This is none of your business.”  He said “I think I know what the problem is,” and the woman said “It’s not just me, then.”  When I went to the police station later to talk about what had happened with the police officers who showed up, I was told that there had been a phone call to the police about another incident in which I had supposedly misinterpreted someone’s behavior.  On 10/06/12, I wrote that the man had called someone, talked to the person for a few minutes and then walked away; I would bet that he did call the police after I told him that he was sexually harassing me by coughing at me.

Last night, the man walked away after he’d said “I think I know what the problem is” and the women had replied to him.

Two police cars showed up.  A police officer got on the bus.  He asked me to leave the bus so that he could talk to the woman.
I left the bus and stood on the sidewalk.  The bus driver left the bus, too, to wait for the situation to be over.  I asked the other police officer if he wanted me to tell him what happened; he said that the police officer who was talking to the woman would talk to me after he talked to her.

The first police officer then walked up to me and asked me why I was taking pictures on the bus.  I said “She made a rude gesture and I took her picture.”  He asked me what the rude gesture was.  I said “She put her hand over her nose.”  He said “What do you think that means?”  During this conversation, the other police officer thumbed his nose.  I said “She’s trying to imply that my vagina smells.”  The police officer said “From all the way in the back of the bus?  I’ve never heard of that before,” and he rubbed his nose.

He said “Have you had problems on the bus before?”  Of course, what he was trying to do then was imply that I had caused the problems that there had been on the bus before.  I said “There have been people who have threatened me on the bus before.”  He said “I wouldn’t like it, either, if someone were taking pictures of me.”  I said “It’s legal to take pictures on public transportation.”  He said “It’s legal, but it’s not normal.”  What he was doing there was trying to imply that mental disturbance is the reason that I’m taking pictures of people; not that I’m defending myself against being abused, but that I’m taking pictures of people who haven’t done anything to me because I’m crazy.

After he talked to the bus driver, he got on the phone.  Then I called 911; I told them that I didn’t think that the way that things were going with the police was going to be good for me, and that I hadn’t done anything wrong.  This entire situation has happened more than once, and I keep getting told “The police are already there; talk to them.”  One of the reasons that I call 911 when I’ve been abused and the police who show up don’t seem as if they’re going to do what they should be doing is that I know that my phone conversations are being listened to, and that if I get arrested or taken to the mental hospital, people will know where I am.  I’m also hoping that the people in the conglomerate who not only allowing but encouraging these things to happen will see reason about what’s going on and stop.

The police officer got back on the bus and talked to other people there.  I had already heard another guy who had been coughing at me on the way to Waltham doing more coughing when the police officer had left the bus the first time.

When the police officer left the bus again, the woman left the bus too, and walked away, with her child.  He walked up to me and said “I talked to the MBTA:  they don’t have a policy against taking pictures of people on public transportation.  However, it still sounds like you started the confrontation.”

I HADN’T STARTED THE CONFRONTATION, AND I’D TRIED TO RESOLVE IT WITHOUT EVEN CALLING THE POLICE, EVEN THOUGH THE WOMAN THREATENED ME MORE THAN ONCE.

I told him that I hadn’t started the confrontation.  He said that I could have ended it by erasing the picture of her and getting off the bus.  I said “I didn’t have to do that.”  He said, with a sarcastic smile “You know your rights; have a nice day.”

I walked to the police station to talk to a supervisor about how the police had treated me.  On the way there, a police motorcycle and another police car with sirens and lights went by me.

When I got to the police station, I had to talk to two police officers, a man and then a woman, and tell them what had happened, before I was able to talk to a supervisor.  Every one of them rubbed their noses at me and told me that they’d never heard of the gesture being meant or interpreted as sexual harassment.  The woman started talking to me about the library “Wasn’t there an incident at the library?” and “We got a complaint about you having interpreted something else as being harassment.”  I said “What was the date on that incident?”  She said “I don’t know the date for it.”

When I talked to the supervisor, he said to me “I’ve been a police officer for almost 20 years, and I don’t think it’s likely that two people on a bus would use the same gesture to you to mean the same thing.”

He did say that, since the woman had threatened me, I could make a report about the threat if I wanted to do so.

All of my conversations at the police station ended the best that they could, given that everyone was lying.

What I said to the lieutenant was this:

“Let’s say that the police officers who showed up at the bus stop did think that I was crazy and that I was misinterpreting and overreacting to a gesture.  Why would they then make the same gesture?  Why would that be the right thing to do?”

I felt that I could make that point about the situation, rather than to try to say: “You’re lying and everyone who’s saying that they don’t know what’s going on is lying, too.”

This morning, one of the police cars that had been there last night drove by me as soon as I got to the bus stop.  It drove by me again a few minutes later.  It wasn’t the only stalking vehicle at the bus stop this morning, there were some people who coughed at me, and a guy wearing a shirt that said “1822.”

Copyright L. Kochman, October 8, 2012 @ 11:26 a.m./edited @ 11:27 a.m.