Metro Diary: When Contractors Don’t Get the “Off-Limits” Memo on Harassment
“Are you riding the train…?” came the voice over my shoulder.
It is perhaps one of the more terrible pick-up lines I have heard in a good while. Especially because I was standing on the Blue Line platform at Grand — a minimally furnished and poorly shaded station in the middle of a hectic stretch of Washington Blvd. that you must cross a very busy street halfway to reach. It is not a site one purposely seeks out as a rest stop.
Worse still, the line came from an armed private security guard hired, it appeared, to ensure construction workers there to upgrade the platform were able to do so in peace and to help travelers safely navigate the section of the platform being worked on.
He had not been hired to hassle the passengers.
But that was exactly what he was doing.
I had just watched him demand a young African-American man show him what he had in his pockets. The young man didn’t appear to be bothering anyone (I arrived in the middle of the incident), nor did he appear to be dangerous. His only crime appeared to be that he may have been homeless, and judging by the cardboard sticking out of the pocket of his hoodie, possibly carrying some garbage on his person.
As the young man tried to ignore him, the Afro-Latino guard paced back and forth in front of the young man, belittling him in front of the other passengers. “I’ll double it…Triple it.” he said, offering to up the money he had originally bet that the guy had something in his pockets.
Frustrated by the young man’s unwillingness to respond to his jibes and having spotted me, the guard now decided he had other fish to fry.
“Bullshit. He’s a bullshitter. He’s bullshitting me,” he muttered emphatically as he wandered my way, apparently assuming I would sympathize with the trouble he felt this young man was putting him through.
I did not.
I exchanged glances with the young man and gave him a shrug of solidarity. So did the Latino family that had watched the whole exchange and who appeared equally puzzled.
That’s when I heard his voice over my shoulder asking about my presence on the station.
I had no interest in his advances, not least because watching someone power trip and publicly demean another person (especially one who is obviously struggling) is not the greatest of aphrodisiacs.
I made it clear I did not wish to be bothered with a snarky reply to his dumb question and by turning my back on him. Much like with his interaction with the young man, however, he was not easily deterred by the cold shoulder. He continued to pester me, telling me he bet I took beautiful pictures with the camera I was carrying. Then he whipped out his phone and told me he could take beautiful pictures, too. He had just gotten back from a ten-day trip to his home country of Belize, he said, and had many wonderful photos of the landscape to show me.
He thrust his phone in front of my face, flipping through the images for me. I nodded and walked a few steps away. He wouldn’t take the hint. He had more generic photos of the ocean stored up and was determined that I would see them.
I looked down the track, wondering how long it would be before the train arrived, and took another few steps away from him.
He warned me to be careful and not slip on any of the new work that had been done on the platform (there was none where I was standing) and followed behind me, continuing to talk about Belize.
This guy clearly did not get the memo about Metro’s “off limits” policy on harassment, I thought.
It was a minor incident, as far as my experience with harassment goes, and not one I would normally make a stink about. In fact, as a journalist, if I get the sense that someone is probably nice and just looking to talk, I will often use the opportunity to engage them, learn about the area, and even cultivate sources.
But this guy was not nice. He had used his power over the platform to first to dog a young man and then to try to charm me. And the latter was something he had apparently been doing throughout the day.
As I boarded the train, he had an exchange with a pretty female passenger inside that he had encountered earlier, when she had been heading downtown to meet up with a friend.
“I found her!” she called out as she pointed to the woman seated in front of her.
“He’s from Belize, I guess,” she turned to her friend, as the door closed. “He just spent ten days there and was telling me all about his vacation…”
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If you should experience or witness an incident of sexual harassment, report it to the Sheriff’s hotline at 1.888.950.SAFE (7233). There’s also an app for that: http://www.transitwatchla.org/app.