Our talk with the woman who broke up the Muni fight

Following last week’s now-infamous Muni fight, a commenter here alerted us to the fact that she was the sister of the woman who helped break up the fight. It’s somewhat tangential to what occurred that day, but many people (including myself) applauded this woman’s behavior. I hesitate to use the word “hero,” but she did something most of us don’t do — intervene. Hell, there’s even chapters of psychology textbooks devoted to the so-called “bystander effect,” or “Kitty Genovese effect,” so named for a woman who was murdered in front of an apartment building in New York in the ’60s, with thirty-some-odd people witnessing the whole thing, and consequently doing nothing.

True, no one got killed on the bus last week, although other violence has occurred on-board San Francisco buses lately. Still, this person who stepped in to help mitigate the situation didn’t know whether she’d be harmed. Muni Diaries applauds her actions, and we’ve now had the opportunity to talk to her about that day. Due to some of the comments she’s received on sites that posted the video, she doesn’t feel comfortable putting her full name here. So we’re using her first name, Chi, for this interview.

Muni Diaries: Tell us about what happened that day on the bus. (please tell us when you got on the bus – did you witness the beginning of the fight or was it already happening when you got on?)

Chi: I got on the bus as the two women were in the midst of a heated argument only at that point. I had no idea what they were arguing about at the time. I was listening to my iPod and decided to turn it up to drown out the external noise.

MD: What made you decide to pull them apart?

Chi: I heard a young girl who was standing behind me scream and run forward towards the front of the bus. At that point, I turned around to see the two women fighting, since I was facing forward, towards the front also. I quickly assessed that they weren’t going to get an intervention, so that’s when I stepped in.

MD: Would you suggest stepping up as you did when this sort of incident occurs?

Chi: Yes, but one doesn’t necessarily have to physically intervene if there’s a threat. Assess the situation, and go with your gut feeling. There’s a time to mediate and there’s a time to just call or get help immediately. Call me empathetic, but my school of thought is, if I were in dire straits, I would want someone to help me.

MD: Did you keep up with how viral the video had become, and how did you feel to be sort of an Internet celebrity for a while?

Chi: No, I didn’t keep up with how viral it became, but my friends sure let me know. As for being an Internet celebrity, I was mortified! That video didn’t show any of us in the best light, and I’m sure the other ladies would agree with me. It’s shocking and surreal to say the least.

MD: Some of the commenters called you a hero. How did you feel about the things people were saying about you and the video?

Chi: I definitely have mixed feelings regarding everyone’s comments. Some were extremely supportive (which I certainly can and do appreciate), and some were pretty critical. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but until one knows all the facts from beginning to end, you may be passing judgment based on evidence that’s inconclusive. For example, I’ve read or heard comments such as, “why did the younger Asian girl protect the African American woman, when she was the one who clearly threw the first punch?” The fact is I didn’t see who started the fight, nor did I care at the time. The video only shows footage from where one man was sitting (it does not show how the argument started). What I saw were two adult women hurting each other. I wanted to stop it before someone really got hurt, period. Other comments describe the fight as a “racial” incident. I would have to respectfully disagree. I didn’t hear one racial epithet being used between either women when I intervened. Mind you, I don’t understand Chinese, because I’m not of that ethnicity, which was another incorrect assumption. Being a proud Asian woman myself, I’ve come across racism unfortunately, and would have addressed it at the time, had I thought that was the case. I guess hindsight is always 20/20. I’m certain anyone can find fault with any one person shown on tape, but until you’re unknowingly caught on tape in a crisis, then judged by many strangers, it’s a whole different ballgame. Moving forward, I’ll continue to be a concerned citizen, minus the judgment.

MD: Will you still ride Muni?

Chi: Yes, although maybe a bit less frequently.

MD: What are your feelings on how Muni should’ve handled the situation? Specifically, what should the driver have done, if anything?

Chi: I can’t speak for the driver, because I don’t know all the facts from his perspective. As for Muni, I think there should definitely be working cameras on each and every one of those buses. If the driver couldn’t see or hear the fight ensuing because it was on a longer bus, than that should be addressed by Muni. Assuming the driver did hear the argument, warn both women via speaker that if it continues, they have get off the bus. Obviously in this case, there was a physical altercation, so the driver should’ve at least reported the incident and called the police since there was an assault.


  • Folkwolf101

    It sure is a letdown hearing the young girl speak, that she was upset having her ipod music interrupted. Very pedantic, especially with remarks like:

    “Other comments describe the fight as a “racial” incident. I would have to respectfully disagree. I didn’t hear one racial epithet being used between either women when I intervened. Mind you, I don’t understand Chinese.”

    So, she doesn’t speak Chinese but is so positive it was not a racially motivated fight? Sorry honey, but African Americans treat Assians with contempt all the time and are all too used to doing so without confrontation. This is a rare (and I would add, heroic!) time when an old Asian lady did not back down and struck back after being hit in the face.

    • To me there is a lot of racial tension in this video, and that was obvious when we posted the video and when we received a flood of comments. But I can see how, when she saw the women fighting, how Chi may not have felt that this was a race issue. I can understand that when you are confronted with a physically violent situation, your reaction is that this needs to stop before somebody gets hurt, rather than analyzing the racial element of the situation.

      The race tension in this video is palpable. But I think neither woman is in the right. The situation should have never been escalated to verbal or physical violence.

    • James

      “Sorry honey, but African Americans treat Assians with contempt all the time and are all too used to doing so without confrontation. ”

      I see Muni Diaries is still letting sweeping generalizations about African Americans go unchided.

      Fucking hypocrites.

      • eugenia

        James, you are absolutely right that sweeping generalizations about African Americans have no place on this site. I have seen similar stereotypes from the comments section in the original post as well, and I’ve commented that these stereotypes do not belong in this discussion.

        You are right to say that as a moderator I should have called out Folkwolf101’s statement. Thank you, for keeping us in check.

      • James, you’ve got a point. Our day jobs sometimes prevent us from monitoring these comments as closely as we should. And we sometimes like to rely on our reading/commenting community to help us. Which you’ve done.

        Folkwolf101 is touching on a sentiment he/she might see as legitimate, how one community feels it is treated by another. But the comment is an unwarranted, and snarky, generalization. Let is serve as an example of the kinds of things we don’t tolerate here on Muni Diaries.

  • Great interview. (But the Kitty Genovese thing is sort of an urban myth.)

    • I hear you, but I still haven’t seen really credible mythbusting on that. And also, bystander effect seems totally plausible to me. I’ve experienced it countless times.

  • Just wanted to second mattymatt’s comment: On the Media (bestest show ever) debunked the Kitty Genovese story months ago. You can listen to the segment or read the transcript here: http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2009/03/27/05. I’m a fan of fact-checking.

    As for the interview, I think it underscored the fact that this video–and any video–is from one person’s perspective, a limited perspective for sure. When you add that to what our own life experiences, reading history, ethnic background, socioeconomic class level and all the other such factors that shape how we interpret such footage, you can’t help but be reminded of just how malleable something called “reality” actually is.

  • Arose

    “Old Asian lady”? I didn’t think she was old and I wouldn’t say “lady”. You can’t reallly tell how old either of them are from the video. You can’t tell what started the fight by the video, either, so you can’t assume anyone was backing down from anything. What you can see is who threw the first punch (but Chi couldn’t). And you can see/hear who threw the first 25 “f— you’s”. As if those aren’t fighting words in any language. I don’t think there is any good reason to throw a punch or use such inciteful language on a muni bus.

    Anyway, I do agree that Chi is a hero. She intervened to stop two women from hurting eachother, when no one else would. She didn’t stop ponder whether it was racially motivated or why they were fighting. She just stepped in where her help was needed. I probably would have been to scared to step in. I’m not brave. She is.

    And as for the iPod, can you really blame people from trying to block out the noise of muni? I don’t have an iPod, but sometimes I wish I did.

  • Heatheer

    The fact that she just wanted to listen to her iPod doesn’t mean anything. People screaming at each other on buses is so commonplace, there is nothing to do but turn up your iPod. You can’t be expected to pay rapt attention to each altercation that happens on Muni (unless you’re really into watching that kind of thing).

  • I’ve personally been trying to settle the intense racial aspect of this confrontation with little or no success. I’m African-American and I know that sometimes racially charge events happen as a result of being melting pot society. I also know that African-American as a whole do like Chinese people otherwise many immigrants would be hard press to sell anything when they open up liquor, hair, and nail stores in black communities. (Personally I see it as morally wrong to open up a liquor store anywhere as it promotes the destruction of its patrons but I also understand its just business) Believe it or not we could boycott these goods and if this racial nonsense doesn’t stop such a thing is likely to happen and then it wouldn’t matter what your opinions of race are.
    I’ve been stressing the connection between ignorance and racism as I have found the two likely to date each other. Afro-Asian relations is all about dispelling ignorance on both sides and trust me there are and getting to “A more perfect union” because we the people are very connected.
    Asian Immigrants tend to need the “Urban Cliental” (in reality this isn’t a Black vs. Asian issue but Asian Immigrants vs. urban low income communities) to provide the money they need to support themselves. The perceive problem with black people is just an over generalization of unfriendly attitudes in low income areas which blacks and other non blacks tend to live. You be hard press to find any incident like this happening in other parts of America where people are in general middle class or higher.
    African-Americans like Asians are victims to harshness of urban life which many immigrants fall into and like Asians there are a group of us that is fed-up. We all share a common struggle toward the American dream and we all must realize we are in this together lest another Nanjing anti-African protest happens or worst an American base riot occurs.
    Chi is a hero for being the only sane one in a sea of ignorance. People just shouldn’t fight regardless of who started what and for the record I would have applauded the Chinese women for standing her ground against an ignorant person had there been no racial undertone.
    Honestly all of this could have been avoided if the Muni system had an enforcer of civil behavior type personal onboard maybe we can use this incident to get one. In Closing Thank You once again Miss Chi and African-American don’t hold contempt against Asians and the attitudes of urban areas represent a small fraction of what and who the African American is in general. I’ve been motivated to tackle this issue and will be hosting something locally to encourage positive Afro-Asian relations.

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