The first time I heard a black man say ‘I can’t breathe’
The lesson in humanity everyone should take from that
When he boarded the bus, I barely looked up. He was a handsome guy who looked like a tall version of Ray J, but I had no interest in him. We were in the same homeroom and never said more than the occasional “hey.” This time around, we didn’t even say that. He was walking with a friend I didn’t recognize. I lost interest and returned to reading my book.
Shortly after, another guy boarded the bus. Also fairly attractive, I glanced up to check him out. He paused and stared behind me. I turned around to see what he was looking at, but all I saw was a bunch of other people from my high school — including the homeroom peer. He looked from the back of the bus and then toward me, pointing to the inner seat. I motioned for him to climb over me, and he sat down sorta sideways so he could see behind him. I returned to my book.
Before we got to my high school, we had to pass another high school. It was common to see students from both schools during our travels. So when the bus driver announced the next stop for the first school, I wasn’t surprised when he motioned that he needed to get up again. I shifted my hips a little so he could get by me. From the corner of my eye, I saw my homeroom peer march toward the front of the bus at the same time. Then I saw a hand go flying in the air, smacking the back of the head of my seat partner. That hand belonged to my homeroom peer.
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I was stunned. My seat partner turned around and swung on my homeroom peer, and the fight was on. I stood up on my seat trying to stay out of their way and avoid a fist accidentally landing in my direction. After a few punches (this would’ve been the kind of fight that would go viral for Gen Z), the bus jolted to a stop so fast that I clutched onto a metal bar to avoid falling down on my seat. The bus driver, a heavyset woman weighing in at about 225 to 250 pounds, yelled, “You have one chance to stop fighting.” Both young men ignored her and kept on throwing fists, with my homeroom peer’s friend throwing in the occasional punch. They fell to the ground still fighting.
The bus driver shrugged and said in an even tone, “I warned you.” She stood over both men, spread her legs and flopped her entire weight down on them. My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe she’d done that. Both young men — taller than her but half her weight — gasped for air, with my seat partner (who was very light-skinned) turning bright red. My homeroom peer started wheezing, smashed between the bus driver’s weight and my seat partner in a bizarre human sandwich. I grew worried, looking at just how red my seat partner was turning.
“I can’t breathe,” he said, gasping for air. Referring to my homeroom peer by his first name, clearly confirming they definitely knew each other, he said, “You’ve got to get up. I can’t breathe. Please.”
My homeroom peer heard him, then both pleaded with the bus driver to stand up. She looked down at them and said, “Are you two going to stop fighting?”