The day after a stabbing on Muni’s 14-Mission left an 18-year-old male in critical condition, teenagers riding through the Mission on Thursday evening had little difficulty remembering threatening scenes they had witnessed on the bus. Fights on Muni, said one, are “pretty normal to me.”
Some of them recalled confrontations between strangers, others between friends. In most cases, the drivers eventually kicked the problem riders off the bus or called the police. In the incident on Wednesday, the suspects fled the 14-Mission on foot, police said. The 18-year-old victim remained in life-threatening condition at San Francisco General Hospital, according to police.
“What are you doing here?” Jose remembered hearing on one of his bus rides. The 17-year-old was on the 49-Van Ness-Mission, going to soccer practice in the Excelsior, when two men from rival gangs got into a shouting match.
Eventually one of the men got off the bus, but Jose has avoided it ever since.
“Here, I feel safe,” he said, standing at the corner of 19th and Mission, moving his arms in a big circle, referring to the inner Mission.
“But that zone’s not safe.”
In that same zone — on the 14–Mission near Geneva Avenue –- 17-year-old Isabella witnessed a fight last year.
“There was profanity,” she said. “Then somebody pulled out a knife and stabbed somebody.”
“I could have gotten stabbed, too. And it made me late for school.”
The whole bus stopped and everybody stared, she said. The driver didn’t do anything to intervene, but yelled and called the police.
The latest survey on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s website, from 2007, reports that overall, 56 percent of Muni’s riders feel safe. A 2009 report from the Comptroller’s Office estimated that nine out of 10 San Francisco residents used Muni at least once a month, and a rider survey gave Muni an overall grade of C-plus.
Since her brush with violence, Isabella, a petite, bright-eyed teen, has dropped out of high school. Dressed in black from head to toe except for shiny silver earrings, Isabella still rides at the back of the 14-Mission.
In the seat ahead of her, a woman in filthy clothes sat with her head in her lap. Behind her, a man shouted to his friends, “I’m gonna smoke that shit!”
Her advice? “You should always be alert, if you’re going around the city,” she said, looking over her shoulder. “I make sure I’m not slipping. I make sure I don’t see anybody I got problems with.”
And if she does see one of her foes, she “waits for them to confront me. I don’t try to avoid them.”
But avoiding hostile situations is what Jennifer Henriquez has learned to do ever since she saw a fight on the bus last year.
It happened when the then-sophomore at Wallenberg High School was riding the 9-San Bruno to her friend’s house.
A young woman, about 19 or 20, who was visibly pregnant, had her two-year-old daughter in tow. As the bus lurched to a stop at 26th and Potrero, another young woman boarded. Almost instantly, shouting erupted.
“They were cussing each other out, yelling all kinds of words at each other,” said Henriquez. They seemed to be fighting about a man. The second woman threw the first punch. The pregnant mother fought back. Henriquez watched the daughter, who stood by with tears streaming down her face.
The bus driver stopped to investigate. By that time, said Henriquez, “everything was flying –- bracelets, earrings, hair.”
The driver joined other passengers to pull the two apart. They succeeded, but the women quickly broke free to go at it again. The fight lasted at least 10 minutes before the police arrived, said Henriquez.
Ten minutes -– that was how long it had been since Miguel saw a fight on the bus when he spoke with a reporter on Thursday afternoon.
“Some guys were just pushing each other,” said the Lincoln High School student. “Trying to impress girls.”
He estimated the boys were his age, 15.
Miguel recalled a more malicious fight a year ago on a southbound 14-Mission.
“Three guys on the bus were just messing around,” he said. “One guy looked like he was getting threatened.”
Miguel said the young man broke away to the front of the bus and asked the bus driver to let him off. He did.
Another passenger, Shandra, remembers getting on the 14-Mission a few months ago and and witnessing a man using a crack pipe.
At first she couldn’t believe it. “Is that crack?” she asked herself.
She gave him the benefit of the doubt and ignored him. Other passengers did the same as the bus stopped and went.
Finally, the driver pulled over, stopped abruptly and walked toward the back of the bus, where the man with the crack pipe was talking a sniff, “like the world belonged to him,” Shandra said.
“‘Not here! Get out before I call the police,’” Shandra recalled the driver shouting. The man said nothing. “He was cracked out of his mind,” she said, but the driver escorted him off the bus.
Shandra’s Friend, Nicole, said she’s never seen anyone smoke crack on the bus, but she has been groped. “Groping! But that was a long time ago,” Shandra said.
While few reported seeing such scenes, one rider said that a daily ride on the 14-Mission means seeing others come on drunk and high. But “you’re fine so long as you don’t invite trouble,” he said.
When you ride the same bus route every day, “you know who your alcoholics are,” he added.