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.

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor at Berkeley’s J-school since 1990. My earlier career was at The New York Times working for the business, foreign and city desks. As an old...

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12 Comments

  1. I disagree with the statement thast “most of the time drivers intervene” not on Muni buses I ride. Most of them completely ignore all of the misbehaving, fighting, loud boom boxes, alcohol drinking, etc.

  2. WTF is wrong with people? Seriously. Pregnant and brawling with your two year old in tow? A 15 year old girl who “waits for her foes to confront” her? And the other day I heard a man saying that gentrification in our neighborhood is the “real problem”. I think not, my friend.

    1. Yes my wife’s 21 year old cousin has a six month old and frequently gets into fights, though only once that I know of when the baby was there. She is downright ghetto trashy…but what do I expect of and unemployed single mom who has only a 9th grade education and no desire to do better for herself…even when her family is helping her every step of the way.

  3. If you want to live in a 3rd world war zone, just implement a sanctuary city ordinance. Thanks David Campos!

  4. Yes, David Campos is partly to blame. And poor parenting. And the 15 year old girl who is such an angel that she won’t pick a fight but won’t avoid one either. A lot of it is bad parenting — kids are not being taught how to deal with conflict. In fact, they’re being taught violence. Is this the multicultural society that the “progressive” board of supervisors wants to encourage?

  5. Why do we put up with this B–S—? What a sorry excuse for a transportation system Muni has become. Hey San Francisco MTA – you can’t be a “transit-first” city without a safe & reliable transit system!! This is exactly why I avoid taking the 14 Mission bus anymore when I commute to the 24th Street BART station. I’d rather walk and dodge the gangbangers on the street that be confined with them in a crowded, smelly, graffiti-covered tin box that usually passes you by anyways, if it ever comes at all.

  6. It’s pretty damn sad when violence is considered “normal”. We’ve so lowered the level of expectation with regard to human behavior that shit like this now seems to hardly cause a stir. The definition of this syndrome, where people just look the other way, or stop trying to do anything about it, is INSANITY. And all the blame being placed on “gentrification”, police brutality or other canards is total BS. It’s due to poor parenting and abysmal lack of consciousness about how one’s behavior affects others in society. Stop looking for excuses. The reasons are plain to see.

  7. Sorry, but the Mission bus lines have been like this since I was a kid in the 90s and violence/crime predate Stupidvisor Compost or the “diversity” that you people talk about. I remember my mom getting her wallet snatched on the 14 at the 24th St BART and one good samaritan who tried to chase the thief. I think it is embarrassing and deplorable that the worthless cops in this town haven’t done anything to combat this. If this was New York, the local precinct captain would’ve been chewed out by his bosses for this.

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