Cleveland Public Transit: Exploration of An “Uppercut” Gone Awry

When 59-year-old bus driver Artis Hughes decided to pull over the bus he was driving to engage 25-year-old female passenger Shi’dea N. Lane in a brawl, I’m sure he never anticipated a video of his actions, going viral via the bastion of social media’s dark underbelly, World Star Hip Hop…  but go viral it did.  Comments ran the gamut; people were shocked and dismayed, but mostly enthused. Folks seemed to rejoice in seeing the young Black woman get her just desserts for being unruly, and instigating a fight with the 22-year veteran of Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority. Witness accounts state that Shi’dea boarded the bus without paying (which may have been what ignited the dispute), that she appeared drunk/out of sorts and on edge when she got on, and that the exchange prompted Shi’dea to spit on and then strike Hughes while he was operating the bus. Admittedly, Shi’dea was absolutely wrong for verbally and physically assaulting Hughes’s person and sensibilities.  But as if the video weren’t already disturbing enough, the ensuing commentary it provoked is just as troubling, if not more.

The incident reportedly took place on September 18th, but a shorter 1:35 clip of the video surfaced on WSHH on or around October 11th and immediately spread across various social media platforms.

On the video, Some leery bus passengers can be heard trying to diffuse the situation, imploring Lane to stand down, in hopes of quelling the heated exchange and cautioning Artis Hughes that the woman “is a female” during the brawl, shortly after he threatened to “whoop her muthaf*ckin’ ass”, others guffawed and or offered color-commentary, from their seats.  Shi’dea continued to spew expletives at Hughes, while he threw back several of his own… threatening to sic his daughter and/or granddaughter on an undaunted Lane, and then offered a nasty quip about Shi’dea’s looks- “… look like somebody done sliced your face up!” And basically all hell broke loose. Shi’dea made a quick move towards Hughes, physically assailing him.

“You goin’ to jail now! You goin’ to jail now!” Hughes threatened, as he parked the bus and then slowly stood up to accost Lane and deliver an uppercut punch to her jaw with his closed fist. Lane’s head jerked back and Hughes made haste and yanked her by the hair and physically threw his unruly nemesis off the bus, along with her personal belongings. Lane pushed her way back onto the vehicle and continued scuffling with Hughes. A woman’s voice could clearly be heard from the background, yelling for someone to “stop him!”  … “That’s a f*ckin’ female!” she yelled.

“I don’t care!” argued an indignant Hughes. “She wants to be a man… I’ma treat you like a man!” And then more scuffling, hair pulling, and yelling…

So many things wrong with this entire scenario, I don’t know where to begin…

People can all agree that Shi’dea was out of line. But I cannot abide the argument that she “deserved” to be decked in the face by a man’s closed fist and then dragged by her hair in such a vicious manner. Let’s be real and examine what’s also wrong with Hughes’s behavior (which is even more deplorable), and the comments, guffaws, and LOLs justifying his actions and suggesting how heelarious it always is to see Black women get “put in their place” for stepping out of line.

The ease, with which Hughes decided to strike Lane in her face with a closed fist is unsettling and suggests that perhaps this isn’t his first time striking a woman. As a 22-year veteran doing his job, I’m assuming Hughes has grown accustomed to the pitfalls that come with dealing with the general public for most of the day, which often includes ornery passengers, so I’m sure he’s well versed in reinforcing proper protocol during tense situations. And I’m sure the cons of the job take their toll after a while; but as someone who utilizes public transit, I’ve had many conversations with bus drivers who’ve been on the job for as long as Hughes have, and they all stressed the importance of showing restraint during particularly testy altercations, and how it’s never a good idea to further rile an especially combative passenger.  One driver who’s been at the helm of several routes I’ve been on once told me, “You can’t do this job if you don’t like people. That’s the bottom line. Even when situations are bad, you just can’t let it get to you. If you snap, then it’s time to retire.”

I’m left to wonder why Hughes felt compelled to further escalate the situation to the point of violence, because he shares at least 50% of the responsibility, instead of pulling over immediately after dispatching for help the moment Shi’dea became disagreeable and refused to pay. I know it’s doable in these sorts of situations, because I’ve seen it done.

It’s absurd for people to say that women (especially Black women) who “act like men” should get “treated like a man” via some act of violence, until she “acts like a lady”, as if to suggest that masculinity is somehow inherently primitive and crude in its approach. Artis Hughes’s actions were more out of vengeance (because his masculinity was tested) than it was a defensive or protective measure on behalf of the other passengers, particularly since he put them at even further risk, just to show this young woman who’s the boss.  His immediate course of action should have been to diffuse the situation rather than try to restore honor to his manhood and further provoke it.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how overexcited people seem to get, over visuals depicting Black women in compromising or violent situations (queue the Rihanna and Chris Brown saga — the same people cheering on this man for punching a woman in the face, are still simultaneously crucifying Chris and victim-blaming RiRi).

The problem with these sorts of videos going viral is that predominantly White media outlets eventually pick up on and use them to further illustrate negative narratives about Black female pathology. The audience for these mainstream social media outlets then surmise, “See? Black women are masculine, loud, combative and ghetto, so they deserve to get [hit/punched/shot/maimed/raped/assaulted] because of their attitudes!” … despite the circumstances. And no one can convince me that this situation transcends race or gender, because those were the sorts of racially insensitive comments about Black women I read (and always read or fend off) about this video, in addition to kudos for Shi’dea “taking that punch like a champ”, because absorbing pain and violence of that magnitude has always been the burden of Black womanhood; we aren’t allowed the dignity of having off days, the right to speak up for ourselves without being branded as angry, or of being vulnerable. We aren’t expected to be anything other than icy mules, which can take a licking but keep on ticking.  In many ways some of us are complicit in that belief, as evidenced by some of our comments regarding this situation… that it’s totally permissible for a “certain type of woman” to get her teeth knocked down her throat and her hair yanked out of her head for being too rough around the edges and not “acting like a lady”… a common motif throughout the commentary about this incident.

No one cared to ask or know whether Shi’dea- who was shot four times during a robbery a couple of years ago and is the mother of a four-year-old – has mental health issues or why she was so indignant when she got on the bus. Needless to say, neither party pressed charges against the other, and Hughes has been suspended from his job for “unacceptable behavior” pending an investigation.

Despite the thumbs-up and Facebook “likes” Hughes’s actions have generated, there are no winners or heroes in this unfortunate situation, and I don’t believe Hughes should be hailed as one.