A man unleashed a verbal attack against another man on Metro’s Green Line Friday in a confrontation that bystanders said appeared to be driven by post-election tensions around xenophobia.
Melanie Boyer, 40, who works for a nonprofit in the District, posted smartphone video to her Facebook page that captured part of the confrontation between an unidentified white man in a button-down shirt and khakis and a younger man .
In the video, the white man rants about deodorant and demands to know whether the young man – who was out of the frame but was described by another passenger as Southeast Asian in appearance – would ever wear deodorant in America.
“It’s America. Welcome to America,” the man yells. “Deodorant! What do you think?”
“This isn’t your America,” someone interjects from the background.
“What is he supposed to respond to?” an unidentified woman asks.
“Does he know what deodorant is?” the man demands. “Is he ever going to wear some, in America?”
“Who are you that he needs to answer that to?” another passenger asks.
Rabiah Burks, 33, who was leaving her job at the American Bar Association, said she removed her earphones after she heard the man shouting. To her, the clash appeared to be motivated by anti-immigrant rage.
“He started asking the guy, ‘Why are you wearing gloves? Have you ever been in an environment that’s less than 100 degrees?’ And then he started asking him whether or not he wears deodorant. He was really loud and belligerent on the train, so people started coming from all sides,” Burks said.
Other passengers closed ranks around the target of the rant and tried to keep the confrontation from escalating, Boyer and and Burks said. Some used the emergency intercom on the train to summon the train’s operator.
Both women said police met the train; their accounts differed as to whether the man was getting off at his stop or was ordered off. A spokesman for Metro Transit Police said Saturday that a search of all reports and calls for service failed to locate a record of the incident.
The confrontation occurred as the nation celebrated and seethed over Republican Donald Trump’s stunning upset White House victory. Anti-Trump protests were organized in the District and several cities, and some became violent. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reported a sharp increase in the number of attacks on Muslims. There were also reports that Trump supporters had been attacked.
Burks, who is African American, said she was shaken by such a racially charged verbal assault in public and feared that the divisive presidential campaign has emboldened some to act on their worst impulses.
“I’m concerned that because of the change of the administration, it’s given people license to be, or to feel emboldened, to act out and behave in ways that were socially unacceptable before,” Burks said. “Now it’s okay to accost people based on race on the train, and it’s okay to discriminate against people, it’s okay to be vicious to people in public. . . We don’t want a country that’s at war with each other. Attacks — regardless of where they come from — are wrong.”
Boyer, 40, said no one on the train explicitly linked the confrontation to Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory.
“I don’t know if this was a direct response to the election. I don’t know if this is related to the hate incidents we’ve seen that people are taking as a blank slate to treat minorities,” she said. “This man never said that this was Trump’s America. He said this was America.”
But Boyer also said it was the third troubling incident she had witnessed since the election. In another instance, a white man boarded the train and declared, “This is Trump’s America. You better get right with God.” And then, at Metro Center, she saw a group of about eight African Americans in their late teens board a train when one of them began venting about his hatred of Donald Trump. One of them cursed Trump’s name with an expletive, and then said: “Trump wants to get rid of people who aren’t white. Not if I kill him first.”
“The only thing I kept thinking on the train is, this is going to be the next four years,” Burks said. “I think it’s going be a complete, unregulated license to be mean and nasty.”
Still, both women said the reactions of their fellow passengers to intercede and protect the target of the abuse gave them hope.
“It was nice to see how many people stood up and faced this guy down,” Boyer said.