I was riding the city bus home from downtown tonight, when an obviously autistic, and probably also severely retarded man, with a walker decorated with political stickers, gets on the bus. He waves to everybody on the bus, flashes the "rock on" hand-signal to me, and smiles when I make it back at him, and keeps on rocking back and forth and throwing the peace sign and yelling "peace!" to the people in the back of the bus, which they refuse to acknowledge. In fact, I think I may have been the only one on the bus who even made eye contact, except for the driver who periodically turned back and told him to "Pipe down!"
As we get down to Sixth Street, some girls dressed up to go club-hopping lean in the door and ask when the 37 bus will be by. As the bus pulls off the autistic guy yells out something like "What's up, girlfriends!" This presumably was the last straw, because it riled the bus-driver's ideas of Southern gentility.
At the next intersection, he pulls over, and toots his horn a few times at a pair of cops standing at the corner. When they get on, he gestures at the autistic guy, tells them he's creating a disruption, and could they please remove him from the bus? A confrontation ensues. The autistic guy clearly has no real understanding of what's going on, and begins yelling loudly that he knows the law and his rights. One of the cops taps his badge and utters the truly hackneyed phrase, "I am the law!"
They seem to be treating him like a drunk or a druggie. Part of me is telling me to stand up and tell the cops to lay off this stick-thin guy in a walker they're treating like a criminal. The rest of me is screaming out with the rule which has been conditioned into me since my first juvenile run-ins with the law, which is, "Never talk to cops unless they talk to you first."
One of the cops goes for the walker. The guy yells "I'll kick your ass!"
The cop says coldly, "That would be assault, and then you'd be in a world of trouble." Somebody's been watching too many cop movies. It's ridiculous, this spindly little man can't even walk unassisted, he couldn't even put a new crease in that pretty blue uniform. The situation is spiralling out of control.
As they prepare to pick the guy up and bodilly take him off the bus, I get ready to get up and say my piece. My body locks in place, my vocal chords freeze. One of the cops gesture to us in the front to get up and move away to the back, I mutely do so. At that moment, I hate myself.
Once they have him off the bus, they've got his hands locked behind him, they're handcuffing him to a bus stop bench. He's yelling at the top of his lungs about he'll be more polite from now on. They're searching his fanny pack and the backpack hanging from his walker. An old black woman yells, "Bus driver! He's off the bus! Let's get out of here!" We pull off, and my I can't take my eyes off the cops and the guy.
I don't know whether my saying anything would have made any difference. It might just have got the cops angrier, they were looking for an excuse. But I respect myself a little less now.