Y Maggie Hessel-Mial
ou hear talk about how people have become desensitized to violence. You read columns, articles and books about how people have become desensitized to violence. You turn on the television and watch movies with explosions and blood galore. In the process of learning about this desensitization, I became desensitized to the desensitization to violence. That is, until it gave my daily commute from downtown Minneapolis to my southeast Minneapolis home a whole new meaning.
I hopped on the bus at Nicollet Mall between Third and Fourth Streets one sunny Wednesday evening. A man and woman, both who reeked of alcohol at 5 p.m., boarded the bus with me. We’d been in transit for approximately five minutes when our entire bus was surrounded by Minneapolis Police squad cars.
As the officers ran by the side of the bus and banged on the windows and doors to signal the driver to let them in, my pulse quickened. Six police officers entered the bus, guns drawn.
“Who has a gun on the bus?” the officers screamed at us.
My fellow bus riders and I looked at each other with a shrug and a “D’uh, I don’t know” expression of stupidity.
“Who has a gun on the bus?” they screamed louder. “Put your arms up in the air! All of you!”
A little boy sitting across the aisle from me, not more than 3 years old, started to cry and said, “Make the guns go away.”
Believe me, kid, I wished I could. My whole body was shaking and tears filled my eyes. Could I trust the Minneapolis Police Department to not shoot me by mistake? Would I need to army-crawl down the dirty bus steps in the middle of a shootout, amid ammunition shells and bodies? And strangely, I felt as if I was in the middle of the “Speed” movie remake, sans a script to tell me how the story would unfold.
A brave passenger friend – because at that point, with guns in our faces, we’d crossed the threshold of just being strangers – spoke up and said, “That couple that just got off the bus might be who you’re looking for.”
The couple had frantically begged to get off the bus the minute the police pulled us over. Four of the police officers jumped off and arrested the couple, dragging them kicking and screaming to a squad car.
The remaining police officers looked at us pitifully with some discomfort and said, “Uh, thanks,” and hopped off.
Does this mean we can put our arms down? Is it safe?
We got the all-clear head nod from an officer and continued on our merry way.
Rumors spread around the bus for the first few moments. Hadn’t that couple just shot someone on another bus? Did the police officers pull us over by mistake? Weren’t the couple spies from Europe trying to discover our secret to the mass transportation system?
Whatever it was, we’ll never know. Within five minutes of our “escape,” everyone went back to reading his or her books or to looking out the window. But I was stuck. Movement was not an option. There had been a gun in my face. It was the closest I had ever been to a gun. No one in my family hunts. I don’t even think I’ve ever dated anyone who hunts or owns a weapon of any kind. This was new territory to me.
The rest of my passenger comrades seemed to go back to what they had been doing as if nothing happened, as if our bus hadn’t been held up at gunpoint. Had the people I was riding with been desensitized enough to violence that this was a walk in the park for them?
I rode along, composing myself and got off at my stop as I do everyday. I walked the block to my home and thought about what had happened. In the whole scheme of things, was it that big of a deal? No, of course not. But it did give me an insight into how people can become immune to guns and potential violence.
For the most part, I consider myself a Minneapolitan. But when I was sitting on the bus with my arms up in the air, a mantra kept repeating in my head: Boy, I really am from a small town.
But the next day, as I sat on the bus riding home, I didn’t think much about my experience. Already it had gone into the recesses of my memory, something that at a dinner party in 10 years I might pull out to say, “Oh and this one time Ö” Here, I had been amazed at the nonchalance of the other riders. But in actuality, I also had been desensitized; it just took me a little longer to figure it out. Did it scar me for life? No. Have I been traumatized? No. Do I now tell the story to make people laugh at how dumb I acted at the time? Sometimes.
So what does it all mean? I really don’t have a theory, but I do know that the human psyche is pretty hard to rattle. If a moment of guns on a bus doesn’t faze you, what will? Frankly, I don’t ever want to know.