I was commuting home March 2020 on the NYC subway, in what would be one of my last commutes before COVID caused mass shutdowns. It was the brief, quiet space between home and work, and my mind was shifting gears to my children and dinner. It took me a minute to realize I had been trying to filter background noise to focus on my thoughts.

When I zoned in on the noise, I realized that a passenger had been berating two Asian men. His body language and tone were hostile as he towered over them, too closely, despite there being plenty of space on the train. It was obvious he was using his size to bully and intimidate. I could not help but to fear that this would escalate into physical assault on the two men, who tried bravely to mask their horror and tolerated the behavior. I felt the disgust triggered in my throat.

It was clear he had been drinking as well, so I already knew I wanted to avoid further escalation and just distract him or diffuse the hostility. I heard reference to the coronavirus, something derogatory regarding all Chinese people, and then the usual “Go back to your country”. I had no Bystander Intervention training, but I felt a responsibility to act. I was ready to intervene before something far worse happened that could have been prevented.

I told the person harassing the men that his comments were unwelcome, his behavior was unacceptable, and that I would not sit back and tolerate this the whole train ride. I told him to stop bothering these two strangers, and gently reminded him that after a hard day’s work, everyone is just wanting to get home safely. He then directed his attention to me and attempted to draw me into an argument. I ignored him and did not engage in an argument, and he soon disengaged himself.

The two men at the center of the incident walked over and thanked me on their way out. We all need to stand up for each other when we see harm. I made sure to check my surroundings as I exited the train to ensure I was not followed, and called my husband to let him know what happened as I finished my commute home.

I had no idea we would find ourselves here a year later, knee deep in hatred. I have since taken the Bystander Intervention training by Hollaback. I would intervene again and again.