The latest outburst from an unruly passenger has Florida bus drivers circling the wagons.
According to WFLA-TV in Tampa, video footage captured an unidentified woman punching a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority driver in Clearwater, prompting union representative April Murphy to issue a stern warning.
“Leave our drivers alone,” Murphy said. “Pretty soon, the driver is going to start fighting back.”
“And you know, the passengers are going to lose because we got some tough people, girls and guys. So, you know, it comes to that. Somebody is going to get knocked out,” she added.
Officers with the Clearwater Police Department said the incident occurred last month when the woman repeatedly threw punches at the bus driver, according to WTVT-TV in Tampa.
Police said the woman could not pay her bus fare.
The driver then told her she had to get off the bus, at which point she began swinging repeatedly.
WARNING: The following video contains violence that some viewers may find disturbing.
Murphy said unruly passengers can be prohibited from riding certain buses if they have a problem with particular drivers.
“Depending on the level, they should be able to ride another bus,” the union representative said, according to WTVT.
“Just because I get in a fight with you, doesn’t mean I’m going to get in a fight with him, and I can’t ride his bus, so I see PSTA’s side as well. I don’t think passengers should be barred from the whole system,” Murphy added.
Still, some drivers have felt like easy targets.
“You have your head on a swivel at all times,” 15-year veteran bus driver Kevin Sablon said. “You don’t know who’s walking through that door.”
A PSTA representative said the authority installed safety barriers in 2020. Those offer a degree of protection from violent passengers, though in one case they came too late.
“Back in 2019, when Thomas Dunn was murdered in Tampa, our unions actually got together and saw to it that they installed the barriers in there,” Sablon said, according to WFLA.
In 2022, a judge sentenced 38-year-old Justin McGriff to life in prison for the murder of Dunn, a 46-year-old Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
On May 18, 2019, McGriff stood over the seated Dunn and stabbed the driver in the neck. A surveillance video from the bus also captured that incident.
While Dunn’s murder led to action on safety barriers, Murphy said the specter of violence still looms over every driver.
“Always, our drivers are always under some sort of threat every day,” the union representative said, according to WFLA.
Police described the suspect as “between 20 and 30 years old, five-feet and five-inches tall and 140 pounds, with medium-length dreadlocks and the sides of her head shaved,” according to WTVT.
The problem, of course, has nothing to do with public transit in particular.
“The majority of the passengers are good people, you know?” Sablon said, according to WTVT. “But we do have a small percentage of unruly passengers, like that one, who we have to deal with. And that’s all it takes is that one time.”
In that respect, Murphy’s warning made sense. Mess with drivers, she said, and eventually they will have to fight back.
On the other hand, the Dunn murder trial highlighted perennial complications associated with crime prevention. It included, for instance, expert testimony that McGriff showed signs of schizophrenia, according to the Times.
In that case, all the warnings in the world would not have had the desired impact.
Above all, of course, violence on buses and elsewhere has spiritual roots.
Indeed, our whole concept of freedom rests on our belief in the individual’s literal capacity for self-government.
Thus, while laws and barriers exist to deter the spiritually wayward, only Christian humility and grace can bring true peace.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.