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Racially Charged Fight Gets Even Uglier on YouTube

Feb 19, 2010 – 1:41 PM
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Mara Gay

Mara Gay Contributor

(Feb. 19) -- From the YouTube video, this much is clear: It was a comment about shoe shining that sent the ugly set of events spiraling out of control, culminating in a racially charged fist fight between an older white man and a younger black man on an Oakland, Calif., bus Monday afternoon.

By this afternoon, more than 30,000 people had watched the fight unfold on YouTube. But the exact series of events leading up to the fight remained unclear. Because while the drama of the encounter -- down to the racial epithets and the blood on the bus's plastic blue seats -- was captured on camera, the most basic facts of the event were not.

The video is confusing, incomplete. So viewers were largely left to piece together the facts of the bloody fight on their own, which they did through an interesting mix of competing YouTube videos, reporting and blogs.

According to witnesses, including Iyanna Washington, the college student who recorded the fight, the white man, who was identified by The Oakland Tribune as 67-year-old Thomas Bruso, taunted the younger black man and asked him to shine his shoes. "The white guy was asking the black guy for a shoeshine," Washington told CBS. "And I guess the black guy took it as a racist comment, like, 'Why's a black guy have to spit shine your shoes?'"

In the video, the two men continue to exchange insults. Finally, the black man throws a punch. The white man then begins to pummel him until he exits the bus shouting "He hit me!" and leaves the black man on the bus floor with a bloody nose.

AC Transit Spokesman Clarence Johnson told CBS that both men were taken to the hospital and later released with minor injuries. He said the black man had a bloody nose, and the white man had been off of his meds.

"We hate for this sort of thing to happen," Johnson said. "Our buses transport 236,000 passengers on a daily basis and these types of things are not commonplace."

On YouTube, competing narratives of the fight began to take hold.

Racist comments, lots of them, began to pop up on the YouTube page. "Typical day in the Urban Jungle," one commenter wrote. "Typical N*****. Always so full of hate and anger," another wrote. "This is a perfect example as to why racism will never die. They do it to themselves. Won't they ever learn?"

Zennie Abraham, a blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle, said the debate surrounding the video was "dominated by racists and nuts cases:"
"With all of that some observers have proven they're just as much animals as the men in the video. The talk of some is to crown the old white man as some kind of hero, when it's obvious he's some kind of nut job. Some people report the AC Transit Bus Fight as if it's a victory for whites against some boogie man who's black. All of this has become a discussion seemingly dominated by racists and nuts cases. Since racism is a mental illness, it's hard to tell them apart."
Then, another video emerged. Bruso, the older man, had been featured in a hit YouTube video before, when he was arrested at an Oakland A's baseball game in August for disorderly conduct and police used a Taser on him. "This guy is epic," one commenter said.

Tuesday, Iyanna Washington, the student who taped the bus fight, posted an apology on YouTube.

"I am the filmer of the video AC transit police bus fight," she said facing into the camera. "Lately I've been getting really hammered by the bloggers and the harsh YouTube and news critics about the video so I want to first clear a few things up."

Washington denied rumors that she had stolen anything from the older man's bag and apologized to "anyone who took offense to any part of this video."

But she had another message for those watching as well.

"It's a sad thing, but this is real life; people actually, you know, people say and do things like this every day," she said. "It's just the parts that we catch on camera that really get seen."

Filed under: Nation, Crime
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