Sasha Hearn was minding her own business, waiting in line at the 7-Eleven on Franklin Street in Quincy on Tuesday, when she heard a commotion behind her.
A man hurrying from the soda machine to the counter had banged into a child, and as the man walked past Hearn, he turned to curse at the kid for getting in his way.
“What he said was something to the effect of ‘watch where you’re [very bad word] going,’ ” Hearn said. The boy, who had been counting change with two friends to buy snacks, was suddenly confused and terrified. Then, Hearn said, she heard the man say something about killing the boy’s father.
“It was too much,” Hearn said. “I couldn’t not say anything.”
Sometimes minding your business is overrated.
The boy and his two friends were 12 or 13 years old, Hearn said. They weren’t being rowdy or making a ruckus. “He was standing there counting his money for a taquito or something,” said Hearn, 29.
Two clerks at the 7-Eleven corroborated Hearn’s account of the incident, and security footage shows the man banging into the boy, who is facing the other way and standing still, before turning to confront the child.
Hearn angled herself in front the man, who, she said, was suddenly furious. The boys retreated to the back corner of the store, where a clerk said they were visibly shaking with fear.
Then the incident turned even uglier: “Two of them were children of color, and this guy was being racial towards them,” Hearn said. She’s about 120 pounds — considerably smaller than the raging man in front of her — but she didn’t hesitate. “I’m not tough by any means, and I’m not a fighter, it was just someone needed to intervene.”
So many of us have found ourselves in situations where we should have said something, or done something, only to stop ourselves because, well, it’s none of our business. But this world is already too hard on children, and not just those who are assaulted and discarded and forgotten.
A run-in like this can shape children in ways that linger long after they’ve left the store. They put up walls to guard against fear; they steel themselves against a world that suddenly seems eager to hurt them. They treat strangers the way strangers have treated them.
Attempts to locate the boys were unsuccessful Tuesday, but workers at the store said they come in often and don’t make trouble. They’re good kids who buy snacks after school.
“These were little kids. They had their book bags. They weren’t doing anything wrong,” Hearn said. Hearn’s own son is 10, not much younger. He has cerebral palsy — she’s taking time away from studying biotech at Quincy College to care for him, along with her boyfriend’s 6-year-old and her ailing grandfather — and she thought of how hard it would have been for him to get out of the man’s way.
Hearn absorbed the man’s abuse and, not exactly soft-spoken, she gave it right back. He ranted and raved, and bragged about how much money he makes as a roofer, she said, repeatedly telling her to complain to his boss and gesturing at the roofing company logo on his shirt.
When Hearn ushered him out of the store, he continued screaming at her, she said, getting so close to her face that she thought it verged on assault. When the kids came out of the store and went the other direction, she said, the man yelled racial slurs at them.
Hearn didn’t call the man’s boss, but she shared the story on her Facebook page, and on a Quincy Facebook group, where an old friend who works at the same roofing company saw it. The company’s owner called Hearn immediately.
On Wednesday, the longtime owner of the roofing company fired the man, who he said he’d hired just three weeks ago as a favor to the man’s father. The company’s owner, who asked not to be named, called the incident embarrassing and unacceptable, and said the man acknowledged using racial slurs.
Attempts to reach the man were unsuccessful, and his phone was not accepting calls on Wednesday.
But this story is not about that man, or whatever instability may have motivated him. In the moment, that didn’t make any difference anyway. Hearn turned a lesson about the world’s sharp edges into evidence of its capacity for kindness.
She saw something that wasn’t right, and she made it her business.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.