WARNING: I consider this a philosophical post, but many may view it as political.
I don’t know why, but the recent video of a Utah nurse being roughed up for not allowing a police officer to draw blood on an unconscious patient really captured my attention. I felt compelled to look at it in more depth and watched several long versions of the video as well as versions with closed captioning. As I did, I realized there is more going on here than a quick viewing can reveal.
A whole lot more.
Here’s a rundown of 7 things that I didn’t notice at first:
1. The police officer involved—Jeff Payne–is remarkably honest.
Right before he physically grabs the head nurse of the burn unit, he is asked:
“Why are you blaming the messenger, Sir?”
Payne replies without hesitation: “She’s the one that has told me NO.”
If it weren’t for the closed captioning, the importance of those words might have slipped by me. It was seeing them spelled out that gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. Everything that happened on this video came down to one thing: a woman telling a man NO. A woman was telling Payne he couldn’t “do anything” he wanted. He had to follow the rules.
2. Being told NO makes power-addicted people angry.
In the video, the nurse, Alex Wubbels repeatedly asks, “Why is he so angry?” It’s kind of heart-breaking to hear her say this because it’s so obvious that she is sincere. She cannot understand why a person would be angry with her for following the law.
The answer is easy, however. Just SEE ABOVE: “She’s the one that has told me NO.”
How many women have sparked some primal anger because they told a powerful man NO? How many minorities have risked abuse for the same?
3. There’s a fine line between Mansplaining and Gaslighting
It was bad enough watching Payne manhandle and handcuff Wubbels, but in a way it was even more disturbing to listen as another police officer performed a textbook demonstration of mansplaining that morphed into pure gaslighting. I don’t know the name of this guy, but I sincerely hope he is the other officer in trouble. He makes Kaa in the Jungle Book look like a straight shooter.
He kneels down beside Wubbels as she sits handcuffed in a police car and uses an obnoxiously oily calm and measured voice to say that while he understands what she thinks she’s doing, in actuality she is obstructing “the law.” When that doesn’t work, he says that if what the police are requesting doesn’t turn out to be legal, it will still be okie dokie so she doesn’t need to worry her pretty little head. (paraphrasing here)
Riiiggghhhtttt. I’m guessing this guy didn’t know about the recording in progress.
Meanwhile, I am so impressed that Wubbels never wavered.
(Question: Will someone please give me brownie points for not using the phrase Good Cop, Bad Cop?)
4. Body cams have their place.
Wubbels is a former Olympic athlete and she is T.O.U.G.H. I never thought for one second that she would give in, but I suspect that if there were no witnesses or camera in the room, she might think about it.
For her own safety, I hope she would.
The scariest thing about the video is imagining what would have happened if there weren’t a recording or people to witness?
This blatant abuse happened in an open area with lots of people watching and a camera rolling. Payne knew the camera was on because the officer wearing it oh-so-helpfully told him so early on: “Just so you know, I’m recording.”
If someone feels empowered to act this horrifically in those circumstances, what are they capable of in a dark alley with nobody around?
5. The good ole boy network is alive and well.
The short video barely touches on the reaction of the other security officers and police in the room. The longer version tells a more complete story. While a few of them have the decency to at least distance themselves, there are also conspiratorial whispers, smiles, knowing glances and other signals of a good ole boy network in action. A few of the men make weak attempts to stop Payne, but none come close to stepping up to the plate. It would seem that it’s easier to watch the head nurse of the burn unit at a major hospital get roughed up than it is to speak out with a strong voice. I mean, God forbid that one of them got put in handcuffs or shoved in a police car like a nurse. Sure, that might make a statement, but how embarrassing!
I keep wondering what would have to happen before these people finally worked up enough courage to step in?
6. Somebody needs to invent a training course on how NOT to say the words, “Calm Down.”
Maybe it’s just me, but it could be a good thing Wubbels had on hand cuffs when the man from hospital administration said, “Calm down, Alex.”
His advice itself was probably good since people have been shot dead for less, but he didn’t seem to grasp the unfairness of advising restraint. He seemed more irritated with her, in fact, than Payne. In my opinion, he was really quite TOO CALM (Yes, that’s a thing. The British were wrong.).
I’d like to ask him what he would have done if he had been the person who had to hold the line.
7. There’s a big picture here.
Remember Wubbels’ bewildered question?
Why is he so angry?
I understand how she felt. The past few months, I – along with most of the people I consider my peers –have felt equally stunned and perplexed. Watching the freaking KKK and neo-nazis climb out of the woodwork in an eruption of fury has been baffling. We are saying some of the same things I heard Wubbels say:
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT IS HAPPENING.”
“THIS IS CRAZY!”
“WHY IS HE SO ANGRY?”
Here’s my best guess:
For most of our recent history, overt bigots have been told NO when they tried to use privilege and power as a permission slip to trample the rights of others. That made them angry, but they had to hide the feeling. Now, they believe they have permission to revert to a past when they could “do anything.” This is temporary and deep down they know it. When someone pulls the curtain away to show the truth, they get really, really mad.
But no matter how angry they get, the world IS changing. The arc of history will indeed bend toward justice. It will require continued turmoil and diligence, but if we can physically survive, equality and inclusiveness will prevail. The Klan rallies and violent misogyny we’re seeing now are the last gasp of a pathetic, fatally wounded behemoth lashing out at everything around it rather than accept that the old days when they had a monopoly on power are gone.
What happened in that hospital unit is not a Utah issue. It’s not a hospital issue either. It’s not even a police issue.
It’s a power issue.
As common sense dictates and multiple academic studies have shown, too much power degrades people’s behavior. This is human nature.
Power is much like sun exposure. Everyone needs enough. Too much is harmful. And some people are more susceptible than others to its bad effects.
Guidelines, rules and laws – these things are sunscreen.
Good leaders don’t hesitate to use them to protect others and themselves.
The ones who don’t will eventually get burned.