The viral video of a white, middle-class University of Utah Hospital Head Nurse, one Alex Wubbels, being manhandled and thrown into the back of a police car because she refused to comply with a Salt Lake City Utah cop’s unlawful order is only the latest confirmation of black peoples’ centuries-long complaints of police brutality. This incident demonstrates that police misconduct is now an equal opportunity phenomenon; that police abuse applies to anyone who dares cross America’s Finest for even the slightest of reasons. Legality be damned. Civil or human rights be damned: The lesson here is that when a police officer orders you to do something – anything and for any or no reason – do it or the full force of the state will instantly fall upon your head like the proverbial ton of bricks.
Nurse Wubbels was ordered by Detective Jeff Payne to draw blood from an unconscious victim of an automobile accident. The unresponsive condition of the patient is the linchpin of this story because both hospital and police policy (as well as the US Constitution) forbade the taking of blood from such people. That policy allowed the drawing of blood, if and only if, the patient was under arrest, a signed-by-a-judge warrant (electronic or paper) had been issued, or that the patient him- or herself had given explicit consent for the procedure.
As Nurse Wubbels calmly, politely but determinedly, and most importantly, respectfully, explained to our intrepid Officer Payne, none of these conditions obtained in the instant case. Therefore, she told him, she could not and would not comply with his demand (order). Following the orders of his boss, the Chief of Police, Detective Payne refused to take Nurse Wubbels’ “no” for an answer, and promptly, violently, grabbed her, forced her arms behind her back, handcuffed her, and quite literally dragged her, kicking and screaming, to his patrol car.
Interestingly, as the video shows, two other police officers were on the scene but did little to intervene, beyond barely uttering weak words of concern: “Payne…..Payne,” they implored. This puts to the lie the defense of bad police behavior as the result of infection in their departments by only “a few bad apples.” Black people, the usual and default victims of police misconduct, are asking, therefore, that if the so-called good-apple cops don’t or won’t stop the bad-apple cops from their perfidy, then is it safe to assume that the whole orchard is rotten to the core?
“We Only Kill Black People”
The Nurse Wubbels-cop imbroglio followed hard on the heels of the release of a now viral year-old dashcam video of yet another uniformed protector and server of the public, this time in Cobb County (Atlanta), Georgia, who quite openly, calmly, explained to the passenger of a car he had pulled over for a minor traffic violation that she had had nothing to fear from him because, well, police only kill black people.
There is some question as to whether the officer was merely making a bad joke, or perhaps he was making a crude attempt at sarcasm…or was he deadly serious in admitting out loud something that black people have not just suspected but have endured for untold generations?
Specifically, this particular white woman refused this particular cop’s suggestion (order? demand?) that she remove her cellphone from her lap. She told him that in light of a then two-day old video of a Minnesota cop’s cold-blooded murder of a clearly innocent motorist, she was not only reluctant but afraid to reach for anything with her hands in his presence. Again, not to worry, the cop assured her: “We only kill black people,” he repeated. And, to make certain she understood what he was telling her, he added, “You’re not black.” He was letting her know that her recognized whiteness, her privilege as a universally and identifiable “white” person, immunized, shielded and fully protected her from his otherwise usual, unrestrained and state-sanctioned violent proclivities.
After being threatened with termination, Lt. Abbott, a 28-year veteran of the force, has been allowed to retire – with full benefits, of course.
On its face, this case would appear to contradict the proposition that all citizens – people – are at risk of unwarranted police violence. Lt. Abbott specifically, publicly, made a white privilege exception here. But, as with everything else, it is the exception that proves the rule. The exception is the reason for the rule in the first place. That is, there would be no reason for the rule, the principle, the modus operandi, without setting up and recognizing the occasional exception (whiteness) to the rule (social control, even destruction of black people).
There is Real Danger in Asking Cops for Help
Finally, there is the matter of the pajama-clad, white, female, Australian ex-pat in Minnesota (again) who called police because she thought she heard an in-progress sexual assault outside her home. The cops showed up quickly enough alright, and promptly shot her in the abdomen, killing her instantly as she approached their patrol car to explain the situation. The killer-cop in this case was a relatively new officer of African descent (Somali), who has since employed the “fear for my life” defense to support, explain and, ultimately, excuse his deadly action.
The outrage at this “senseless” killing among white Minnesotans was immediate and universal. Black people, there and nationwide, (again) see it slightly differently, though: This police killing is simply an extension of police brutality to all citizens and, in this case, non-citizens – regardless of “race.” It proves that the “race,” ethnicity and color of any particular killer-cop is only incidental to police officers true color – blue.
Whatever Happened to Officer Friendly?
I grew up in a small (36,000) midwestern town at the tip of Lake Michigan in Indiana (fifty miles east of Chicago) – Michigan City, Indiana. MC was never officially racially segregated. But its 2,000 black families were de facto relegated to two small areas on the city’s north and east sides.
Directly across the street my family’s home lived MC’s only black policeman, Officer Clarence Kemp (now deceased). Officer Kemp’s son, Clarence Kemp, Jr., and I were best buds throughout our formative years. Officer Kemp and the entire (small) MC police department were always looked upon as our friends, even confidants.
My understanding now is that the MCPD has changed dramatically. The police department, for example, has eagerly sought and embraced surplus war equipment from the feds, including everything from night vision goggles and automatic rifles to armored personnel carriers. Why is this material needed to police my small hometown wherein everybody knows everybody else?
Because we all now live in a bona fide police state.