Wednesday, October 03, 2007

They're there to serve and protect... right?

Jender has a great post up on Feminist Philosophies (Why Don't They Call The Police?) that reminded me of this post from Ann at Feministing.

Whenever stories like that turn up, there are almost always a few people who chime in with "well, why didn't the call the police?! Why didn't they do something?!"

And, I can understand where that comes from. We all want to believe that we would do something if it were us. This, despite the evidence to the contrary.

I know that I've been guilty of the "but, calling the police is easy!" sort of comments, though. It can be tough to directly intervene, but just alerting the authorities doesn't seem like it should be that hard, right?

Then I see a story like this or I read about someone like Kathryn Johnston, or the Jena 6, or the Newark case, or the Tampa Bay rape case, or the Megan Williams case...

And it drives home a point: for an awful lot of people living in our country, the authorities do not represent a friendly force.

When you've got story after story of people in authority positions who are flat-out bigots... when you've got EMS and 911 workers who refuse to lift a finger to help a woman bleeding and crying in the ER lobby, right up until the police come and arrest her, and she dies as they drag her away... when the police arrest a woman on her way to the hospital because she's having a miscarriage, and refuse to help her...

If we want a society where people will turn to the authorities in times of need and when people need help, we need to create a society where we can trust that those authorities will actually help us in times of need, and not further victimize us.


Cara said...

You know, I really kind of refuse to believe that the case of people watching a woman be raped and doing nothing is quite the same as the others. Personally, I never heard that that crime took place in an area where mistrust of police was prevalent or warranted. And absolutely nothing stopped them from trying to end the rape themselves. Maybe the news left out the part about police problems? I don't know. If they have, I'll concede the point.

But I do think that there is a difference between fear to call the police and people who are perfect capable of helping and yet just don't care or "don't want to get involved" for any reason other than it will fuck up their day. Surely we can agree on that, right?

Roy said...

I can't claim to know the motivations or mental states of the people in that building, and I think that there are, in some cases, multiple layers of problem happening.

I mean, you're starting from the position of needing to overcome the mob mentality problem, which is, unfortunately, a pretty big hurdle to overcome. As a lesser example: one of my last trips out to Boston involved a trip to the beach. On the way there, my companion and I were driving along and noticed that there was a brush fire on the side of the road spreading up to some trees. It was pretty freaky.

It took us a moment to realize we should probably call 911 about it, and we actually had a brief conversation wherein we remarked, "Well, someone else probably already called" and had to stop and remind ourselves that, while that might be true, it might also not be true, and that it couldn't hurt to call.

Even when we'd decided to call, there was still the awkwardness of actually making the call.

I have no idea where that comes from, to be honest. It took all of thirty seconds for us to call, and we weren't harmed in any way, and yet, both of us had the same reaction- this weird feeling that maybe we shouldn't make the call.

As far as the residents go, this article says "Though the building's resident manager wouldn't provide demographic breakdowns, the tenant list in the entryway is dominated by Somali surnames -- a segment of St. Paul's population that police say is often reluctant to report crimes."

I don't know enough about St. Paul or Somali culture to know what effect that might have on this case, though.

Cara said...

Fair enough-- I think that there are always instances when we react like that. But a presently occurring rape is radically different than a brushfire. And in any case, you did call.

Though I do not personally understand it because my white skin has afforded me the privilege of not understanding it, I do acknowledge and recognize the fear of calling the police, and why those fears are incredibly founded in many cases. Maybe privilege is, in fact, what it comes down to. Because I do not understand seeing a woman being raped with your own two eyes and doing nothing.

Any actual statements that I have seen from the witnesses express something along the lines of "I thought they were drunk." Well, they were. And that changes nothing. That is what really terrifies me, that a person would use that as an excuse. Now, the witnesses could in fact be lying for some reason about their motivations, but I'm not exactly sure what they would have to gain from that. I suppose that if you are afraid of the police, the police would be the last person you would want to tell.