June 28, 2010

Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means

One of the things that still appalls me – although not surprises me – is the fact that so often some of the people we trust with our very lives; like first responders and 911 operators, are simply not interested in doing their jobs and have no passion around them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this about everyone, and I’m not saying it’s even a majority, but I am saying that these kinds of cases happen entirely too often for them to not be systematic problems, and I am saying that these kinds of cases can only come up so frequently before they really can be considered “common” and “the norm.”

As much as authorities when confronted with the behavior of their staff will try to downplay them and claim that the responsible parties have been dealt with and that these are “isolated incidents,” they truly are not by any means, and they’re truly troubling. These particular cases are specifically distressing because they deal with something that really is a life or death issue where police are desperately needed and their response can mean the difference between life or death: domestic violence.

I even hate the term, because it sounds almost so pedestrian these days, but domestic violence, spousal abuse, partner abuse, all of these situations deserve the same if not more urgency on behalf of first responders than a burglary call while the offender is still in the home, or a kidnapping or robbery in progress. How the 911 operator responds and how quickly they respond can be the difference between someone living or dying that day.

Here’s what’s so horrific, thanks to Tiger Beatdown:

Marie Celeste Arraras is a lady. She is a lady that some of you–including, shamefully, your humble correspondent who really needs to expand her horizons once again–may not have heard about. But if you watch Telemundo, you probably have seen her on “Al Rojo Vivo,” her daily news broadcast, or her work as a contributor for the “Today” show. She’s pretty, talented, and good at her job — she’s been called the “Katie Couric of Spanish television.”

She’s also a lady. I believe I mentioned that. Because it turns out to be pretty important.

On May 28, Arraras called Miami 911, telling the dispatcher to send the cops right away because her boyfriend had hit her and was trying to choke her. The police did eventually come to the house, arrested her boyfriend, and observed that she had a swollen lips and marks on her arms.

All this you can read in this story from the Sunday New York Daily News, like I did. What I find interesting is that in the online version, they left out the transcript of the call. Which makes for some…what’s that word we use? Interesting? Infuriating? Depressingly typical?

Yeah, that one.

Here, in living Minou Transcription, is the 911 call:

Operator: Miami Dade, where is your emergency?

Arraras: Please send the police to [redacted] right now. Somebody is about to kill me. Please.

Operator: What are they doing?

Arraras: Choking me. Please hurry.

Operator: They are choking you?

Arraras: Please.

Operator: Ma’am, you are on the phone; they are not choking you. What did they do?

Arraras: They just hit me and tried to choke me. Please.

Operator: Who did that to you?

Arraras: Somebody that lives with me.

Operator: Okay then, who is that somebody? Let’s not be silly. Ma’am, answer my question.

Arraras: I have three kids here.

Operator: And who is this someone that tried to kill you?

Arraras: It’s somebody that I’m dating, that lives here…please, could you send somebody right away?

Operator: Okay, ma’am. Hello. Instead of just saying hurry up, why don’t you answer the question?

Arraras: Listen to me, I have to go because he’s trying to get back in. Could you please…

Operator: So the person is outside?

Arraras: Outside, but not for long.

Operator: So, he lives there with you?

Arraras: Are you sending somebody right now?

Operator: I said, yes, if you would have listened instead of just talking. Okay.

I’ll say two things right away, because I have to, because if you’re going to be outraged, on the Internet, while female, you have to say things to cover your ass before the nitpickers and MRAs and rape apologists descend upon you. First, I don’t know if that’s the full transcript. I tried to dig it up via diligent net browsing, but the best I could find was the print edition of the News. There are a few ellipses in the transcription which could be gaps in the transcript, or capturing pauses in Arraras’ speech. Second, I haven’t heard an audio of the conversation, so I can’t speak to the tone of either Arraras or the operator.

Within those narrow dimensions, I’m still pretty appalled.

We are told, all of us, lady and dude and every other fantastic gender under the sun, that you call 911 when there’s an emergency. We are especially told that if we are people of the lady persuasion–not only because we are assumed to be incapable of dealing with anything messy and violent (except, you know, housework and rape), but because if, Cthulu forbid it, something happens to us, and we didn’t call, well then it’s clearly all our fault.

I tend to have a pretty good nose for tone, and even if the things that the operator is saying are in the most innocent and benign tone, they would be unacceptable. And frankly, something tells me that they’re not being said in the most innocent and benign tone. A 911 operator taking the approach of a disturbed call center staffer (trust me, I know how that is) who’s annoyed enough to be bothered to answer the phone, much less do actual work is by definition unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that this person isn’t just out of a job, but finds it incredibly difficult to work in their field in the future.

This is part of the problem frankly – as with any profession or job, when someone leaves one job after having done it for a long time, even if they did it poorly and they were dismissed, they frequently go to another place that doesn’t bother to check up on them and they wind up doing the same job again – often just as poorly and often just as dangerously. It makes me wish there background checks and permanent records for people who want to be 911 operators, but they’re already in short enough supply that anyone can get the role…as we can see here.

Now we can be horrified as much as we want because this particular woman has some celebrity status, but this makes me terrified for every woman who doesn’t and doesn’t have the means to have her story told in this way. And like I said above, I can only read stories like this so many times before it starts to look awfully common.

C.L. Minou, author of the post, goes on to explain that there are some groups that simply don’t call 911 in case of emergency, and she’s absolutely right. Queer folk, most minorities and especially Latinos (for fear of our “papers please” culture) have come to understand that the police and authorities are very frequently not their friends and have no interest in coming to their rescue in times of crisis. This is a mindset I can certainly corroborate in my own experiences.

My own calls to 911 over the years for various reasons go largely like this, with the operator more interested in getting off of the phone (partially likely because their lines are ringing off the hook, understandable) than there’s any interest in actually helping, lending an empathetic voice, and making sure I’m aware help is on the way. My experiences with police later in life (although earlier in life was different) go to prove the same point – officers less interested in hearing the full story and actually helping a victim and more interested in listening long enough to convince you to let them get back in the cruiser and drive away.

It’s a shame, because I know there are 911 operators and police officers out there doing amazing work and really making an impact and a difference in the lives of the people they touch. I honestly wish I could take whatever secret sauce that makes them successful and spread it around their colleagues so they don’t feel alone and don’t get jaded – even often times in the face of a community that already hates them and sees them on the other side of the line from them.

Regardless, for example, there’s no excuse for this, taken from the same piece:

Now look. I get that this is a horrible job, that most 911 dispatchers’ workday probably consists of prank calls, folks calling without a real emergency, and depressingly repetitive crimes all sandwiched around a few cases of pure brutal horror. So I’m not saying that 911 is sexist or that you shouldn’t call 911 if you’re in trouble. You should. But at the same time, I’m hardly doing much more than raising the MacKinnon Memorial Prize for Repetitive Observation by pointing out that all too often people in authority don’t take domestic violence seriously.

Like, for example, this story:

As we first revealed, when Sheila Jones needed help, help never came.

That despite repeated calls to Metro Nashville’s 911 over a three-hour stretch about an ex-boyfriend who’d assaulted her and was threatening to come back.

Sheila to 911:”They ain’t sent nobody. I just don’t understand. Is it ’cause I’m black? Is it ’cause of the neighborhood. What is it?”

And our investigation discovered, this is how one of the last calls ended:

Sheila: “I’m scared to even leave out my f***ing house.”
911: “OK, ma’am, I updated the call. We’ll get somebody there as soon as possible.”
Sheila: [Hangs up.]
911: “I really just don’t give a s**t what happens to you.”

You know what that voice is? That’s the voice of every MRA [ed. note: MRA = Men’s Rights Activist] troll who gets smug with you online about “if it was such a big deal, why didn’t you call the police?” That’s the voice of anyone who makes the victim in a battering case the one to hang her head in embarrassment. That’s the voice of everything that keeps a woman for asking for help, that’s the smug assurance that it just doesn’t matter.

That, ladies and assorted dudes of good cheer, is the voice of patriarchy as sure as if it was broadcasting on Radio Free Patriarchy.

This terrifies me, because frankly, the authorities should be the bastions of trust and protection that we’re taught they are since childhood. When I call 911, I should know the person on the other end, while I certainly know I’m not their only call, should make me feel like I’m the only one in the world – because that’s likely how I feel right now. Every other public or customer-facing job in the world would never settle for less; there’s no reason to expect some of our most crucial public services to be any different at all. It’s a systematic problem and it demands a systematic solution.

[ Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means ]
Source: Tiger Beatdown

1 Comment »

  1. […] This post was originally published at Not So Humble. Click here to read the post in its original habitat! […]

    Pingback by Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means « Not So Humble @ AlterNet — June 28, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

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