By now, you may have heard about a recent incident in Salt Lake City where SLC Detective Jeff Payne arrested University of Utah Hospital RN Alex Wubbels when she refused to allow him to take a blood sample from an unconscious victim of a car crash, because Payne didn’t have the consent of the victim, probable cause, or warrant needed by law and hospital policy to allow him to take a blood sample. It’s been all over the news, with many people up in arms about how Payne treated Wubbels, who has been hailed as a hero for standing up against the police in defense of her patient.
I’ve seen so many reactions from white people who are horrified and shocked. “OMG how could this have happened?” “I can’t believe a cop would treat a nurse this way, she was just following the law and the rules.” etc. etc. etc.
Now. Before we go any further, I want to make this clear: what Payne did was wrong. He was out of line to try to take that blood sample, and he was out of line to arrest Wubbels and to treat her the way he did.
But I have to ask: why are we surprised that it happened?
This incident didn’t occur in a vacuum, and it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s not unprecedented at all. Police brutality is not a new problem. Police brutality has been a problem for pretty much since police first became a Thing, and it’s been pretty bad and been in the news a lot lately, with a whole movement aimed at bringing attention to the issue and trying to raise awareness and work for change, accountability, and awareness, we (white people) just usually don’t listen. What’s the difference?
Alex Wubbels is white.
POC have been talking to us for a while now about the police brutality they face. There have been countless news stories about POC heartlessly killed by police. Ironically, many of the same people outraged by Payne’s treatment of Wubbels are usually on the side of the police when we hear that they’ve taken yet another life. “Well, that person should have just gone along with what the police told them to do and then they’d still be alive.” “The police probably were afraid for their lives.” “Always do what the police say. I don’t have any sympathy for people who don’t do what the police say and then get in trouble.” “Why are you crucifying the police? We need to wait for all the details.” “You’re only looking at one side of things, why aren’t you looking at all sides of the story?” “I’m sure they had good reason.” But now that it’s a white woman, suddenly it’s ok to be outraged without needing to be worried about the cop’s feelings?
Police brutality is a very real problem. We have allowed police to basically do whatever they want to POC and we refuse to hold them accountable, we justify and excuse them and their behavior. We perpetuate this culture of toxic white supremacy and abuse of power. Frankly, I’m pretty short on patience for my fellow white people who want to clutch their pearls at what happened to Wubbels after basically giving the police a pass to do whatever they want without facing any repercussions. We sit here and basically tell them that it’s ok to enact violence on the people they’re supposedly sworn to protect, serve, and defend all the time. Yeah, eventually it’s going to happen to one of us, and we don’t have a whole lot of room to be shocked.
When I hear the discussions about Payne arresting Wubbels, you know what I think?
She’s lucky to be alive, and it’s probably because of how she looks.
You know who’s not still alive?
And so many more. This is not a comprehensive list of WOC killed by police.
If you’re truly shocked and upset by what happened to Wubbels, but you weren’t upset by what happens to POC at the hands of police, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why that is. Then you need to ask yourself why you didn’t listen to the POC who tried to tell you that police brutality is a problem.