Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't tick off the cops, part 876

When it comes to covering the May 24 altercation between Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Daniel Martin and Creek Nation paramedic Maurice White, other folks have done the heavy lifting. I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel by replicating their coverage of the incident. But I do want to comment on Patrolman Martin's apparent assumption, backed by the thin (and dwindling) ranks of those defending his actions, that a police officer's agenda and preferences should necessarily take priority over those of everybody else on the planet.

We've seen this before -- the automatic expectation of deference on the part of a law-enforcement officer, followed by rage against anybody who fails to comply in all particulars or, worse, offers a contrary point of view. Usually, it's a policeman up against a motorist, or a business owner, or some regular joe going about his or her business. Offer criticism of the officer's actions and you're told by a legion of apologists that the roadside or bar or business or home is no place to debate an officer of the law. Take your ticket, or submit to the handcuffs, and make your argument to the judge (and a jolt from a Taser awaits anybody who deviates from that script).

Video Taken by Patient's Family

But here we have an ambulance crewed by a paramedic and a driver, transporting a patient to the hospital. Paramedic Maurice White and driver Paul Franks incurred Patrolman Martin's wrath, according to the officer's own words and video of the incident, by failing to yield quickly enough to the policeman as Martin sped with lights flashing to a crime scene. Franks may also have flipped Martin the bird (or just waved).

And ... so? Why should an ambulance carrying a patient for medical treatment be expected to jerk to a halt at the side of the road in deference to a police officer responding to a call? Remember that the ambulance did pull over, just not fast enough for Patrolman Martin's taste.

And why should a police officer be entitled to stop an ambulance transporting a patient, and not only delay that patient's arrival at the hospital, but also physically confront the paramedic caring for that patient?

Is the police officer's concern over an insufficiently speedy stop and the possibility of a crude hand gesture really of such overriding importance that it takes precedence over the ambulance's business?

Consider this a test case. If you don't see a paramedic's life-saving responsibilities as at least as pressing as the law-enforcement duties of a police officer, there probably is no limit to the authority you're willing to grant any government employee with a badge.

Because really, the answer to any sane person, is that a police officer doesn't get to behave this way. If he has a beef with an ambulance driver, he gets to wait until the patient is safely delivered before he states his case (and does so without laying his hands on anybody).

Let's not forget that, in the words of Sir Robert Peel, who largely invented modern law-enforcement, "Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

Yes, cops have an important job to do. But so do a lot of people. When it comes down to it, police officers are just like everybody else, and should be accorded the same respect (but no more) that you'd give a power company lineman or a dentist.

And they don't get to attack people -- whether with their hands or with the law -- who don't offer instant compliance.

Official Dashboard Camera Video of the Incident



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