Point/Counterpoint: Officer Involved Shooting

Photo courtesy ClevelandLeader.com
Standard

“To be 12 years old, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Police, they know what they’re doing.”
-Gregory Henderson, close friend of Tamir Rice’s family.

I had a cap gun, like any other cool kid in the 90s (or ever). It was silver and had pink grips and faux-pearl accents, complete with a white holster. The blaze-orange safety indicator on the end did not match, and was throwing off the feng shui of my cops-and-robbers scenario. I asked my dad about taking it off and he told me we couldn’t do that, because that’s how people know it’s not a real weapon. I was also told on multiple occasions that it would be taken away if I was seen intentionally pointing it at any person or structure.

It’s been 17 years since I last remember playing with that cap gun. Since then, my understanding of firearms has been expanded shockingly little for someone growing up in the area I did. But at seven years old, I still knew better than to wave a toy gun around in a threatening fashion, or make it look like anything more than a toy. It’s possible that Cleveland’s 12-year old Tamir Rice really didn’t know better, but the lack of parental guidance does not nullify the fact that he was brandishing what appeared to be a real weapon around a public park on Nov. 22, 2014. The person who called the incident in to 911 told the dispatcher that it was likely a juvenile and probably a fake gun, but it was missing the orange plug. This information was not relayed to the responding officers, who shot Rice in the torso when he pulled the facsimile gun from the waistband of his pants. He died as a result of his wounds.

Henderson also posed the question, “Why not tase him? You shot him twice, not once, and at the end of the day you all don’t shoot for the legs, you shoot for the upper body.”

Do you know what happens to the body when it’s hit with an electrical pulse 19 times per second, for approximately five seconds? The muscles contract. Repeatedly. According to official statements, Rice had the airsoft gun in his hand when he was shot. So to be clear, zapping someone holding what may be a gun about 100 times in five seconds is what you’d call “a bad idea.” If he had been holding a real firearm, there was a real possibility for an accidental discharge. So why not wound him?

“Prosecutors have another term for warning shots: attempted felonious assault, improper discharge of a firearm etc. Shooting someone in the leg rather than center mass is similarly misguided and will not evade serious felony charges.”
-The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws, Fourth Edition

When it is suggested that one could aim to wound rather than to kill, it is suggested that attempting to hit a moving target about half the size of the center-mass area is somehow “safer.” In addition to the fact that the femoral artery is located in the leg and that you will bleed to death within minutes of a gunshot to the artery, the concept is statistically ridiculous. One of the cardinal rules, of shooting anything is to know your target and what lies beyond it. Shooting to wound, at a target that is smaller and in more fluid motion, makes knowing what lays behind it a near-impossibility.

A 2008 analysis of data collected over ten years from the NYPD, regarding firearms discharge, showed that officers in the field hit their target about 34% of the time. While these are trained men and women who know their way around a gun and a bullet, their targets in real-world situations are usually moving and unpredictable. Low-light situations and incidents where the target is, or may begin, returning fire have significant effects on accuracy as well. Attempting to shoot a target in the leg is just piling on additional deficits to an already dangerous situation.

In case you still aren’t convinced, take this into account: if a civilian shoots another civilian in the leg and they die, it is the same charge as if the assailant had shot the victim in the head. If they live, it is the same as if the assailant had shot them in the head, and they lived. The law does not recognize your intent to “wound” someone with a deadly force weapon like a gun any more than they would recognize your intent to “wound” someone with a nuke. Of course, this is an argument based on self-defense. And we’re not talking about self-defense, are we?

No. We’re talking about public defense. We’re talking about men and women who put on a uniform and go to work just like you and I do, but they’re out there to be the buffer between us and the bad guys. We’re talking about people who were trained to make rapid-paced assessments of danger and risk to keep as many people safe as possible at one time. They have very little time to make decisions which will affect large groups of people, and we have all the time in the world to analyze and judge those decisions once they’re made.

The death of this boy is a tragic event, and my heart goes out to his family. I have a brother his age, and in the same circumstances, I’m certain I’d feel much the same way they do. I also feel for the family of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was recently shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, albeit under significantly different circumstances. No life is disposable, and I’m not suggesting their deaths are anything short of heartbreaking. Sure, there’s a good chance that this could have been handled in a way that didn’t result in the death of a pre-teen boy. And yes, officer-involved shootings should be investigated.

However, treating the officers as if they had a personal vendetta is not solving anything, and it’s certainly not bringing back the dead. The existence of armed law enforcement is not going to disappear, so why are we escalating the situation? The fact of the matter is that Tamir Rice appeared to be waving a gun around in a public area, to the point that a citizen called 911 and said, “It’s probably fake but he’s scaring the shit out of me.”

Here’s an idea: teach your kids about the gravity of a weapon, even if it’s a toy. Know where they are and what they’re doing. Instill a healthy respect for authority. Be proactive.

Protests in Cleveland thus far have been mostly peaceful and appropriate under the first amendment right to peaceably assemble; protests in Ferguson over the grand jury’s decision not to charge the officer who shot Michael Brown have evolved into riots and looting. Each time a parallel situation occurs, the repercussions are increasingly brutal. Because responding to perceived violence with more violence, exacted largely on other community members and businesses, makes perfect sense. I mean, the fire department uses water to fight fires, but fire should work even better, right?

As always, I encourage you to do your own digging. Here are some of the articles I read while I was writing this post.

Gregory Henderson’s quotes:
http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2014/11/father_of_child_fatally_shot_b.html
(for the record, Henderson initially misidentified himself as Tamir’s father)

Some light, shed on the parenting problems:
http://gotnews.com/tamirrice-mom-illegal-weapon-charge-criminal-record/

A fair counterpoint to the previous link:
http://alldigitocracy.org/cleveland-coms-journalistic-fail-judging-tamir-rice-by-his-parents-past/

How Tasers work and effect the body:
http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/how-a-taser-works

The 10-year study on hit ratios by the NYPD:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/nyregion/08nypd.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The article about warning shots and shooting to wound:
http://www.secondcalldefense.org/self-defense-news/why-brandishing-shooting-wound-and-warning-shots-are-bad-ideas

What Separates Us

Standard

Four days before my eleventh birthday, I was sitting in music class at school, like every other morning in fifth grade. We came back across the hall into our regular classroom, where our teachers were standing in front of the TV. I remember Mrs. Jenkins had her hand over her mouth and tears streaming down her face. They turned the TV off, took a deep breath, and life went on. I didn’t think anything of it.

By 3:25 p.m., I knew something was wrong. My mom picked my sister and me up from school that day, which never happened. We were bus kids, living on a farm about ten miles from town, and she usually didn’t get off before school was out. I wondered, on our way to Grandma’s house, what could have happened that suddenly changed our routine. When we got to there, Mom told us.

She said that some people had flown planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers. Bearing in mind that I was eleven and Kaitlyn was seven, we had no idea what she was talking about until she said, “You know, the Twin Towers?” I can’t remember now which of us asked why anyone would do such a thing. What I will always remember, though, is how she replied: That these misguided men had done something horrible that killed a lot of people, because they had been led to believe it was what God wanted. That they thought it was the right thing to do.

How can killing a bunch of people you’ve never even met be right?

As I sat at the computer on the thirteenth anniversary of that disaster, reading about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), that’s what I kept thinking about. The day my mom sat down on her mother’s couch and cried, because she knew this would start the war of our generation. I remember wondering whether some kid’s mom in Afghanistan or somewhere was crying for the same reason, or maybe because her son crashed into a building. I wondered if some kid’s mom, in some desert country I’d never heard of, was proud that he took thousands of people with him. To say it was out of my ability to understand would be putting it lightly.

I’ve heard about ISIS for months now, and it seems everyone but me knows what should be done about it. I’ve read about a jillion articles and fact sheets and I’m more confused now than I was in the beginning. I feel I should throw out a late warning at this point that, for readers familiar with my blog, this is not going to be as fact-heavy or as sure-sounding as most of the previous posts.

The back-story to ISIS is a somewhat convoluted one, but the bottom line is that this group intends to establish a single Islamic state. In the aftermath of the World Wars, much of the Middle East was carved up into new territories, and the former caliphate was lost. Unfortunately, their methods are increasingly violent, including beheading of those who stand against them. Many propaganda images and videos have been put out as the group exercises their social media abilities, largely using fear tactics to promote recruitment.

As the brutality of their takeover escalates, Americans are divided on what role—if any—we should play. The current plan is to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels, as well as expanding air strikes from those in Iraq to include targets in Syria. While most everyone agrees that getting involved isn’t copacetic to the Obama ideal of bringing our troops home, there is a significant concern that ISIS will eventually target America the way Al-Qaeda did. For the time being, the administration claims there will be no “boots on the ground” in these efforts, but the public seems skeptical.

Whether or not we should be involved is a thread I can’t pull on. There are valid arguments on each side, though it seems inevitable that we will be targeted by this group in terrorist attacks. Something needs to be done, but I can’t say what that is. What I wanted to say, is this:

I am not defending the actions of anyone willing to televise the cold-blooded murder of a man on the basis that he is a nonbeliever… but these are still essentially people who think they are doing the right thing. These people, regardless of the atrocities they commit, believe this to be their divine calling. Those of us standing outside that culture can look at it and say without doubt that these are extremists, and that what they are doing is heinous. We can look at the dehumanizing way they treat anyone opposing them, and see that it is wrong. The thing about war is, it has a way of making you dehumanize the enemy. I can understand that it’s hard to kill someone you empathize with, even when you believe their death will benefit the greater good. But while we’re bracing ourselves for the next wave of the War on Terror, let’s all try to remember that these are just more misguided men.

It’s easy to look at the evil in the acts, and apply it to the people supporting them, but let’s all just try to keep it in mind that they’re not the first to do horrible things in the name of faith. It certainly does not absolve them or excuse their odious crimes, and they should still be stopped, but these people think the very same thing of you and me. If one of us doesn’t have compassion, then we are all on the same side of the moral spectrum, and that is a terrifying thought.

Information on ISIS and Obama’s Strategy:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/08/return-war

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/06/13/isis-beheadings-and-the-success-of-horrifying-violence/

http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-isis-video-20140620-story.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/collapse-of-iraqi-army-a-failure-for-nations-premier-and-for-us-military/2014/06/12/25191bc0-f24f-11e3-914c-1fbd0614e2d4_story.html?hpid=z2

http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/10/politics/isis-obama-speech/

Ice Buckets, Challenged? Clarifying Donation Stats

Standard

This summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos went viral, largely supported by buzz about celebrity videos. I mean, who doesn’t wanna watch their favorite actor get soaked? And if the three GLORIOUS minutes of watching some hot guy get wet aren’t already good enough, it’s raising money for charity. What could possibly be the downside?

Soon enough, I found myself watching my own mother’s challenge video, in which I was finally nominated. We’ve all seen the kind of activism that spreads via social media, and the fact is, it usually doesn’t amount to much. So before I took that plunge, I took the time to read up on the concept behind it and the benefits provided by the influx of donations. It turns out, the ALS Association had reported $41.8 million donated between July 29 and Aug 21. Just eight days later, the organization reported that the amount received totaled $100.9 million. I’m no doctor, but I think any medical research will benefit from a donation that size.

Slacktivism accusations laid to rest, I happily nominated my uncles (Ahem—I have yet to see results, guys) and a local family doctor before having five gallons of ice water dumped on my head. All is well that ends well, as no one says anymore.

A couple weeks later, a respiratory therapist in the hospital where I work told me about an article claiming the majority of funds were used in salaries. I’ve seen the spreadsheet of charitable organizations whose use of donations are pretty questionable, but I just didn’t buy it in this case. The ALS Association isn’t the only foundation of that nature in the US, and the UK has their own version. The likelihood that a research foundation was misappropriating donations seemed a little unlikely. Still, I looked it up for myself.

The article originated on PoliticalEars.com, and made the statement that only 27% of the money is used for “the cause.” Regardless of the graphic posted in the article, taken straight from the ALSA site, the tone of the article implies that only 27% is going to anything related to the disease. So, I read the 22-page financial report produced by an independent auditor. And the multiple pages of information on the website. Here’s how it shakes down:

The ALS Association allocates a total of 7% to “Administration.” The rest are divvied up between research, fundraising, public and professional education, and patient and community services. All told, 93% of the funds received via donations are used for services of some kind. Regardless of whether or not the company intends to spend your personal donation on their salary, there are contingency options in the donation process. If you want to specify what area your money does or does not fund, you simply fill it out on the form. Already donated? You can submit an email to the association to clarify what purpose your donation was intended for.

Yes, the internet played a huge role in sending this fundraising activity into overdrive. Yes, it was a very simple and easy way to be involved in a charitable event. But while it may seem easy to draw parallels from this to other “Facebook activism,” that just isn’t the case. The ALS Association has more than doubled their received donations from last year, as have the other similar organizations. Let’s all just take a second to think about what medicine might be like in ten years because of this influx in cash.

ALS is a terminal diagnosis in which the patient slowly loses motor control, becoming increasingly paralyzed over time. This may be a year, it may be ten, but it will always result in the death of the patient. Prior to the recent events in ALS awareness, only about 50% of the population was aware of what the disease was. After the viral video sensationalism of the ice bucket challenge, there is a little more hope to unraveling the disease and finding more effective treatment. I just hope it’ll work again, on other causes, with similar success. We could change a lot in this world with results like these, and we should be trying, whether the video camera is on or not.

To learn more about the kind of research that may lead to these treatments someday, I encourage you to check out the ALSA website, which is an absolute cornucopia of information.

http://www.alsa.org/about-als/what-is-als.html

To read the article that sparked doubts, click here:

http://www.politicalears.com/blog/ice-bucket-fraud-als-foundation-admits-that-73-of-donations-are-not-used-for-als-research/?utm_content=buffer9af74&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Selfish Elsa: Figuring It Out

Photo credit: everythingmouse.com
Standard

When Disney was coming out with The Princess and the Frog, it seemed like everyone was talking about it. Reasonably so, I mean, Tiana was Disney’s first black princess. Still, I think all the hype was the primary reason I didn’t watch it, along with some petty annoyances I had about it. Like the idea that a 1920s Louisiana girl had a name like “Tiana.”

Then there was Tangled. I watched this one with my younger siblings and it was pretty cute. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the male protagonist nailed in the head with a frying pan. Not for any real reason, just because it was fun. Both films were very well-received on the whole.

Overall, Disney has been slowly making their princesses more and more free-thinking and independent; their stories less and less about love being the sole motivator. Sure, Belle wasn’t the kind of girl who cared much what everyone thought about her, but it’s still a pretty typical fairy tale of a girl falling in love. In recent years, they’ve tried to give their princesses a story that doesn’t wholly revolve around getting married.

Then came Frozen, and everyone lost their shit.

Frozen has been touted as Disney’s best work yet. Lots of viewers saw it as an advance in feminism, encouraging girls away from the traditional love-at-first-sight concepts of princesses past. If you’re not familiar with the plot and don’t mind me throwing spoilers around, I’ll sketch it out. To skip ahead past the synopsis, move to the sub-header that says “The Reception.”
—————————-
Elsa and Anna are sisters, about three years apart. As kids, older sister Elsa’s cryokinetic capabilities manifest in an accidental injury she inflicts on Anna. In response, their royal parents take Anna to the troll king to be healed, where they also have her memory of the incident wiped. They discourage Elsa from using her powers and she recluses to her room, rarely interacting with Anna as they grow up. She begins to control her abilities to an extent, keeping from any more chilly disasters for a while.

After the predictably untimely death of the king and queen, Elsa’s coronation takes place. Anna meets Hans, a handsome and charming Prince of the Southern Isles. Within a couple of days, he proposes to her and Anna seeks the blessing of her big sis on the pending nuptials. Elsa, in a serious change from the Disney norm, tells Anna she cannot marry a man she just met. Whaaaat?

Anna is obviously unhappy with this answer. During the ensuing argument, Elsa exposes her abilities in an emotional outburst. Terrified of hurting someone, she flees the castle in an attempt to protect everyone in Arendelle, leaving in her wake an eternal winter. She wanders out into an isolated area, inadvertently bringing to life her childhood snowman, Olaf. The “Let It Go” scene unfolds as she builds herself a pretty little castle of cold, hard loneliness.

Anna seeks her sister out in an attempt to end the freezin’ season, with the assistance of Kristoff and his reindeer, Sven. As they approach, the full spectrum of Elsa’s very productive temper-tantrum is in view. Anna gains entrance to the castle, in which she tries to patch up the relationship. They come to terms with their argument and make up, but Elsa refuses to return to Arendelle and insists Anna leave her alone.

During Anna’s persistence, Elsa again lashes out, causing Anna’s heart to be frozen. As Anna and Kristoff are forced back out of the range of her sister’s frosty mood swings, her condition worsens. Kristoff takes her to his adoptive family who are, incidentally, trolls. They tell Anna that her only chance of thawing the ice in her heart is an act of true love, such as a kiss. Anna beats feet back to the kingdom for Hans, who turns out to be quite the gold-digging jackass. He refuses to kiss her and outlines his plot to get hitched, let her die and kill Elsa, taking the throne for himself.

Hans’ men retrieve Elsa by force, bringing her back to reverse the weather, which she is unable do. As Elsa escapes and unleashes a terrible storm, Anna and Olaf decide that Kristoff is, in fact, her true love, setting out to brave the blizzard and find him. Hans finally tells Elsa what is happening to Anna and in her stunned grief, the storm dies down, allowing Kristoff and Anna to see each other. Hans takes advantage of Elsa’s shell-shock to attempt a quick homicide, which Anna prevents by stepping in, just as she turns completely to ice. This act of—you guessed it—true love melts Anna’s heart, thereby saving the day.

Happily ever after ensues, Elsa figures out how to end the winter without melting Olaf, Hans goes to jail, and Anna gets what she wanted: a relationship with her sister, and a loving boyfriend in Kristoff.
—————————-
The Reception.

Elsa’s haphazard abandonment of restraint in the “Let It Go” sequence is enticing and the animation is nothing short of beautiful. In fact, the song has reached such popularity that it plays on the mainstream pop stations on a daily basis. The final plot twist in the end, in which Anna’s life-saving act of love is to save her sister’s life, has proved to be one of the most well received ideas in ages.

I’ve seen a lot of talk about the morals of the story, including allusions to the LGBT community and a wider understanding of what love is. But let me tell you what I learned from Frozen.

I learned that denial is never a lasting solution. You cannot escape your past by pretending it never happened, even if those affected have forgotten it. You cannot escape your faults and quirks by pretending they don’t exist, or by hiding them in your closet.

I learned that running away from your self is pretty tough. Turns out, you follow pretty close behind. Pretty much in your own footsteps.

I learned that people who really love you will come hunt your moody ass down and drag you back to your life, whether you like it or not, because no matter what you think is so terrible, it isn’t worth them losing you.

I learned that infatuation is not only different from love, but potentially dangerous. Putting your whole life’s trust into someone is a heavy decision, and making it before you know the person or against the admonitions of your family can be detrimental. Physically and metaphorically.

Most importantly, I learned that you can be yourself, but you have to find a way to do it that doesn’t hurt other people. In this generation of people treating each other like we live in a caste society and calling it “personality,” this is a lesson we all needed. I fully support the idea of being yourself and embracing who you are. I do not support the idea of treating others like garbage and saying that’s “just who you are.”

The big push when Generation Y was still in training pants involved self esteem. The mentality that everyone is unique, that everyone is a winner, that everyone is special… Those things are not inherently bad. They have, unfortunately, encouraged those kids to lack the empathy necessary to see how their unique may traits hurt other people. We’ve grown so accustomed to the idea that everyone should just accept us as we are that we’ve become incapable of accepting that “as we are” might not be the best “we” we can be.

As you are, you might be an intelligent person who gets things done, works hard, and tells people like it is. As you are, you might be an asshole. Yeah, we all have the power to make our own decisions but when someone treats you like dirt, it tends to affect those decisions.

Watch Frozen. Sing “Let It Go,” voluntarily or because you can’t help it. Incessantly ask people if they wanna build a snowman until they crack. Marvel at the amazing animation and, yes, be happy that Disney has come so far as to stop making every movie about same-day, boy-girl love.

Then go to bed, and as you’re having those drifting-to-sleep epiphanies, think about why you do and say the things you do and say. Think about how your “brutal honesty” was received and whether it was necessary. Think about how you can be yourself without hurting someone else.

Fred Phelps’ Funeral

Rachel Hockenbarger from Westboro Baptist Church protests outside Reliant Stadium where The Response, a day long prayer and fast rally is being held Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
Standard

Imagine, if you will, miles and miles of open land. A place where you can actually look out and not see a structure. A place where the streets roll up at dusk, and nothing opens before 10 a.m. on Sundays. A place where the fields are full of future food instead of houses, the roads are flat and plain, and the weather is anything but. Deep in the Heartland, your blogger was born and raised in southern Kansas. The benefits to growing up in the Midwest are numerous, but I feel I can say with confidence that every Kansan alive is annoyed by the way we are seen by the other states (or even countries).

Literally nine times out of ten, if I tell a stranger I am from Kansas, I get a Wizard of Oz reference. While it really grinds my gears to know the most “notable” thing about Kansas is a movie line from a film over 70 years old, the worst ones are the assumptions that everyone in Kansas is a straw-chewing, bible-beating, close-minded, poorly-educated hick. A small number of people associate my prairie roots with the Westboro Baptist Church, a group that perpetuates this misbegotten image.

Let me step off my conveniently sized soap box to say that this, friends, is the point of this post. I’ll try not to blather on in defense of my state.

Two days ago, I read on my HuffPost app that Fred Phelps, founder of the aforementioned facility, was in failing health. His spokesperson would only say that much, but his son released that he was receiving hospice services in Topeka and was not expected to make it much longer. Today, I read that he had indeed passed away. I read the comments of other readers, most of which indicated no sorrow. In fact, many of them suggested picketing Phelps’ funeral services, just as the Westboro congregation frequently protested at the services of fallen soldiers.

While the majority lies with those in favor, there were a fair number of people who disapproved. Doing so, they said, would only bring us to the level of those who have made us so angry. We would be no better than they, to disrupt them in their time of grief and loss.

It came at a fitting time for me; I had just returned from my (fabulous) trip to New York City, where I attended the College Media Association convention. Among a plethora of other amazing experiences, I went to several sessions on journalism. A close friend of mine, Autumn, was also in attendance. Autumn is a strong Christian woman, whose faith in her beliefs inspires me. During our mutual time on the Cowley Press, she ran Cross Reference, the campus paper’s faith page. Her columns were heartfelt and humble, and she received well-deserved attention from other spiritual students and faculty for her great use of scripture in her writing.

Autumn and I roomed together at the conference, along with two other Media Club members and our adviser. We spent a good chunk of time together during the trip, and had some good theological and philosophical discussions. One of these included our mutual distaste for the self-objectification of women in the media today. A spinoff of that one touched on faith and religion. I will say outright that I don’t know what I believe, exactly. I do believe in the God of the Bible and feel I have a strong sense of morality, but I beyond that, I haven’t come to a solid conclusion yet.

Hate or negativity of some kind came up in most—if not all—of our deeper talks. We were unanimously confused by the willingness of our peers (generalized, not specific) to think the worst of others. Neither of us claims to be completely without contempt, and I have my fair share of animosity and anger, but I still don’t understand pure hate. I guess I’m too empathetic for that.

Where the Westboro Baptist Church is concerned, I have some pretty strong feelings of disdain. Their tactics are lewd, their messages misguided, and their approach insincere. It makes me extremely uncomfortable when I see children participating in any kind of protest, particularly ones with the shock factor. I have seen kids holding posters of a post-abortion fetus, or an ironically rainbow-colored sign saying God “hates fags.” If you want to make your beliefs well-known and you feel you have to take a stand on something, that’s your right. But don’t drag your kid into it when your materials are vulgar.

The WBC has a reputation for tenacity in their methods, as well as in their beliefs. Regardless of my opinion, I try my best to respect the personal belief system of others. If they truly feel the deaths of our servicemen and women are a divine retribution for the sins of our people, I respect that. I wholeheartedly disagree, but I feel very little need to get into a boxing match based solely on ideology. In regards to the funeral of Fred Phelps, I plan to pray for his family.

No matter what they’ve done that I can’t condone, someone else’s negative actions don’t justify my own. The eye-for-an-eye mentality of “fairness” is an enticing but destructive school of thought. In the same book those of the WBC love to quote so often, it says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18) Right there, in the same place the Bible says not to engage in homosexuality, it says not to bear a grudge or seek revenge.

I encourage you to put yourself into the position of those opposite you. I encourage you to pray for the Phelps family, which makes up most of the congregation of the church. I encourage you to lead by example; to let them grieve for their loved one in peace, to do something more constructive with your time, and to afford them the same respect you wish they would give. Maybe in the aftermath, they can become a more positive entity in the religious world.

Don’t perpetuate the hate.

 

 

Autumn is a writer and fan-freaking-tastic photographer. To read Autumn’s blog, go to: autumnlynnmumford.Blogspot.com and to see her photos, find her on FB at https://m.facebook.com/?_rdr#!/profile.php?id=361825686398″ title=”Autumn Lynn Photography”>
 

 

 

Gross Negligence in Bay Area Hospital

Photo Credit: BBC.com
Standard

For five years now, I have worked as a nurse aide in a rural hospital setting. My mom worked in the same hospital for 15 years before moving on after obtaining her Masters degree in nursing science. Working in my hometown hospital with my mom’s old friends and coworkers has its perks, as does working in a rural setting.

I grew up in a rural setting, as well. In a town of 8,000 where my grandma has lived all her life, I’ve become accustomed to everyone knowing who I am and who I belong to. Whether good or bad, everything I do is practically public knowledge. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t fathom the circumstances when I read about Lynne Spalding, a 57-year-old British native who checked herself into San Francisco General Hospital only to be found dead in a stairwell after being reported missing for over two weeks.

Spalding, also known as Lynne Ford, had a urinary infection when she presented to the facility on Sept. 19 and was admitted to inpatient care. The infection caused confusion, which caused the doctor to order nurse checks every 15 minutes, although news reports vary from frequent checks to one-on-one care orders. According to an article updated on Feb. 1 by the San Francisco Gate, the nurse received the physician’s order to change from “close observation” to “never leave patient unattended,” after the patient had been observed wandering and disoriented on Sept. 20. The nurse who took the order stated she “did not get a chance” to change the order, so the order for continuous observation was not passed on.

Reports on timelines vary significantly, even within the SF Gate. The most recent article shows times as follows: On Sept. 21, the staff assigned to her observation was called away at 8:30 a.m. and was not replaced. At 9:55 a.m., the patient was reported missing and hospital staff proceeded to search the facility. The stairwell was not searched, as it is not their common practice and the one in question, “Stairwell 8,” is an alarmed fire exit, not typically utilized outside of an emergency. At 10:25 a.m., the Sherriff’s department was notified. The woman was apparently missing for nearly two hours before the authorities were notified. According to the initial report, deputies were told it was an African-American woman in a hospital gown, though Spalding is a Caucasian woman, found fully dressed in street clothes. This description was corrected.

According to the article from Nov. 7 on CNN.com, the Sherriff’s department attempted to track her movements via surveillance cameras on Sept. 26. FIVE DAYS AFTER SHE VANISHED. The woman is ill, has documented confusion and is missing for five days before someone thought to check the cameras and see where she went after she left her room?! Not that it mattered, because the footage was unavailable due to “hardware problems,” at which point the facility notified the maintenance vendor responsible for the equipment.

On Oct. 4, four days prior to the discovery of her body, a hospital worker notified the authorities that there was a person laying in the stairwell, on the landing of the “third or fourth floor.” The communications center officer stated they would send someone over to check it out, however there is no indication that this occurred. On the same day, a hospital official contacted Haig Harris, the attorney for Spalding’s family, to say that an employee on the fifth floor reported a banging sound coming from Stairwell 8; a spokesperson for the facility confirmed this call was made but did not go into detail about the context.

Finally, on Oct. 8, an engineering worker for the facility stumbled upon her body during a routine quarterly check on the stairwell. Statements in several articles claim it is a locked area, so presumably it is accessible from the inside but locked from the outside, which would make sense in a hospital. I can see how a patient, in a UTI fog, could walk out the door on her floor, find it locked from the outside and be unable to find a way back in or even out of the building. However, I cannot see how two reports of activity in the stairwell were ignored.

Judging by the circumstances one can safely assume that:
-The stairwell alarm was either not functional or did not receive appropriate follow-up.
-The nursing staff were not well-acquainted with their patients.
-The Sherriff’s department did not conduct a thorough search of the facility and grounds.
-The facility does not routinely check hardware, including surveillance.
-The facility does not have, or did not implement, a protocol on a missing patient.
-Neither the facility nor the department took the report seriously, as follow-up was minimal at best.

I work in healthcare. I grew up in healthcare. I understand “short-staffed.” I even understand “shit happens.” But this is unacceptable. The overall dehumanization of this woman during the so-called search is appalling. The staff didn’t even know which patient was missing, let alone when she had actually eloped or where she might be. In an article from San Jose Mercury News, one deputy was quoted in a transcript from Oct. 8 as saying, “No, I didn’t smell her, but two of our other guys fucked up big time. They are both trying to blame the other one, but they didn’t do their job, nothing new. I’m just laughing.” Really?

It seems that no one cared at all about Spalding’s disappearance and little more empathy has been given over her discovery. The coroner’s report lists her death as resulting of “probable electrolyte imbalance,” possibly secondary to “chronic alcoholism.” The available information does not involve a physical description of her liver (i.e. “cirrhotic,” “hepatic,” fatty or scarred) which may confirm this claim. The substantiating facts for this involve unspecified lab work, which are said to reflect those of a person with chronic liver disease. At least one article stated her demise to be consistent with clinical sepsis.

We know that she was admitted on Sept. 19 for a UTI and confusion. Common side effects and comorbidities of a UTI can include but are not limited to dehydration; pain in the abdomen, bladder or urinary tract; confusion or delirium; and fever. For a UTI in which the patient is experiencing fever or pain, it is a reasonable assumption that she was receiving acetaminophen, the generic name for Tylenol. It is also reasonable to assume that she was receiving an antibiotic.

Ampicillin and tetracycline are two antibiotics potentially used to treat urinary infections. They are not the only ones used, and may not even be commonly used for UTI depending on the protocol of the facility and sensitivity of the infection. However, both of these antibiotics are shown to effect a common liver function test, the alanine aminotransferase, or ALT level. Acetaminophen can also have this effect. Antibiotics overall can affect the total billirubin level, another liver function lab.

Family states they have no records of Spalding being treated for chronic alcoholism. Because the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) fortunately restricts the accessibility of medical records, the general public may never know if she had been treated for liver disease or alcoholism prior to her hospitalization at SF General. We may never know whether the hospital had records from any previous hospitalizations or doctor care, so it may never be conclusively shown whether or not she had a documented history of liver problems.

I wasn’t present at the autopsy. I don’t know exactly what the examination showed, or which labs they ran, or the accuracy of lab work days after the patient has expired. I certainly am not qualified to determine what killed Lynne Spalding. However, given the tremendous amount of evidence supporting gross negligence on the part of both the hospital and county law enforcement, it seems reasonable to question the findings of the coroner.

This woman—more than likely—sat in an unused staircase for two and a half weeks. We don’t know when she got there or when she died, because the coroner simply stated she had been dead for “some days,” but we know when she disappeared and when she was found. At best, she may have still been living on Oct. 4 when noise was reported in the stairs. Regardless, for an undetermined amount of time, probably over four days, Lynne Spalding was without food, water, or treatment for the infection that warranted her admission to the hospital. The adverse conditions, coupled with the treatment she did receive, may explain some findings of her autopsy. I simply find it very convenient that she was suffering from a previously-unmentioned chronic illness after expiring on hospital grounds, possibly days after a “search” of the area.

Aside from my disgust as a fellow healthcare worker, I find this to be an excellent example of the disregard we feel for other people. A lack of empathy has been progressively working its way into our demeanor. The two groups of people most inclined to show adequate concern for her disappearance shrugged it off, disregarding orders and even lying. The multiple issues with the facility itself (nonfunctional surveillance, an alarm that apparently didn’t sound) show that multiple people in a chain of checks-and-balances decided it “wasn’t their problem.” Why have we reached a place where public safety workers half-ass their duties?

More importantly, why does it take a 17-day disappearance resulting in a corpse to raise eyebrows? Why doesn’t it cause alarm until something this serious has occurred?

Please feel free to check out the links below, where I have tried to show any articles I read on the subject, as well as information I used to speculate about the lab work. I encourage you to do your own digging and correct me if I have made an error.

SOURCES: 

SF Gate: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-General-Sheriff-s-Dept-blamed-in-Lynne-5197170.php#page-1

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/How-S-F-General-lost-track-of-Lynne-Spalding-5122645.php

CNN Timeline: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/07/us/california-body-in-stairwell/

Mercury News: http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_24872483/san-francisco-sheriffs-documents-prompt-outrage-case-woman

CBS Global: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/12/13/coroner-ties-alcoholism-to-death-of-woman-found-in-sf-hospital-stairwell/

San Jose Mercury News: http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_24872483/san-francisco-sheriffs-documents-prompt-outrage-case-woman

Liver Function Tests: http://www.beatlivertumors.org/Liver_Function_Tests.html

Dehydration stats: http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/survival/wilderness/live-without-food-and-water2.htm

Antibiotics: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682098.html

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a685002.html

Modern-Day Suffragette?

Standard

I feel like this issue is covered in shades of grey, but it belongs in a world of black and white…

In my newspaper class, we are required to bring in two to three current-event stories per class period. When the bus rape in Delhi was causing an uproar in the media, we discussed it in class. In case you didn’t hear about it, or have forgotten what happened, here are the cliff notes:

On Dec. 16 2012, a 23-year old woman and her male friend were walking in Delhi around 9:30 p.m. IST. An off-duty bus carrying five men and one juvenile male stopped and allowed them to board, the driver claiming the bus was headed in the same direction they were. When the driver closed the doors and deviated from the route, the friend became suspicious. He voiced concern and was attacked by the men on the bus, being beaten with an iron rod. He was bound and gagged and lost consciousness for a period of time. The remaining men and the 17-year-old boy took turns raping the woman, as well as assaulting her with a foreign object, presumably the same rod they beat her friend with. Although she fought literally tooth-and-nail against her assault, she suffered detrimental wounds to her genitals, uterus and intestines. Afterward, the perpetrators threw her body and that of her friend from the moving bus. They were found and taken for medical treatment.

The woman maintained consciousness intermittently through her remaining days of life. She had multiple surgeries to remove damaged intestines, but her prognosis remained poor. Eleven days after the assault, the victim suffered a cardiac event in flight to Singapore, where she was to receive further medical attention for her deteriorating condition and damaged organs. The medical staff performed the appropriate cares, attempting to stabilize her vital signs. However, she was pronounced to be brain damaged upon arrival at the facility. Considering her abdominal trauma–resulting in sepsis–and accompanying pneumonia, any hopes for recovery were further diminished. The woman was pronounced dead at 4:45 a.m. on Dec. 29.

Since then, one of the men responsible has died in prison, presumably a suicide. Four more have been sentenced to death. The minor was sentenced to three years in a correctional facility. Three. Freaking. Years.

What?! “We’re gonna go ahead and kill these guys, but since he’s just a kid, we though three years oughta cover it.” What?!

I’m not saying that this 17-year-old kid should necessarily be killed. I’m not even saying that you should compare the moral judgment of a teenager to that of the adults present, but when the crime is so heinous you feel justified in lynching the grown-ups, maybe we should consider more than a couple years in the slammer. This kid isn’t even going to be the oldest guy in his JuCo classes when he gets out! He took part in beating a man until he was incapacitated, then raping and beating a woman until she DIED as a result of her injuries. For the love of God, put that boy away for a minimum of ten years. If you really think he can be rehabilitated, great. But he has barely more than a thousand days to think about the severity of what he participated in.

In addition to this case, there have been countless cases of suicides as a result of “slut-shaming,” which has taken the internet by storm over the last few years. There seem to be two main versions of this. Number one: Girl meets Boy. Girl gets dangerously drunk around Boy. Boy assaults Girl (Some variations include all of Boy’s friends assaulting Girl). Boy or his friends post pictures of said assault all over the internet, proclaiming Girl to be a whore, and proudly letting everyone know they’ve tapped that. Number two: Girl voluntarily sends risqué photos to Boy and/or performs various sexual acts, in which photos are taken. Again, photos and debauchery abound are laid out for the world to see.

Now, I’ve taken a somewhat weird stance on this whole phenomenon. First of all, I’d just like to point out that if Girl makes the appropriate decisions, Girl will never end up drunk and passed out at Boy’s house, etc. I will concede that there are cases where this occurs through no fault of Girl, but in almost every case I hear about, there has been some opportunity for the female in question to say to herself, “Whoa, maybe this is a bad plan.” Theoretically, we could almost eradicate this trend entirely–not by writing heartfelt news pieces about the effects of bullying, or looking down our noses at slut-shaming, but by taking our daughters, our little sisters, our nieces, hell, even our students aside and saying, “Please make the right decisions. If you are unsure whether it is the right decision, ask me.”

That being said, the cases where a girl is entirely taken advantage of do exist. So why is it that we, in a day and age we tout to be so forward-thinking, still have cases where a guy old enough to enlist in the American Army if he so chose is only sentenced to three years for the rape and murder of a woman? Why have we raised a generation of young men who find it not only acceptable, but commendable, to have sex with a girl who is passed-out-in-a-puddle-of-puke WASTED? And THEN, they are so proud of this that they take photos. Why is it that the girl is then the slut, while we pat the guy on the back for having “gotten laid?” Excuse me, but brother, if your claim to bedroom fame is that you can get off while I’m semi-conscious, I just don’t think I’m impressed. Even our music has taken us to that point. I heard “Caribou Lou,” the first time and I said, “Uhh, if you need that much alcohol to get me to do that, don’t be so proud of it.”

I would like to have thought that the great movement of my generation was not women’s lib. I would like to think that fight’s been fought. That’s a war that we won back before women wore pants on a regular basis. We’re fighting for men to marry men, right?? Surely we don’t have to put down our rainbow flags to burn our bras, right??

Am I out of line, here? I am I wrong? Have we really made it to the place where my daughters can truly be anything? Or do we live in a world where boys get their uncles to cover up the downright RAPE they committed, so that the entire town will turn on the victim? Because I thought my phone took pictures in color, these days.

*To read more about the cases I have referenced in this entry, here are a few articles to get you started. I strongly encourage you to read more than one on each case you’re interested in.
Delhi Bus Rape: Telegraph, Guardian, HuffPost
Slut-Shaming: HuffPost
Missouri Rape Cover-Up: Guardian, Fox News