Should Street Medics Treat Cops At Protests?
I took alot of heat on an action med list recently because I said I would not, as a lay street medic, treat an injured cop. The following article is the summary of what followed, with many medics chiming in on this controversial, yet important, topic....
Should Street Medics Treat Injured Cops At Protests?
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
And we broach yet another THORNY protest topic. I took a huge amount of heat on an action medic email list recently for saying I, personally, was not comfortable treating police as a lay street medic at protests, for many reasons. I have listened to long lists of reasons other medics DO treat them, and I still am firm in my stance to NOT treat cops at protests, although I no longer judge those who do treat the cops, and actually admire their stand, even envy them, for being able to have such high morals. TWO of the MAIN reasons I do not want to treat police for injuries at protests is 1) THEY CAUSE THE INJURIES, and THUS MAY INJURE MORE if I treat them, and 2) WE PAY for 911 and cannot get 911 into protest zones to help us, thus the need for street medics; police CAN use 911, so they should. Arguments for street medics giving first aid to cops at protests include the theory of converting cops by killing them with kindness, or rising above them morally, or as one medic put it, "Only by treating our enemies as we wish them to treat us, will we win." And another argument is the problem of "selective" aid, which can get as sticky as not letting neighbors into your bomb shelter! The problem is I do not believe cops are converted by us helping them, I think, instead, they think we are fools. And I have serious issues with this "Do No Harm" concept when it is applied to violent aggressors! But the arguments for both sides are passionate, morally challenging, and worthy of debate. I have asked street medics to chime in on both sides, and this article is a summary of those discussions.
The majority of street medics I talked to believed strongly in treating cops. The main argument to counter my reasons to not treat police, was that I was not seeing the humanity in the police, and so I was as bad as them, and/or even as dangerous as them. Others have rightly said that two wrongs do not make a right, and I agree. I understand the argument of not becoming like one's enemy. They argue that police blame all protesters for some protesters' behaviors, so blaming all police for some police behavior was also wrong. But we have to still keep in focus here, that police are aggressors, actively CAUSING injuries, where I would be in the PASSIVE position of letting the violent aggressors lay where they fell, not CAUSING the injuries. As a matter of fact, without the cops at these protests, there would be relatively little need for street medics at all! I seriously see the police beating me as an inhumane object, and me letting the violent cop lay where he falls, as two different actions, but many of the street medics I talked to felt those two actions, beating and not treating, were equally brutal and hateful.
I found myself mixing up two arguments, whether *I* would treat injured cops at a protest, and whether I think other street medics should treat cops. I realized I can only speak for myself, and why *I* would not treat them. It is not up to me to judge the medics who do treat the cops, as if they are accomplices, anymore than they should judge me for not treating cops, as inhumane, I decided. When I argued police have created a war zone, some street medics said the police said the same thing about protesters, but again, I have to interject, the protesters are predominantly unarmed, the police are armed to the gills and drooling, ready to shoot.
Supposedly Mao said "an enemy when he is not shooting at you, should be considered a misguided friend." And I understand this. But somehow I cannot get that good, safe feeling of humanity out of police after watching how they behave in the streets and jails. And thus, yes, I guess, I have succumbed to their level of hatred, as I cannot distinguish good cops from bad cops anymore, on duty or not. I believe "good cop" is an oxymoron at this point. And I wish I could say it was different. I see the high moralistic road of loving your enemies, yet I also see the long road of continuous war and continued police brutality when people act like lambs to a slaughter. Yet, I also do not like the sound of defining who is "human" enough to give medical treatment to... this is a true moral dilemma for me. One medic said, "The way we treat those who treat us poorly reflects on our humanity." That has truth to it too. There is also a good argument in simply treating all life as equal, and thus worthy, and not taking time to judge personality, belief systems, et al.
An in between zone seems to be to say you will prioritize treatment, and put police at the back of the line. I talked to medics who supported armed and unarmed self defense, but who also believed in treating all wounded. Some said they would treat our wounded first, unless the enemy was in a life threatening situation and our wounded were not. Some said if faced with an injured cop and an injured protestor, they would treat the one with more severe injuries first. If both had similar injuries, they would treat the protester, while simultaneously trying to locate competent care for the cop. Some said flat out cops were at the BOTTOM of their list of people to provide care for and that if a cop had a life threatening injury, they would treat the cop as long as no protester had life threatening injuries that required attention. "An injured cop is more likely to consent to treatment by
uniformed EMS workers than by street medics, and an injured protester is more likely to consent to treatment by street medics than by uniformed EMS workers. So there is a clinical argument for treating a protester first *if* a protester and a cop have similarly urgent needs," said another medic. One medic wrote that he just felt he needed to use his medical skills to "treat every injured person that I am able to, within my skill set." And one medic quipped, "I wouldn't treat every cop, every time."
People's personal experience with police weighs in heavily on this issue also. Acknowledging the fears some have of police after seeing the results of their work on streets and in medic tents, is only giving them dignity, whether they are medic or victim or both. One medic argued street medicine should not be set up to exclude or privilege any group, yet some medics prioritize access to those with the fewest resources first. One medic asked "If you began treating someone you thought was a protester, then found out he was an undercover cop, then what? Would you stop or continue treatment?" That is an excellent question. But I also wonder how I would feel if I treated a cop, then he left me, and violently blinded a protesting teen for life shortly thereafter. I would feel guilty for remedying his ills to enable him to return to his brutality. Selective aid is problematic. But if left to my own devices, I would not injure police. I would simply disarm them and make them accountable for their actions. It seems if and when left to their own devices, police brutalize protesters, so our positionality is NOT the same. My way there is no instigation of violence, their way they instigate violence. And since they are doing that, they are FORCING us, as protesters, to take a stand on that police brutality. My stand is not to get meeker when brutalized, thus we forever live in fear and THEIR lines in the sand, but to get BOLDER, bringing the police under GREATER public scrutiny, making them EXPLAIN what we catch them doing on videotape, and the injuries they create, etc.
One medic argued "Our quarrel is not with the cops, but with the organizations that control them." Well, if the cops on the street would not be so brutal, even if given orders to do so, or at least were "brutal" in a reluctant, instead of jubilant, manner, it would help. Also there is the argument that cops are low paid wage slaves. Again, they look so happy beating us, I think they would do it for free! The argument was made that cops are people too, and that they are the TOOLS of the state, so fighting the state, rather than the cops, was preferable. But that is pretty circular, in my opinion. When the first line of defense to fighting the state you encounter, is police lines, then that is a redundant, if not nonsensical, argument. One medic said, "Judge individuals by their actions. Presume kindness and innocence." Wow. No, that is lambs to the slaughter thinking in police riots. No thanks! I DO NOT think that is safe advice when you are speaking of Robocops! I would NEVER tell my son to assume the riot police are kind and innocent, but rather I would warn him of the OPPOSITE!
Of all the medic responses, one shone with a compassion that was strong enough to almost sway my strong personal position on this. A street medic wrote, "After two years in the action medical community, I became an EMT and took an oath to render emergency care "without preference or prejudice," and I do believe in the principle of medical triage. I don't have to like my patients or approve of the activities through which they got hurt; I do have to rise above the violence and, to the best of my ability, have compassion even for those who have none. However, even the ethics of triage provide a solid excuse for street medics who would not feel safe or comfortable treating a cop or a counterdemonstrator: medical providers are not expected to put themselves in avoidable
danger, and the reasonable belief that a patient will be violent or combative is an ethically sound reason to back off. I do not believe that treating an injured oppressor makes me an accessory to oppression. In fact, I believe that *withholding* treatment from a human being in need is itself a form of oppression -- at least if it's done on the basis of ideology and not because of genuine safety concerns or competing priorities."
This same medic continues, "Finally, a legal point: In the hierarchy of emergency medicine, I often outrank a cop. Most cops are certified as medical First Responders, and if I need extra trained hands to help me do CPR, I can and will *order* a cop to help and the cop would be required to, or else make a remarkably good excuse when the incident *does* come under investigation." This last set of comments reflects a higher morality than I am actually not able to embrace right now. I am able to see arguments for both sides on this issue, and there is no right or wrong here. Both sides have passion, and I am sure this article will raise impassioned comments, and facilitate some edgy discussions. Be forewarned, this issue is an emotional one. I took a little online beating for my beliefs when I first revealed them, and it seems both sides are both defensive, and full of conviction, on this issue.
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