Stick and stones may break your bones but words ... can get you reprimanded, disciplined, vilified, shunned, criticized, suspended, and even fired. What is confusing is that the words can get you in trouble even if your actions are impeccable.
Case in point: When I was a rookie police officer in Flint, Mich. I was just months out of the seminary. A more pure recruit had never pinned on a badge. I was tough enough in the physical sense, but in the areas of believing in the goodness of man and race relations, I was perhaps a little naive.
I rode with very veteran patrol officers. It was not uncommon to have a 24-year guy next to me. (We drove two-man cars in most districts.)
I worked in the areas inhabited mostly by black people. One day on the way to a call of a “family fight” (that’s what all law enforcement called it) my partner started in on the N-words and how bad “they” were and how “they” lived like animals and every other racially prejudiced thing ever uttered. I thought, oh boy, here we go. We’ll be fighting in a few minutes.
When we arrived I was on edge. After we were in the apartment I thought the Invasion of the Body Snatchers had taken my partner and I had missed it. He was a consummate professional. He gave sound legal advice, was understanding and polite. The suggestions he made were the norm in law enforcement back then.
I was still numb when we got back to the patrol car. Where was my partner? Who took him, and what did they do with him? The answer was that my partner was the same one I had all day. After going back in service he picked up where he left off with what a bunch of lazy, dishonest, illiterate unprintables “they” were.
After thinking about this I came to the conclusion that my partner was a survivor. He didn’t like black people but he knew what he had to do to get through his job. He also told me that we did 90 percent of our business with 10 percent of the population. That 10 percent were low-lifes who gave a bad picture of black people everywhere. If all he saw was the 10 per cent, maybe I could cut him some slack.
Speaking of words, the big daily newspaper just did a multi-part series on homeless and disenfranchised San Diegans who use the Emergency Rooms as their personal physicians. The first-responders and emergency medical people refer to them as “frequent fliers” because they call 911 constantly and go to emergency rooms often.
This prompted Don Lundy, president-elect of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians to criticize the responders for their use of the term “frequent fliers” as disrespectful of the people continually using emergency services.
His response was typical of a guy who splashes on Axe cologne, wears a suit to work, attends meetings and never soils his hands dealing with homeless people who vomit all over the inside of an ambulance, and spit on and curse those helping them. If he ever did time in a rig, it seems he has forgotten what it was like.
Lundy doesn’t get it that emergency people should be judged on the job they do, and not the way they communicate with one another. Maybe their mistake was being honest in front of a reporter.
Granted, if my patrol partner said what he did to a reporter he should have been punished. He was merely venting to a rookie cop. But, for the paramedics and nurses to call some of their clients “frequent fliers” in front of a reporter is nothing. It is not disrespectful. Get over it, Lundy.
Of necessity, cops, firefighters, reporters, and emergency medical people have strange senses of humor. The humor is really a survival tool. One reporter said it best. “We laugh because we can’t afford to cry.” Words are not important. Actions are.
Basinski was a police officer for 35 years.