You can’t get on Facebook without seeing Alex Wubbels in your news feed.
Salt Lake City detective Jeff Payne violently arrested Wubbels after the nurse refused the detective’s request to draw blood from an unconscious patient who had been in a car accident, even though her refusal aligned with hospital policy. The incident quickly went viral to widespread outrage on social media, drawing a swift response and apology from both the Salt Lake City police chief and mayor, who both called Wubbels personally and held a press conference to address the arrest. The Salt Lake Police Department placed Payne on leave, and Payne is also under investigation.
While one would like to think the incident was handled so swiftly because it was a gross misuse of police force, it’s also likely that Salt Lake City government and police officials responded quickly because of the large outcry to see justice for the nurse.
It’s an outcry that was substantially more amplified than those associated with other police brutality cases because white America took notice and said something.
You see, Wubbels is a blonde, white woman, so white folks actually cared that she was mistreated by the police.
Her attack didn’t generate the typical white American response to police brutality when it’s perpetuated against Black bodies.
News outlets didn’t race to find the least flattering pictures of Wubbels to pair with incendiary headlines and accusatory descriptors of her. Reporters didn’t interrogate the lives of Wubbels’ parents and legitimize her arrest by manufacturing an anti-police ideology in her upbringing. Instead, she was given the red carpet treatment by the media, frequently quoted in mainstream news and featured in a live interview on The Today Show.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 4, 2017
There were few cries of “Blue Lives Matter.” Instead, there was widespread agreement by white folks that Payne should not have arrested or assaulted Wubbels.
White folks didn’t suggest there were “two sides” to the story of a one-sided assault by a person with a lopsided power dynamic. Instead, they assumed the violence in the video of the arrest and how Wubbels reported feeling told the entire story.
When white people are victims of police brutality, suddenly, white America starts to care. They call for justice, unquestioningly support the victim, and call for the firing of the police officer involved.
White America gets awfully silent when a victim of police brutality is Black. And when they do speak, it’s to make assumptions about how the victim or victim’s loved ones are at fault for the violence they experienced at the hands of the police.
If Alex Wubbels were named Aiyana Stanley-Jones, white America would fault her grandmother for not protecting the seven-year-old girl from the bullet that struck her during a botched police raid.
If Alex Wubbels were named Tanisha Anderson, white America would say her family’s account of an officer unnecessarily slamming her to the ground, and killing her, were untrue.
If Alex Wubbels were named Sandra Bland, white America would say an officer’s claim that she resisted arrest justified her death, despite a recorded video that contradicts the officer’s claims for arresting her in the first place.
But Alex Wubbels is named Alex and not Aiyana, Tanisha, or Sandra, so she didn’t have her agency or humanity questioned after being victim to police brutality. Her loved ones don’t have to endure the assassination of her character as a means to justify her victimization.
And she gets to live.
Wubbels gets to live because most white people who encounter the police get to live. And when they encounter the police and something goes awry, they believe they will see justice because white people are used to justice working for them.
White America will keep speaking up for itself because it sees what can happen when it does. A mayor and a police chief can apologize. A police department can put an officer on leave immediately. People can support a victim of police brutality.
And when white people see the swiftness of justice that can happen when they speak up against police brutality but choose not to do so for Black and Brown people, it’s rooted in their number one priority: self-preservation.
White America wasn’t speaking up for Wubbels because they were speaking against police brutality, they were speaking up for Wubbels because they care about white safety. When they saw someone who looked like their mother, or friend, or sister being treated how Black people expect to get treated by police, it motivated them to speak up.
They were afraid that if another white person’s safety were compromised, theirs could be too.
I wish white America cared about police brutality as much as they cared about preserving white safety. Maybe the police would think twice before killing people who looked like me.
And I would have loved to hear Sandra’s side of the story on The Today Show.