“You weren’t here thirty minutes ago! I’ve been here the whole time, you weren’t here!” The officer leaned over the man and made it a point to be as intimidating as possible, his arm outstretched in a mock knife hand. I twisted in my seat to get a better view of the man’s name tag and prepared to call the police department. I knew then that he was out of line. But lousy cell service meant my phone wouldn’t make any outgoing calls and, before I could get a clear view of the officer’s name tag, he turned and stomped away, yelling over his shoulder at the man, who by this point was shaking and terrified.
Let me stop my story right here and say this. I have the utmost of respect for our service personnel. Whether they are military members, police officers, firefighters, or nurses- our members of society whose sole job it is to provide us with safety, security and life are by far our most valuable members. Without these people… without our nurses and police officers, doctors and military members, our quality of life would be drastically different. Mix into that belief the understanding that I come from a family filled to the brim with service personnel and at least 90% of my personal friends are in some way affiliated with either the medical field or the military and it should come as no surprise that I have a deep and profound respect for our police officers and our nurses.
Keep that in mind.
The man on the receiving end of the officer’s tirade reached the desk before me. His hands were shaking and his smaller than me frame was bent in obvious fear. His daughter, who I would estimate was around 6, stood by his side with her face partially hidden behind his leg. He quietly asked the nurse if he would be able to go in to see the young man who’d been brought in by the ambulance, but before the sentence was fully out of his mouth, and before the nodding nurse was able to say that, yes, he could go back, the officer leaned over the desk and shouted at the man again about not following the ambulance in and how that should prevent him from going back. From the corner of my eye, I saw the man’s fingers curl up into his palm, the way a little kid does when they are fighting back tears. I could see the light brown face of the little girl push tightly into the man’s pants leg.
In the two seconds it took me to take this in, my entire body had already made the decision for me.
“You know what, officer? You’re wrong. I walked in to this hospital at 11:20 and my paperwork is marked at 11:22. This man walked in right behind me. He has been here for at least 30 minutes.”
The officer, less than impressed with me, leaned even further over the desk, scowling at me, and brought up his faux knife hand. “I am not allowing that man to go back there right now!” He yelled at me.
A little known fact about me- I am not so easily intimidated. Especially by short men with little man syndrome and voices squeakier than my ten year old daughter’s.
I actually deliberated laughing at the absurdity of the officer, thinking that his little stature and uniform were any reason to believe he had the right to lie and bully those around him. Part of me wanted to lean over the counter and ask Shorty if he was standing on a step stool.
The other part of me, the more responsible adult part of me, responded much better.
I leaned over the counter and mirrored his knife hand perfectly while saying calmly, “I didn’t say anything about letting him go back there. I said you are wrong, you are 100% wrong. This man walked in right behind me, more than 30 minutes ago, and he has been sitting in that chair for exactly that same amount of time waiting for the same amount of time I have been and you are wrong. That is what I said.”
I stood up straight, adjusted my glasses, and shoved my boney fingers back into the pockets of my old lady cardigan. The man next to me mumbled “Thank you. Thank you.” The little girl peeked out from his pants leg, leaving wet tears across the back of his trousers.
The officer leaned back and opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by the nurse.
“He’s ready. You can go back and see him now.”
“Go on!” the officer shouted, throwing his hands up and turning partially away.
After he walked away, I stepped up in front of the nurse and inquired about when my son might be triaged. She told me that, just after the man walked in with his daughter, three ambulances had been brought in and the triage nurse had been assisting with those patients and that they would get to my son as soon as possible, apologizing for the delay. I smiled at the nurse, told her I wasn’t angry at all, I totally understood, and went back to sit with my son. The officer glared at me the entire time, his hands resting firmly on his holster, as if the mere thought of a little man with a gun might scare me. Laughable, really.
When I returned to my seat, I thought about the situation and how best to address it. I firmly believe that if we are willing to complain about something, we should be equally willing to do something about it. Complaining must be accompanied by action or it becomes a bunch of useless noise.
You see, complaining is necessary, I believe, in order to kick-start change that is necessary. We don’t set out to change something that we would never complain about. There is, however, a difference between complaining for the sake of complaining (see Rebecca’s recent article about complaining) and complaining for the sake of changing something.
I also believe that we should complain when we see something wrong. Here are 3 reasons why:
- Seeing something wrong, especially when it could result in harm to, or the mistreatment of, another individual, and not voicing our concerns joins us with the guilty party.
- Refusing to acknowledge that there is a problem, especially in the presence of our children, encourages those around us to also ignore issues, and it raises our children into the mindset that it’s okay to allow these issues to continue.
- Not giving a voice to our concerns makes us complacent, allowing us to become adjusted to various issues that we shouldn’t be okay with and possibly opening us up to a dangerous situation.
There are some things you need to take into consideration before actually voicing your complaint. Number 1- is the thing you want to complain about something that could be fixed? If you’re going to call up the Department of Transportation and cuss at the receptionist because traffic is backed up on I5 then you should probably just stop reading and walk off some steam. Number 2- did you actually witness the thing you are going to complain about? If your sister’s best friend’s third grade teacher’s nephew posted on his Facebook about this guy he heard about in Detroit who had to wait for THREE ENTIRE MINUTES for a Big Mac…. You should probably just mosey on past that issue. Number 3- are you complaining for the sake of complaining? Did you just have a cruddy day and need to find something, anything to complain about? Here’s an idea- take up running. Or boxing.
Once you’ve considered whether or not you need to complain, read on. Here are my top four suggestions for complaining, and they all require action.
- Go directly to the source. When my daughter first reported a bullying issue at her old school, we went directly to the teacher, and then the principle. The source, generally, deserves the right to fix the issue. Some examples of going directly to the source would include complaining about poor restaurant service (find a manager), complaining about your leaky faucet (go to your rental agency), and complaining about your neighbor’s annoying kid (go to his parents).
- Go above the source. When my daughter reported that the bullying had not stopped, and subsequently resulted in her being assaulted by a group of girls much larger than her, we went to the police station. Going above the source generally requires additional action. In our case, pulling our daughter from the school immediately, in order to physically protect her, was necessary before we were able to go above the source. Some examples of this would be reporting a crime (police department), addressing a repeat issue (calling corporate offices to file an official complaint after going to the source does not work), and contacting your home owner’s association when the annoying kid next door throws a rock at your dog and his parents refuse to address it.
- File an official complaint. There are several ways to do this and who you are dealing with will determine which approach works best. First, I always consider how to get the attention I need. In the case of my daughter, I had to file an official complaint with the school district over the way her case was handled by the school. I did not enjoy going in to an office and screaming my head off about the way the safety officer (who had never even met my daughter) had written in to her official report that she’d spoken with my daughter and claimed that my daughter told her it was all a lie. But the bottom line was, screaming my head off and letting the district know that I was not a little girl to be messed with resulted in my daughter being placed into an excellent school where I’ve never worried about her safety since. But that in and of itself did not solve the problem. In addition to filing a complaint with the district, I had to pursue the criminal complaint with the police department. Despite the fact that in this state a child must be 10 or older in order to be punished by a school, the police department went ahead and classified the attack as a class A assault, thus guaranteeing that she’d never have to return to that school. I had to file both of those complaints in order to get to an acceptable solution. Some other examples of filing an official complaint might be lodging a formal complaint with the HR in your company, suing the parents of the child next door after he poisoned your dog, or contacting the Better Business Bureau over practices you observe at a business or organization.
- Draw social media attention to the issue. This tends to be the first thing a lot of people do, but it really should be reserved for last- in most cases- or for the most serious of cases. In the case of my daughter, this was not necessary, although we did make sure that any parents we personally knew at the school whose children were involved were made aware of the things that had happened. These children had witnessed the assault and bravely spoken up about what they’d seen, only to be shushed by some of the adults at the school. I wanted their parents to know what had taken place so that they could make the decisions that were best for their children. At the time, we still had one other child at the school and needed to tread very carefully for fear that a similar situation might fall on him. Had he not had a teacher that I knew without a doubt would have jumped in front of a bus for him, we would not have been so quiet. Some examples of drawing attention can be found right on your own Facebook pages. The VA scandal is a prime example of when to draw attention to an issue. Another example is when you know that looking bad in the public eye is more likely to get the opposing side to address the issue. For example, writing on a company’s Facebook page about the horrendous way an employee treated someone.
Will this get results? I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that two different people reached out to me with similar stories about their own personal dealings with this particular officer, and that at least one of those people is equally as intimidating as this rude wrapped in uniform.
Even more importantly, I know that at least one young father and his terrified little girl were able to walk into the emergency room to see their injured loved one- despite this officer’s nasty attitude. And in the end, that’s what really mattered.
Update- I was contacted less than 48 hours later by Internal Affairs regarding the behavior of the officer and the situation. At the very least, an unofficial investigation is already underway, and I was given the opportunity to file a formal complaint. In this particular instance, I chose not to lodge a formal complaint specifically because Internal Affairs is involved. In a good police department, an internal affairs investigation is usually enough to solve a problem. It just so happens that my city has an excellent police department, and so I have no doubts that the situation will be handled.
Have you recently encountered a situation that just absolutely required you to respond? I’d like to hear about it, and what you are doing as a result.