Saturday, October 5, 2013

Crisis in DC: Health or Politics?

Crisis in DC: Health or Politics?

Media coverage of the latest major traffic incident in DC demonstrates why mental patients are on the loose. Relatives immediately inquire if the shooting was necessary. Police admit the patient was unarmed. Has anybody so far admitted that the patient was armed with a car, and showed no signs of stopping her aggression until public officials acted? Then the complaints start over again.

Media coverage of such incidents can exacerbate misunderstanding. If reporters echo comments by laypersons without footnoting--at the very least—that these statements come from parties not trained in objectivity, they can participate in whooping up outrage. Relatives also are bound to be on the defensive. Emotionalism turns up at intersections all too often, usually in the form of road rage.

All officials involved in such episodes must operate in the theater of the NOW. Obviously, a suspect does not hand a medical history to police in hot pursuit as she goes speeding toward public icons of American history. All quotations from patients, made during a history of questionable reliability, prove nothing about this suspect's intent as she accelerates and reverses into police vehicles.

If such incidents were soap operas, and suspects' faces flashed across the public's memory banks, then the audience could be expected to get caught up in instantaneous psychodrama. Villains too quickly occur to viewers accustomed to applauding and booing their favorite TV stars, who regularly include the heavy hitters—actors so intense that fans dub them "the ones we love to hate."

Suddenly the media may present the unknown quantity roaring down the street—officially known as an "unsub" in popular crime dramas—as a character deserving sympathy. For what is a soap opera without a heroine, too? The truth remains that any party who disobeys traffic police in DC should expect to be stopped. Since 9/11, is taking chances with public safety negotiable?

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