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Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means

Marie Celeste Arraras is a lady. She is a lady that some of you–including, shamefully, your humble correspondent who really needs to expand her horizons once again–may not have heard about. But if you watch Telemundo, you probably have seen her on “Al Rojo Vivo,” her daily news broadcast, or her work as a contributor for the “Today” show. She’s pretty, talented, and good at her job — she’s been called the “Katie Couric of Spanish television.”

She’s also a lady. I believe I mentioned that. Because it turns out to be pretty important.

On May 28, Arraras called Miami 911, telling the dispatcher to send the cops right away because her boyfriend had hit her and was trying to choke her. The police did eventually come to the house, arrested her boyfriend, and observed that she had a swollen lips and marks on her arms.

All this you can read in this story from the Sunday New York Daily News, like I did. What I find interesting is that in the online version, they left out the transcript of the call. Which makes for some…what’s that word we use? Interesting? Infuriating? Depressingly typical?

Yeah, that one.

Here, in living Minou Transcription, is the 911 call:

Operator: Miami Dade, where is your emergency?

Arraras: Please send the police to [redacted] right now. Somebody is about to kill me. Please.

Operator: What are they doing?

Arraras: Choking me. Please hurry.

Operator: They are choking you?

Arraras: Please.

Operator: Ma’am, you are on the phone; they are not choking you. What did they do?

Arraras: They just hit me and tried to choke me. Please.

Operator: Who did that to you?

Arraras: Somebody that lives with me.

Operator: Okay then, who is that somebody? Let’s not be silly. Ma’am, answer my question.

Arraras: I have three kids here.

Operator: And who is this someone that tried to kill you?

Arraras: It’s somebody that I’m dating, that lives here…please, could you send somebody right away?

Operator: Okay, ma’am. Hello. Instead of just saying hurry up, why don’t you answer the question?

Arraras: Listen to me, I have to go because he’s trying to get back in. Could you please…

Operator: So the person is outside?

Arraras: Outside, but not for long.

Operator: So, he lives there with you?

Arraras: Are you sending somebody right now?

Operator: I said, yes, if you would have listened instead of just talking. Okay.

I’ll say two things right away, because I have to, because if you’re going to be outraged, on the Internet, while female, you have to say things to cover your ass before the nitpickers and MRAs and rape apologists descend upon you. First, I don’t know if that’s the full transcript. I tried to dig it up via diligent net browsing, but the best I could find was the print edition of the News. There are a few ellipses in the transcription which could be gaps in the transcript, or capturing pauses in Arraras’ speech. Second, I haven’t heard an audio of the conversation, so I can’t speak to the tone of either Arraras or the operator.

Within those narrow dimensions, I’m still pretty appalled.

We are told, all of us, lady and dude and every other fantastic gender under the sun, that you call 911 when there’s an emergency. We are especially told that if we are people of the lady persuasion–not only because we are assumed to be incapable of dealing with anything messy and violent (except, you know, housework and rape), but because if, Cthulu forbid it, something happens to us, and we didn’t call, well then it’s clearly all our fault.

Now, some folks learn to discount that. Queer people, for one, are used to not being able to rely on help from the police. Criminally, far too many people of color in the Good Ol’ USA are resigned to assuming that the police won’t help them. (Not everywhere, not every officer, but you know where I’m coming from.) As for us trans folk, especially trans ladies…the fact that our only universally agreed upon Day of Trans Significance is about Remembering Our Dead gives you a sense of how we expect things to work out…just ask Tyra Hunter. If you could, which you can’t, because she’s dead.

So here we have a lady. A well-to-do, famous lady, a celebrity especially in Miami. Who calls the police when her partner attacks her. And how, pray tell, does that call go? Well, we have an interesting grammatical and epistemological discussion about whether or not she “is being choked” or “has recently been choked.” Which is all great and good, I like to exercise my critical thinking skills on a regular basis, but shouldn’t the words “Somebody”, “Choked”, and “Me” have possibly filtered up higher into the conversation’s consciousness? Because somebody, I don’t know, could have been choked?

Then we have this lady, who if the transcript is any guide, was severely distressed, told to not be silly.

Silly.

I can think of a lot things that I might be when calling about how somebody I loved, who lived in my house, was attacking me, but silly just doesn’t seem to fit in there any place.

And the kicker? When Arraras indicates she is now in immediate danger, that her assailant is trying to get back inside, the dispatcher still takes her to task, for not listening and not answering his or her questions right away. While, I should add, forgetting him or herself that Arraras had already said several times that her attacker lived with her.

Now look. I get that this is a horrible job, that most 911 dispatchers’ workday probably consists of prank calls, folks calling without a real emergency, and depressingly repetitive crimes all sandwiched around a few cases of pure brutal horror. So I’m not saying that 911 is sexist or that you shouldn’t call 911 if you’re in trouble. You should. But at the same time, I’m hardly doing much more than raising the MacKinnon Memorial Prize for Repetitive Observation by pointing out that all too often people in authority don’t take domestic violence seriously.

Like, for example, this story:

As we first revealed, when Sheila Jones needed help, help never came.

That despite repeated calls to Metro Nashville’s 911 over a three-hour stretch about an ex-boyfriend who’d assaulted her and was threatening to come back.

Sheila to 911:”They ain’t sent nobody. I just don’t understand. Is it ’cause I’m black? Is it ’cause of the neighborhood. What is it?”

And our investigation discovered, this is how one of the last calls ended:

Sheila: “I’m scared to even leave out my f***ing house.”
911: “OK, ma’am, I updated the call. We’ll get somebody there as soon as possible.”
Sheila: [Hangs up.]
911: “I really just don’t give a s**t what happens to you.”

You know what that voice is? That’s the voice of every MRA troll who gets smug with you online about “if it was such a big deal, why didn’t you call the police?” That’s the voice of anyone who makes the victim in a battering case the one to hang her head in embarrassment. That’s the voice of everything that keeps a woman for asking for help, that’s the smug assurance that it just doesn’t matter.

That, ladies and assorted dudes of good cheer, is the voice of patriarchy as sure as if it was broadcasting on Radio Free Patriarchy.

And that voice, that expression, that smugness and boredom and frustration about getting another DV call that will just end up with at most a few protection orders here, a trespass ticket there, that’s at the heart of the second part of this story. Because it doesn’t end with just a humiliating attempt to, you know, preserve bodily health and integrity. I mean, does it ever, when you attempt to live while female?

See, like Brooke Mueller, like Rihanna (at first), like way too many other women, Arraras has tried to downplay what happened, calling it an isolated incident.

Isolation is the right word for it, as this People Magazine (People? People! People frakking magazine can get this right and 911 dispatch can’t?) excerpt shows:

If anything, the victim will often blame herself – and the attacker will agree with her. “The abuser also tries very hard to convince the victim that the attack was their fault,” says Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a Sacramento, Calif., pediatrician and domestic violence expert. “It’s common to say, ‘Honey, if you hadn’t upset me, this would’ve never happened.’ “

Because that’s it. Don’t call, and what happens to you is your fault. Do call, and what happens to you is your fault. Run, and what happens to you is your fault. Stay, and what happens to you is your fault. Fight, and what happens to you is your fault. Don’t fight, and what happens to you is your fault.

Divorce, and it’s going to be your fault. Try to protect your children from an abuser, and it’s your fault that some bitter men will spam your website. Get any money to support your children and they’ll scream matriarchy. Dare to point out that 90% of all serious domestic injuries are caused by men hitting women, and that the often quoted studies so dear to their hearts compare verbal abuse (“you’re a pathetic excuse!”) with getting your kneecaps broken, and they’ll tell you that the bitches run the planet, and men can’t win, and what are you whining about because you never had it so good.

Until that day you have to pick up the phone. And pray somebody on the other end will hear you out before they stop believing you.

49 Comments

  1. scrumby wrote:

    I think this highlights a problem in the system. Most people know to call 911 if there is an emergency but they don’t know what to expect when they do. A 911 dispatcher will grill you for as much detail as possible because the more they know the more info they can pass on to the responding personal. But people don’t know that and they get frustrated and upset at what they interpret as stalling tactic or worse a test to see if they’re worth helping. I think the operator that responded to Ms. Arraras was so focused on getting the info they wanted they forgot the main objective of their position. I hope if this person is not suspended or fired from her position after this mess, that the extra publicity might at least serve as a wakeup call.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  2. Melissa wrote:

    “A 911 dispatcher will grill you for as much detail as possible because the more they know the more info they can pass on to the responding personal”

    This is certainly understandable. But can’t they get this information once the responding personnel are already on the way and pass it on via phone/text? Even with the problem of prank calls, I find it unconscionable that they wouldn’t send someone to help immediately when someone calls 911 and says that someone is actively, in the moment, trying to kill hir.

    And also…”don’t be silly, ma’am?” Are you kidding me?

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  3. Emily WK wrote:

    Also, “Ma’am, you are on the phone; they are not choking you. What did they do?” is not at all an example of an operator grilling someone for more information. That is pedantry for no reason whatsoever.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  4. XtinaS wrote:

    Of course, that also assumes that “getting the caller helped ASAP” is actually the primary goal of 911.  If so, you’d think at least some of their training would involve “The caller will probably lash out, being in a somewhat stressful situation and all — if you can’t suck it up and deal, you’re in the wrong profession”.  Like that one call from… gah, I can’t recall it exactly.  When the daughter was calling 911 due to her father having some sort of medical issue, and the 911 operator kept telling her that they’d disconnect the call if she didn’t stop swearing.

    (My Googling is proving useless today, hooray.)

    I mean, for serious:

    “Instead of just saying hurry up, why don’t you answer the question?”

    I refuse to excuse this 911 worker on the grounds of “they were just trying to get information”.  At best, the entire 911 department for that region needs to be retrained, juuust in case that wasn’t a fluke.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  5. Scott wrote:

    That transcript is pretty much the whole thing. Here’s a page with the audio.

    http://klol.radio.com/2010/06/16/maria-celeste-arraras-me-precipite-al-decir-estan-intentando-matarme/

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  6. Scott wrote:

    xtinas: My google-fu is strong today. here’s the one you were talking about:

    http://boingboing.net/2009/05/04/911-police-officer-r.html

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  7. Dinosaur Nick wrote:

    Okay, a point of information from someone who was briefly an EMT. I don’t know if the 911 call in question was from a land line or not, but if it was, dispatch would already have her address. So, the operator asked about the assailant and the situation because the information needed to get to her was automatically retrieved.

    As for the choked/choking issue, that is actually an important distinction to draw so as to know how best to respond. There is a big difference between the attack happening five minutes ago and five hours ago. The dispatcher needed to know what exactly the emergency was, medical or criminal or whatever. People calling 911 usually have difficulty focusing on what is happening in the present, so sometimes forceful language is necessary to get people to focus on the moment.

    Should the dispatcher have used the word silly or chastised Ms. Arraras? No. Is there a discriminatory and dangerous culture surrounding domestic violence? Yes. Is this transcript an example of not taking domestic violence seriously? Ehhh…that I’m not so sure.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  8. snobographer wrote:

    What difference does it make whether the attacker lives with the caller? Why is that so important to establish before you’ll dispatch somebody?
    Taking a thorough report is the job of the police once they get there and get things under control. The 911 operator’s job is to get somebody out there and reassure the caller.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  9. There is a big difference between the attack happening five minutes ago and five hours ago.

    If the caller is mistakenly using the present tense, it was probably closer to five minutes ago.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  10. Amadi wrote:

    If the caller is mistakenly using the present tense, it was probably closer to five minutes ago.

    Exactly! In fact, it’s not even really “mistakenly” using the present tense, because the situation is ongoing. In the victim’s mind, this is one assault. “He’s hitting me, he’s punching me, he’s choking me, I’m running away and he’s chasing me, I’m inside and he’s still coming at me, trying to break the door, this is what is happening right now.” If there’s been no substantial pause in the action, the present tense is understandable because this is what is happening now and it hasn’t stopped.

    If a 911 operator can’t understand that, can’t sympathize with that, can’t grok that information without acting like a snarky ass to someone who is or has just been assaulted, who is clearly agitated and terrified, then they need to find another line of work. 911 operators who do their job and do it well are heroes a lot of the time, but the work can take a toll on your sympathy stores, adn when that happens, it’s time to either take a break or move on.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink
  11. Samantha b. wrote:

    Oh holy fuck! I’ve called 911 when my boyfriend was doing really badly, and Jesus Christos, they got to the point really fucking quickly because they goddamned knew that time was of the essence. They asked me a few questions I didn’t know how to answer, but they rushed through every point to get to a useful conclusion presto. They didn’t screw around with bullshit superfluousness. That they get prank calls didn’t really enter the picture, you know? I can’t even start on how angry this makes me; thanks for this, C.L.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  12. Emily WK wrote:

    Sorry, Dinosaur Nick. When she said “Somebody is about to kill me”, is the proper response, “What time frame do you estimate your death will be? Is this the future perfect tense or the conditional?”?

    My guess is probably not. Why are you trying to defend this operator? Why do you think that somehow this person’s atrocious behavior is something you need to defend? Does it reflect on you somehow?

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink
  13. Emily WK wrote:

    I would also like to note that at no point did the operator ask a question that indicated that he/she was attempting to find out if the attack and choking happened five minutes or five hours ago, so that explanation makes even LESS sense.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  14. whatsername wrote:

    What a great (and enraging) post. Just… Wow. That “I just don’t give a shit what happens to you” quote will be ringing in my ears for the rest of the day…

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  15. ABF wrote:

    “A 911 dispatcher will grill you for as much detail as possible because the more they know the more info they can pass on to the responding personal.”

    disagree. I just called 911 this weekend because my boyfriend hurt me. I called them.

    “911 what’s your emergency?”
    “My boyfriend just beat me up!”
    “Your boyfriend just beat you up? We’ll send someone right away”

    I then told them where I was, where he was, I described him and his clothing. I didnt have to give details about what he did to me or prove whatsoever that I was a true victim.

    Within 5 minutes eight different police officers showed up. And this was in Harlem, NYC. So it can be done properly anywhere you are. A 911 caller shouldn’t have to _prove_ they’re in danger. That’s the cops’ jobs.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  16. Jess wrote:

    I’ve been called “silly” by a 911 dispatcher before, in the question, “Is this just a silly call?” I had to take my starchiest tone with the operator before they would send an ambulance for the man — who had collapsed on the street and vomited on himself because of a pacemaker malfunction. I was a little shaken by it, considering that I speak in an accent that’s generally called “TV newscaster” or “overly polite secretary” and am ridiculously patient with giving information.

    Also I am apparently still mad! Okay then.

    One of the things that I believe 911 personnel are expected to be trained on is their use of language. I agree with Dinosaur Nick on some points with regards to the information that they’re trying to get, &c, but the language they use is inherently dismissive and rude. “When did this happen, ma’am?” and “Where is your attacker?” are far better questions than snide, derogatory ones.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink
  17. Victoria wrote:

    “Somebody is trying to kill me” pretty much sums up the urgency of the situation. There’s no question about timing from the first first line.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  18. Jess wrote:

    Er, to clarify: the experience shook me because this was my experience when I very clearly demonstrate privilege. I was shaken by what might have happened if I had spoken in a less “white, educated” way.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  19. Vee wrote:

    SILLY? How in all the–SILLY? What an appropriate response to someone who calls and tells you about someone trying to choke them. Someone who has three children there. Someone whose attacker lives with them. Jesus fuck.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  20. Kj wrote:

    Ugh. This reminds me of when I called 911 from my bike after passing by a woman being followed slowly by a car, at night, with men yelling out the window at her.

    I was asked the race of the women and the men (it was dark, I couldn’t tell), and then I was asked if the woman knew the men in the car. A) How the fuck would I know, and then B)(and I didn’t realize this till later) but WHAT THE FUCK WOULD IT MATTER. She was being threatened and was totally unsafe. I was also told someone would check it out soon, and I hung up feeling like I completely worthless. I echo everyone’s comments above about the patronizing and unworkable justice system.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  21. Tabs wrote:

    This makes me want to cry. How scared she must have been — then to have the 911 Op condescend to her like, I don’t know, “Um. Hello, ma’am. IF YOU JUST ANSWERED MY QUESTIONS INSTEAD OF ACTING BOTHERED/DISTRACTED BY BEING ASSAULTED AND CHOKED, I COULD HAVE SENT SOMEONE.”

    Hello, indirect victim-blaming! Hello, assholes!

    - I agree with everyone else who feel it’s the Op’s job to reassure and sympathize with the caller. I mean, really. Why try to be “rational” (or a dick) to someone who’s panicking and scared? Is it going to help? No. — aghhhhhhhhhhhhh. ANNOYED.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  22. scrumby wrote:

    I don’t think Dinosuar Nick or I are trying to excuse this particular dispacher’s behavior so much as give a little more insight into how the system works and where exactly it went wrong in this case.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  23. Emily WK wrote:

    Scrumby, why is your opinion of where this dispatcher went wrong more accurate than CL’s?

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  24. Laughingrat wrote:

    This reminds me of the time a hostile, misogynist neighbor who’d behaved erratically and aggressively towards me over a period of weeks pinned me in my car and wouldn’t leave until I called 911. When the cop finally arrived, he got the dude’s story first, didn’t make any effort to find me (I was inside my locked apartment building and only knew the cop was there because I saw him outside the window), was nasty to me when I tracked him down, told me I shouldn’t have called 911 in the first place, and refused to take a report.

    I wonder what it would have taken before they thought it was worth taking a report for, or calling 911 over. If I’d gotten out of the car and he hurt me? If he raped me? Hit me? Apparently not even those, given the way Ms. Arraras was treated.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  25. incognotter wrote:

    Some years back there was a similar 911 horror story in which a guy called because his mother was choking to death. The operator insisted he put her on the phone to verify she was having trouble breathing. The guy kept saying he couldn’t put her on because she couldn’t breathe and couldn’t talk. She died, and the city had to pay SERIOUS damages for wrongful death. But of course, in that case it was a man being quibbled with, talked over and dismissed, not a woman. If he had been a woman it would have been his fault for not using different words and infinite patience to get through to the dispatcher.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  26. Iany wrote:

    Jesus Christ. Words fail. What the hell is wrong with people, especially those working in frigging law enforcement?

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink
  27. Chris wrote:

    I am horrific with acronyms. Can somebody please tell me what an MRA is?

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 7:47 pm | Permalink
  28. Katy wrote:

    Chris, MRA is “men’s rights activist.” Here’s a site with commonly used words/acronyms in the feminist blogosphere. They like to explain away feminism by counteracting that feminism is inherently sexist to men. Or something.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  29. julie ruin wrote:

    “Why are you trying to defend this operator? Why do you think that somehow this person’s atrocious behavior is something you need to defend? Does it reflect on you somehow?”

    UGH I seriously don’t think a day goes by where I don’t have to ask some mansplainer similar questions. Sorry you feel that our rights are infringing upon your own, maybe one day we’ll just leave you guys alone and you wont have to feel so ALIENATED in your own CULTURE.

    Awesome (read: thoroughly enraging) article.

    PS @ CL: “People frakking magazine” your nerd is showing

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 1:53 am | Permalink
  30. speedbudget wrote:

    I saw an episode of “I Survived” wherein a woman was knocked out with a bat, tied up with duct tape, and dumped head first into a trash can half filled with snow then covered with a tarp. Her ex husband then drove for hours with the garbage can in the back of his open pickup truck.

    The woman managed to get a hand free to barely hit 911 on the cell phone that had fallen out of her pocket into the can. Because of the snowmelt on her face, the duct tape had loosened. She called 911 only to have the operator question her story. “You’re tied up and gagged with duct tape? How did you call me?” He then hung up on her.

    People don’t believe me when I tell them about street harassment or those little underhanded sexist things men do in public. Why would anybody believe a woman when she tells them about being in danger at the hands of a man?

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  31. Wendy wrote:

    Wow…thanks for a great article. Anyone who thinks this couldn’t happen to THEM is wrong…we are all at risk.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  32. SaraDee wrote:

    My friend and I once called the campus police from one of those emergency phones after a woman stuck her upper torso out of the window of an SUV in the road next to us and screamed “Help me, they’re taking me!”. Someone grabbed her and pulled her back in, and the SUV sped off. We got a partial plate. The police basically went “uh huh. Mmmm. THat’s interesting. We’ll look for that vehicle description, but they’re probably long gone.” Later, we called them back to see if they’d found the car,because we were beside ourselves feeling so helpless.
    We get the world’s snarkiest person on the line, saying it was just some kids “letting of steam” after the exams, and we shouldn’t be “wasting everyone’s time” with our “hysteria”.
    So — WE were the ones being a public nuisance, not the asswipes PRETENDING TO BE KIDNAPPED, because we…cared.

    I mean, sure hoaxes are a huge drain on the system, but if you are a dispatcher and you think someone is hoaxing 911, wouldn’t you want to send someone out there and catch them at it and charge them or something? Either it’s a real emergency, and you’re wasting precious time, or it isn’t, and this person needs to be stopped NOW, because that is really dangerous stuff to lie about. The answer is not to just assume everyone is lying until they convince you otherwise, and discourage people from calling in real emergencies.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  33. C.L. Minou wrote:

    @Julie Ruin: Oh, I cede nerdiness to no person! As I told somebody at work yesterday, I am so geeky that my favorite webcomic (+10) reimagines the Star Wars movies (+30) as if they were sessions of a role-playing game (+1 million).

    Also, now that TBD is The Big Time, I’m trying to cut down on the eff-words. Except Frak.

    @Scott: thanks for digging that up for us, and I’m glad to know the call was just as infuriating as I thought.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink
  34. zilla wrote:

    I was once volunteering as a chase vehicle for a bicycle tour. There were a couple hundred riders on the route, but since these events don’t have a mass start, the bicyclists were spread out in groups of three or four, and it would take a couple hours for them all to pass a given point on the route. I was driving my car, carrying the first aid kit and repair kit, with a big sign on my door proclaiming who I was.

    I was flagged down by a group of riders. They reported that a hostile pickup driver was running up and down the road, first just blaring their horn, then swerving at them threateningly, then stopping to yell about how the bicycles should not ride on “his” road, and finally making a pass where he had pointed a gun at the bicyclists.

    I knew that there were at least 300 more riders that would be passing that spot in the next couple of hours.

    This was in the days before cell phones, so I drove to a spot a couple miles away where I knew there was a payphone on the corner, and I called 911.

    I had the license number, description of the guy, and description of the truck. But the dispatcher didn’t want it. The conversation went like this:

    “That’s outside of our jurisdiction, ma’am. You will need to call the country sheriff… No, I can’t give you their telephone number, because 911 is only for EMERGENCIES. We are not directory assistance. Look it up! 911 is only for emergencies!”

    And so on. Note I’m calling from a pay phone and there’s no phone book.

    It’s my understanding that being a 911 dispatcher is a fairly low level job in a lot of police forces. But I think a lot of people who have that job get an over-inflated sense of their own importance, and a dim view of the people who call. They despise us all and are just itching to let us know how stupid we are. Combine that overweening self-importance with the low pay and lack of professional training, and the fact that almost no one calling 911 is calm enough to sound bright, and it’s no wonder they act the way they do.

    Still doesn’t excuse it.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  35. Z S wrote:

    This stuff happens to everyone. A friend of mine recently called police while fleeing from her b/f who had just violently and sexually assaulted her. She’d managed to get free, grab her phone and get out. She was scared to get in the elevator in case her signal died. So she ran down 10 flights of stairs, from which she made the call.

    She had to make 2 further phone calls to urge the cops to hurry, while hiding at a nearby garage (I think it was, if I remember rightly). 45 mins later the police showed up. They refused to look at the bruises and scratches all over her. They spoke briefly to the attacker, said, “It’s he said / she said” and left. That was all.

    For the record my friend is a “respectable”, white, Ivy League grad from a “nice”, wealthy, upper middle class family who are politically involved and well-connected. If such total disregard is what happens to a woman from what patriarchal society deems probably the most credible category of woman alive, it is no surprise whatsoever to me that other women are being betrayed even worse.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  36. Jesse wrote:

    I remember being a lifeguard, and having a situation where a young woman was screaming “Help me!” after she fell out of her canoe.

    Unlike the 911 operator, I had a clear physical understanding of the situation. I knew she was not in any danger of drowning. I also knew that as a life guard, my job included giving clear, guided instructions to help the young woman help herself.

    While the 911 dispatcher was not wrong to ask more follow up questions, the questions weren’t guided. Individuals with a stressed state of mind can’t follow the same thought process as they would with a normal state of mind.

    After the woman stated the man was trying to get back into the house, the dispatcher should have sent units ASAP. No question. I hope he loses his job.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  37. mightydoll wrote:

    I’ve called 911 twice in my life, both times in response to panicked women being chased by angry men outside my window and screaming for help. Neither time did police show up, and both times the operators were dismissive. One even told me that it was “probably just a domestic dispute”

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  38. Allison wrote:

    ““That’s outside of our jurisdiction, ma’am. You will need to call the country sheriff… No, I can’t give you their telephone number, because 911 is only for EMERGENCIES. We are not directory assistance. Look it up! 911 is only for emergencies!””

    God! I got that same shit from someone when I was trying to call the cops on this guy who ran me off the road after chasing me down the highway for a few miles (I had cut him off- not really, I gave him ample time to go and even did the little handwave thing… only then when I gave up and decided to just go did he decide to go as well).

    It wasn’t an emergency, I was fine, just in a ditch and a little shaken up by the crazy asshole. But like, man. Just give me the other number.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  39. Robert wrote:

    Too infuriating for words. Thirty years ago a friend of mine was shot to death by a burglar after spending the last moments of her life going through a variation of that conversation with a dispatcher while a patrol car was less than a block away. “Do you know the man who is trying to break in? Is it your boyfriend?” To think that so little has changed in all that time.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  40. Davey wrote:

    Just as a point of contrast of what happens to a white male living in New York City, I called 911 and told them that a man possibly had broken into my apartment while I was sleeping and I’d yelled at him to get out and he ran, but I had just woken up so I wasn’t sure if it was a dream or not. While I didn’t say so, it must have been obvious I was at the very least intoxicated. Ten minutes later, 8 cops were sitting at my kitchen table By the way, not a dream- The fucker ran off with my iPod and laptop.)

    Obviously because of my state, I don’t precisely remember the call, but I believe the operator was unfailingly polite and patient when questioning me.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  41. Vivian wrote:

    Frankly, it doesn’t matter if that’s the whole transcript or not. A few years back I got a job as a 911 dispatcher, went through the whole training, and worked at it for three months before realizing I’m not actually equipped for that kind of stress. (It takes a particular kind of person to be able to go to a job everyday where even if you do the best you can do, there’s a good chance someone will die.)

    There is no WAY anybody in the center where I worked would have thought it was acceptable to talk to ANYBODY that way. We had our share of crazies and false alarms and people who keep calling because they think the aliens are trying to kidnap their cat, but you’re still supposed to deal with all of these people professionally and compassionately. And when you’re dealing with someone who’s scared and in danger, the first thing you do is send the police, then you say “The police are on their way,” and THEN you get whatever other information you can so that you can pass it on to the officers and hopefully keep them from walking into danger.

    Obviously (given the clear and unfortunate evidence to the contrary) I’m not trying to say that dispatcher’s DON’T treat people poorly…just that they really should know better.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  42. June wrote:

    What the operator said was egregious (and had the boyfriend of Arraras actually choked her, I would think he should do jail time for manslaughter).
    I used to think of 9-1-1 as this absolute last resort that was guaranteed to work, I called for the first time as a kid for a family member who collapsed, and was put on hold for several terrifying minutes. Not because I wasn’t being taken seriously, but because the lines were incredible busy. For years after that experience I had nightmares of trying to dial 9-1-1 but the buttons would not work. Nevertheless, in my case, while I found 9-1-1 frustratingly inefficient, I did not find it to be corrupt as it clearly was in the Arraras case. I do think it’s important to note that there are many 9-1-1 operators who do their job well and I am grateful to them, it is an incredibly stressful job that not many people want to do. Maybe that’s why this guy hasn’t been fired yet. But boy, it is time for him to get sacked big time.
    Also, gathering information? No way. That guy was blatantly patronizing her.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Permalink
  43. alex wrote:

    Wow… As I was reading the transcript, I envisioned the 911 officer as a man, but upon listening to the call at the link that someone posted and hearing that she was actually also a woman changed the entire tone of the conversation, at least in my mind. Probably says something about how I judge people.

    I would encourage people to listen to the phone call if they’re really interested. The actual tone of both people changed my perspective entirely.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 10:58 pm | Permalink
  44. Meg wrote:

    While I’ve only called 911 once (witnessed an accident in a terrible rain-storm on the Penn Turnpike, got transferred to the Turnpike Authority when I said there didn’t seem to be injuries, they were very polite), my most disturbing incident with 911 wasn’t the dispatcher’s fault.

    I and a friend were walking back to a garage after seeing a museum show. We saw three girls in very fancy out-to-dinner clothes. A car pulled up next to them, three guys in ski masks (on a warm day in Florida) jumped out, picked one of the girls up, and shoved her in the back of their car. My friend whipped out her phone and punched in 911. The girl leaned out the window and yelled “It’s ok! they’re my friends!” I think the fact that we looked really upset and made her state it again several times (“Are. You. Sure?”) got the message across that most people take abductions on the street pretty damn seriously. Then we had to explain to the operator that the girl we saw stuffed into a car claimed it was a prank, because you cannot hang up on 911.

    I would hope that if I were ever kidnapped off a street, someone would call, and not assume it was a prank. I kind of wished we’d sent the police their license plate anyways, so that someone could drive home even more seriously how much you DO NOT mess around with stuff like that.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  45. Andrea wrote:

    When I worked in a public library in Queens, I called 911 ALL THE TIME. Once when my boss fell down the steps and couldn’t move (I had to call 911 twice for that one, because an hour and a half later they still hadn’t arrived and she was still on the floor), a couple times for gang incidents (which I had to try to diffuse myself when the cops were slow to show, or just wouldn’t show up at all, and I’m a short, slight woman), once when a man was threatening my co-worker (and, again, even though I said the threats were real and were happening right at that time, the cops didn’t show up until over an hour later).

    In fact, the only time they did show up quickly was when an elderly man collapsed. In the seconds after a placed the call, the man came to and begged me to call off the police because he didn’t have insurance. I called them 911 back, but the said help was on the way. Wouldn’t you know it, the one time it wasn’t dire that the cops to show up, they come with the EMTS and the Firemen within five minutes of the call.

    Reading this article and the comments confirms my frustration with 911. I wish it was a little bit more like 311, where the operators are more informed with a whole host of databases at their fingertips and a lot more patient.

    Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  46. Chris wrote:

    Thanks, Katy!

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  47. Ellie wrote:

    Why are you trying to defend this operator? Why do you think that somehow this person’s atrocious behavior is something you need to defend? Does it reflect on you somehow?

    Emily WK, when a woman speaks, a representative of the Devil’s Advocate Office is automatically appointed to enforce the Only Men Are Rational Act, as illustrated by the famous case Guyz Rool vs. Gurlz Drool.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  48. Ellie wrote:

    Thirty years ago a friend of mine was shot to death by a burglar after spending the last moments of her life going through a variation of that conversation with a dispatcher while a patrol car was less than a block away. “Do you know the man who is trying to break in? Is it your boyfriend?”

    Horrifying.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  49. Great post. Wanted to let you know it is this week’s BlogHer Voice of the Week post:
    http://tigerbeatdown.com/2010/06/22/lets-not-be-silly-the-marie-arraras-911-call-and-what-it-means/

    Thanks!
    Elisa Camahort Page
    for Elisa Camahort Page, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone, BlogHer co-founders

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

12 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amanda ReCupido, Amanda Hess, moira jones, Glenn, amanda and others. amanda said: Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means http://goo.gl/X6BU [...]

  2. Twitted by GarlandGrey on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    [...] This post was Twitted by GarlandGrey [...]

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]

  4. Twitted by edgery on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    [...] This post was Twitted by edgery [...]

  5. Keep Something and Do Something Else « E.Elizabeth on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 12:44 am

    [...] are some of the bleak statements that filled my pretty, little head after reading this post on one of my favorite [...]

  6. [...] feminist ladies at Tiger Beatdown make note of what currently holds the title of World's Worst 911 Call. Warning: it may upset you, and perhaps you've just had a relaxing [...]

  7. Turning now to the Word From Tiger Beatdown: « Dating Jesus on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 11:25 am

    [...] Right here. [...]

  8. [...] the operator on the other line was nasty and sarcastic throughout the entire urgent phone call. Tiger Beatdown posted a transcript of Arraras’ 911 call and you have to read it to believe [...]

  9. Suburban Guerrilla » Blog Archive » Let’s Not Be Silly on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    [...] You know how women are! [...]

  10. [...] closing: fat people don’t walk (an essay on urban design); a “silly” lady who desperately needed the 911 operator to listen (need help? these people can help); they hate us [...]

  11. [...] wants to play a game of 20 questions or something instead of sending help [Trigger warning] – Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means. Still don’t believe it? Maybe you should check out A Voice For Neli, [Trigger warning] an [...]

  12. [...] of women seek help from the system – only to be dismissed (remember this 911 call?), or to find that there are no more shelters (state of California). Oksana has a chance at justice [...]