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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.


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.


  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Chris wrote:

    Thanks, Katy!

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  6. 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
  7. 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?”


    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  8. Great post. Wanted to let you know it is this week’s BlogHer Voice of the Week post:

    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

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