Heartbreaking Read(s): The Participant Who’ll Never Tell Us His Story

A news story about a police officer (in Salt Lake City!) manhandling an ER nurse for RESISTING HIS AUTHORITAY!!! seemed almost too on-the-nose as an analogy for life during the Trump Occupancy. But there are real people at the heart of this metaphor, and the Washington Post followed up:

William Gray, a commercial truck driver and reserve police officer, died late Monday of the injuries he suffered when a fiery July 26 crash left him with burns over nearly half his body, University of Utah Health spokeswoman Suzanne Winchester said.

Gray was unconscious at the Salt Lake City hospital when police detective Jeff Payne asked to draw his blood hours after the crash.

Nurse Alex Wubbels refused because hospital policy required a warrant or patient consent. Payne handcuffed her and dragged her outside.

Gray was hauling a load of sand in northern Utah when a pickup truck speeding away from police crossed the center line and hit his truck head-on, causing an explosion. State police had been trying to pull over the pickup driver after several people called 911 to report he was driving recklessly.

Gray was not suspected of wrongdoing.

The pickup driver, Marcos Torres, 26, died in the crash, and Utah police routinely collect such evidence from everyone involved in fatal crashes.

Dramatic video of Wubbels’ arrest caught widespread attention online amid national scrutiny of police use of force. Payne and the supervisor who backed him, Lt. James Tracy, were placed on leave amid internal and criminal investigations…

Gray, 43, served with police in the southeastern Idaho city of Rigby. Chief Sam Tower said he was dedicated to the community of about 4,000 people and plowed snow from a sidewalk last winter so neighborhood kids wouldn’t have to walk in the street.

“Bill was truly the best of mankind,” Rigby police said in a Facebook post. “Always willing to help, always willing to go the extra mile. Bill was a big man, with a bigger heart. Everything about him was generous and kind.”…

Amy Davidson Sorkin, in the New Yorker, explains “What the Utah Good-Nurse, Bad-Cop Video Says About Medical Privacy”:

The story began on July 26th. That day, the police had engaged in a high-speed chase on a highway that ended with a deadly multi-vehicle crash. But this was not a cinematic case of, say, fugitive armed robbers. It began around 2 P.M., when the police received reports of a Chevrolet Silverado driving erratically. As the officers began their pursuit, the Silverado, now on US-89/91, swerved into a semi truck that happened to be on the road, causing an explosion. The driver of the Silverado, Marco Torres, who was twenty-six, was killed instantly. The truck driver, William Gray—who, in one of this story’s many byways, was a reserve police officer in Rigby, Idaho—staggered out of his semi, his clothes and body on fire. He was airlifted to the burn unit. One might wonder why the police wanted his blood, when he was, essentially, a bystander. The Utah police have said that it was meant for Gray’s protection, but Payne, in his report on the incident, obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune, said that the officers who were dealing with the crash wanted to know whether Gray had any “chemical substances” in his system. Another, troubling possibility could be that they were looking for something that might place some of the responsibility for the crash on Gray, in case he complained that the police had been reckless in their pursuit.

One way or the other, Payne wanted Gray’s blood. (He had been trained as a police phlebotomist.) “I either go away with blood in vials or body in tow,” Payne told Wubbels. Blood does not only indicate whether someone has had a few drinks, smoked marijuana, or used some other drug; it contains an extraordinary amount of information about a person, from genetics to medical conditions that have no effect on driving. The potential level of exposure in a blood test will only increase with future technological developments. That is why the hospital has its rules; that is why patient-privacy laws reflect those restrictions; that is why the Constitution, as the Supreme Court ruled as recently as last year, also forbids what Payne was insisting that Wubbels do. When she asked him, not for the first time, if he had a warrant, he said, “Nope,” in a tone suggesting that it was an irrelevant question. And yet the principles that underlie warrants—freedom from search and seizure, privacy—are the heart of this matter. “She’s the one that has told me no,” Payne said, when a supervisor on speakerphone asked why he was threatening to arrest Wubbels. Payne was not alone with Wubbels, as she shouted, “Help! Help! Somebody help me! Stop! Stop! I did nothing wrong!” Other police officers were at the hospital—three or four of them come and go in the video—and so were members of the University of Utah police, who stand there looking more or less dazed. Some seem to urge Payne to be more gentle, but no one stops him from hurting Wubbels. Paramedics make far more of an effort—one puts a hand on Wubbels’s shoulder until police wave him off, and they ask for the officer’s name and badge number as they call hospital officials for help…

Payne’s defense is that his lieutenant, James Tracy, whom he spoke to by phone, had urged him to arrest her. Tracy eventually arrives at the scene in the extended video, and appears to confirm that Payne acted on his instructions. Tracy also further berates Wubbels as she sits, handcuffed, in the police car. He tells her that, while she may be citing hospital rules, he has “the law” on his side, a formulation he repeats to one of the paramedics who approaches the car, saying, “There’s a very bad habit here of your policy interfering with my law.” When Wubbels says that she has an obligation “to my patient,” Tracy says that, if it turns out that the request from the police is in violation of the law, there are “civil remedies” that could come into play later: “If we took his blood illegally, it all goes away.” The implication is that it’s acceptable to violate a person’s rights and then wait and see if someone sues…

59 replies
  1. 1
    John says:

    Tracy and Payne both need to lose their jobs. This level of fundamental lack of understanding of the limits on their authority warrants nothing less. In particular, the level of force utilized was obviously intended to be punitive.

  2. 2
    piratedan says:

    not to mention the fact that they don’t even understand the law itself or the rights of individuals is telling, if their function really is “to protect and to serve”.

    Is it a motto or is it simply good PR?

  3. 3
    Paul T says:

    Add this future settlement to the list of billions that Taxpayers shovel out for police behaviour:


  4. 4
    A Ghost to Most says:

    Interesting Tracy called it “my law” instead of “the law”.

  5. 5
    ruemara says:

    How is it any different from all cops’ mentality?

  6. 6
    Citizen Alan says:

    Ten years ago, I would never have imagined having as much disdain and distrust of the entire law enforcement field as I do today. And the worst thing is that I’ve had several good friends who have become police officers over the last twenty years, and almost without exception I’ve watched all of them morph into authoritarians.

  7. 7
    Neldob says:

    And it’s going to get much more fun under Gorsuch.

  8. 8
    Uncle Ebeneezer says:

    @Citizen Alan: I was just thinking the other day that we really need a lengthy, unflinching, Ken Burns-level series taking a critical view of US policing complete with the hundreds of terrible stories of injustice and racial bias. I know it will never happen b cause even liberal PBS probably wouldn’t want to fund something so contentious. But the rotten nature of our system and the media’s and politician’s complicity in perpetuating it, really needs to be shouted out from the rooftops. Added: and yes I have seen 13th, Southland etc. I’m talking something epic in scope and totally one-sided (because the other side: yay police, blue lives etc. already gets way more attention than it should.

  9. 9
    Gravenstone says:

    Reserve police officer? So those fuckers were basically willing to try and smear one of their own to cover their own asses in the collision. Charming.

  10. 10
    ET says:

    @A Ghost to Most: I saw that and cringed. It seems to be the asking for forgiveness not asking for permission version of law enforcement.

    Both of those officers need to loose their job. Neither seems to actually understand that which they are charged to protect.

  11. 11
    Big Ole Hound says:

    All cops “know” they have the authority to order you to do anything they want and if you refuse you can be arrested, tased or shot. Plus the government keeps giving them left over war supplies which they use to knock on your door without a warrant,or declare any resistance to be a “situation” and call in a SWAT team. Disgusting.

  12. 12
    James Powell says:

    As a nation, we’ve pretty much given up on trying to make sure that assholes don’t get guns. Do you think it’s possible we could get people to agree that asshole shouldn’t get badges?

  13. 13
    OzarkHillbilly says:


    This level of fundamental lack of understanding of the limits on their authority warrants nothing less.

    If that’s the yard stick we are using, we’ll have to fire 80-90% of the police in this country. Sad to say, but it’s true.

  14. 14
    James Powell says:

    @Uncle Ebeneezer:

    we really need a lengthy, unflinching, Ken Burns-level series taking a critical view of US policing

    Based on his Civil War and Vietnam documentaries, I would never describe Ken Burns’ style as unflinching. More like bowing low to the powers that be. He’s more interested in being popular than being honest.

  15. 15
    Hal says:

    This is the attitude of so many police everywhere and also an issue that goes hand in hand with police brutality; the idea that police have a different rule book they play from and that they are not bound by the same rules as the rest of us.

  16. 16


    I saw that and cringed. It seems to be the asking for forgiveness not asking for permission version of law enforcement.

    This is what happens when the only penalty for failing to get a warrant is tossing the illegally gained evidence. Only when the police pay a personal penalty will they start to pay attention to the rule of law.

  17. 17
    PIGL says:

    Another, troubling possibility could be that they were looking for something that might place some of the responsibility for the crash on Gray, in case he complained that the police had been reckless in their pursuit

    Troubling possibility, or moral certainty? We report, you decide.

  18. 18
    trollhattan says:

    it’s acceptable to violate a person’s rights and then wait and see if someone sues…

    This BTW is the Libertarians dream replacement for a functional government. Somebody polluting your home? Sue. Somebody serve you contaminated food? Sue. Somebody poach wildlife from a National Park? Sue. What do we need all those pesky gummint departments for?

    Wubbels is “fortunate” to not belong to a minority group, as she may have received even more instant justice, becoming a patient in that very hospital. I’ll give 2:1 odds the Utah Police respond to this incident by lobbying the legislature to expand their access to warrantless searches.

  19. 19
  20. 20
    ET says:

    @Hal: And they wonder why so many people – not just African Americans – are skeptical of them.

    I am from New Orleans and growing up not too many “respected” the police – they always seemed to be one step removed from the worst of what the streets had to offer.The only difference was the uniform, the badge, and the unconcealed weapon. Of course NOLA’s police have been typically bad. And I am white and upper middle class. I was aware that cops dealt with the drunks in the quarter and the drug dealers on the corner and sympathized that neither were easy to handle, but as I have gotten older and more aware it seem that so often they seem to make things worse for themselves – by deliberately ignoring department policy and the law that is in some cases there to protect them as well. They act all condescending, surprised, wounded, or a**hole-ish when confronted with their bad behavior. As if the badge makes them less prone to human foibles than the rest of us.

    Urban police and police in general may have many examples of bad behavior that get officers killed/injured to point to, but they don’t seem as willing to take on the mantle that American history lays on them – it is littered with cops/aw enforcement who have used the power of the state badly – Hoover at the FBI, Bull Conner in Birmingham, Jim Clark in Alabama, all the police throughout the south that turned a blind eye or participated in the lynchings, etc, etc, ect. Then there is the sordid New Orleans police officers Antoinette Frank, Len Davis, and the Danziger bridge New Orleans officers. And those are the older cases is what I thought of in less than 30 seconds not the ones from the last few years – thinking a bit longer and with more research I am sure there are many, many names/situations to be added to the list. And they wonder why so many are ambivalent about them.

  21. 21
    Woodrowfan says:

    @Citizen Alan: same here. One of my best friends from High School is that way now. I always used to trust and respect the police. I don’t anymore..

    I still like Law & Order reruns* but now I view Lennie and his partners about the way I view Picard and Sisko. They might as well be Scifi set in the 24th century.

    * not SVU though. eww.

  22. 22
    Elizabelle says:

    Thank you for highlighting this, Anne Laurie. Haven’t had a chance to read it, but interested.

  23. 23
    StringOnAStick says:

    The rise of trump and the increase in authoritarian behavior by those in power at all levels from cop on up
    is definitely related. From the cop and law worship that’s been a TV staple for decades now to movies that celebrate the cop willing to illegally abuse the suspect, we’ve been primed to accept this.

    I never saw a cop the 10 days we were in Austria, just a few at the airport. Then we landed at JFK, which is a crappy airport, handles a ton of international traffic and has a chaotic passport control area, citizen or not. I just love dealing with snarly people in uniform after an 8 hour flight, and as a white middle class middle aged US citizen I know I get treated better than those who lack any of these attributes. Welcome to America!

  24. 24
    Roger Moore says:


    And they wonder why so many people – not just African Americans – are skeptical of them.

    I don’t think they do; they lack the kind of willingness to introspect that requires. Instead, they have a set of comfortable stories they tell themselves about how they’re the thin blue line holding back chaos, the silent majority supports them, and anyone who questions their actions is an enemy who despises all they stand for.

  25. 25
    Elizabelle says:

    Anne: your WaPost link is borked (extra http in it), although it seems to be an AP story, not WaPost reporting, so we could go with something that is not paywalled. As is the Bezos Post.

    Here’s a link to same apparent story, via the CBC in Canada, with photo and some other useful info.

  26. 26
    opiejeanne says:

    What’s been forgotten in this discussion is a rather large detail, that the police department had signed an agreement with the hospitals in town that they need either consent from a conscious patient or the warrant in order to collect blood.

    This was part of their own policy.

  27. 27
    Elizabelle says:

    Here’s another WaPost story on Mr. Gray’s death, by WaPost reporter Susan Hagan.

    WaPost: The patient a Utah nurse protected before her high-profile arrest dies

    Link to Landline, trucker news; writer copied a line out of AP story and it popped up too. However: check out the comments — first one, by a former police supervisor who now fears the police is interesting. And another commenter suggests police wanted to draw blood in event they could try to clear themselves for a chase that resulted in two deaths.

    Poor trucker. Wrong place, wrong time.

  28. 28
    Woodrowfan says:

    From Blade Runner. You’re not cop, you’re little people


  29. 29
    RSR says:

    Here in Philadelphia, many teachers have vowed to withhold information about students if requested by ICE or other law enforcement. The teachers have received training on the rights of immigrant students, and would be following the law to withhold that information.

    I’m dreading the day that a situation devolves into what happened in Utah.

  30. 30
    trollhattan says:

    As a random aside, Utah has legalized teachers packing heat in the classroom. Think of the possibilities.

  31. 31
    trollhattan says:


    WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an experience that he called “traumatic” and “horrifying,” the departing Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, was seated between two screaming babies Friday night on his first-ever commercial flight.

    Price, who was flying from Washington, D.C., to his home in Georgia just hours after resigning from his Cabinet position, reacted with alarm after discovering that the airline had assigned him a middle seat between two passengers holding inconsolably shrieking babies on their laps.

    Moments after making his terrible discovery, Price urgently called for a flight attendant and reportedly told her, “There are babies on this aircraft. That can’t possibly be allowed.”

  32. 32
    Big Ole Hound says:

    @trollhattan: Hey, your living up to your “name”. I hope he was dragged off the flight by overzealous TSA agents.

  33. 33
    Arclite says:

    Wasn’t this a HIPAA violation? The criminal punishment for that is pretty steep.

  34. 34
    Davebo says:

    I find it hard to believe that an officer trained as a phlebotomist didn’t know the law concerning taking blood samples.

    He just didn’t care.

  35. 35
    Davebo says:

    @Arclite: I doubt it since, in the end, they never got the blood they wanted.

  36. 36
    trnc says:

    @Uncle Ebeneezer:

    liberal PBS

    Yeah, I remember those days before “questions continue to surround the Clinton Foundation” and weekly (or more) stories about the people who still support Chief Idiocrat.

  37. 37
    Ella in New Mexico says:

    This story was a unanimous source of outrage for all of us in nursing. Not only do laws nationwide DEMAND a police officer has a warrant for labs like this, every single state board of nursing has ethics rules, and we can all potentially lose our licenses for infringing them–including not upholding patient privacy protection laws. NOTHING she did was wrong or improper. These officers will lose, and the department will take a huge hit for their poor supervision and training.

    Nurses are there to advocate for their patient, to be the one, final person that speaks for them when they cannot. We are all so proud of this nurse, nationwide.

    The hospital needs to be held accountable too, and if I were her, I’d sue my employer, too. The administration and supervisors on duty that day FAILED this nurse. I cannot imagine this ever happening at MY hospital, for example, because our administrators would have stepped in immediately. (and short of that, I’m pretty confident that a few of us would have been in the guy’s fucking FACE until things got worked out ). The police are allowed to be present in emergency rooms or patient areas ONLY if they are there legally (warrants, escorting a jailed prisoner, etc), and are behaving. Otherwise, they are no more entitled to be there than any citizen. I hate to say it, but I think the general culture in Utah, and the Mormon touch it exerts, tends to be obedient to law enforcement and those in power, and it lead to them all being like deer stuck in the headlights on this one. Here in New Mexico, we’re a little more diverse, and thus feisty ;-)

    She has huge support nationwide, and if she files a civil lawsuit, I’m betting she can quit her job. She’ll have a new career as a conference speaker in any case.

  38. 38
    Ruckus says:

    @Ella in New Mexico:
    A lot of places where religion is a dominate factor will have people who just follow along, be under authority. That after all is the basis of what they believe, some sort of higher power.
    Also, none of this is new. I did a ride along about 45 yrs ago with a HS buddy who had become a deputy. He stopped and did an illegal search on a fellow and arrested him for the smallest doobie I’d ever seen, before or since. I asked my buddy about this after he’d taken the guy to jail. “Wasn’t that an illegal search?” “Oh yeah, but I got his dope and he’s spending 3 nights in my jail. He’ll be out on Monday because the DA won’t prosecute.” He knew it was illegal, he knew the only penalty was the one he imposed, he didn’t give a fuck. Not the same as someone getting beaten or this woman getting arrested, but wrong all the same. He didn’t care about anyone’s rights, only that he got to play good guy/bad guy. Last time I saw or talked to this guy.

  39. 39
    Ohio Mom says:

    @ET: Engaging the hive mind to list examples of police brutality would result in a very long thread.

    Police always creep me out and I am a small, late middle-aged, middle-class white woman, so not a member of any group they usually directly terrorize.

    Even so, on the rare occasions when I’ve had ocassion to call on them to help me — thinking here particularly when our cars were vandalized sitting overnight in our driveway in our suburban cul-de-sac and a cop came out to write up a report for insurance puposes — I am uneasy and anxious for them to leave.

    Ultimately, the purpose of the police is to protect the wealthy and their property. Gratuitously keeping us all frightened and intimidated is a foundational method of achieving that purpose.

  40. 40
    Starfish says:

    The Washington Post link is missing a colon.

  41. 41
    sharl says:

    @ruemara: How is it any different from all cops’ mentality?

    It depends on who has called the cops, as I’m sure that you – as a person of color – are aware. As a white guy, I have pretty good odds of getting Officer Friendly when I report a crime, and it’s likely s/he will take my complaint seriously and deal with me with a measure of respect and professionalism. In the absence of having the Low Melanin box checked on my privilege card, chances are good the cop would first run my name/ID for wants and warrants before taking down my details, assuming that last bit would happen at all.

    Things have been different for awhile for poor rural whites, especially where mental illness is involved. Untrained and thuggish cops are often the rule there, and I’ve read plenty of anecdotal accounts of people who say these cops were the bullies at the high schools they all once attended. As more white folk fall into poverty – which seems likely given current trends – and as more cash-strapped local governments have reduced funds for proper LEO hiring and training, I don’t see this getting better, for anybody.

    White folk who are relatively prosperous and live in the suburbs or exurbs will likely still have Officer Friendly to protect them, while even a prosperous person of color (e.g. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates)* may well not be so lucky. One advantage of having social media available to all (availability of affordable internet access permitting) are the discussions taking place on these topics. For example, it came as news to me** when a well informed woman posted online about raging discussions going on in feminist discussion groups about whether calling the cops is ~ever~ a good idea. Factors of race and economic class seem to be the major components in determining whether that will work out for a woman, though in cases of sexual assault or domestic violence, being white and affluent may still not be enough. (**And really, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but then Male is also checked on my privilege card, and with privilege often comes blissful ignorance.)

    *That Wikipedia post on the Gates arrest incident has a very weird ending:

    Relations with Crowley since the incident

    During an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Gates stated that relations between him and Crowley are amicable. He also revealed that he asked Crowley for a sample of his DNA and interestingly enough, he and Crowley are actually distant cousins and share a common Irish ancestor. On the show, Gates stated that Crowley recently gave him the handcuffs used in the arrest. When asked what he would do with the handcuffs, Gates stated that he plans to donate the handcuffs to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

  42. 42
  43. 43
    Uncle Ebeneezer says:

    @James Powell: I meant in terms of artistry and ratings, not the message which for Burns is usually way too Both-Sides for my taste.

  44. 44
    artem1s says:

    This is gonna get real interesting now that the LEOs have started to attack other first responders. When the fire fighters and EMTs and nurses start to wise up that they are not exempt from the new military police state, we may actually see some reform.

  45. 45
    Ruckus says:

    That story of my “friend” up thread? The arrested man was white, pleasant, non threatening, did not resist in any way. He did have long hair though. He was still illegally arrested.
    I don’t trust cops, not because I’m black – which I assuredly am not, but because I’ve seen that there is no way to know what they will do. Several cases lately have been where one or two cops are being reasonable, have detained someone without harm and are ready to release him when up drives officer asshole who gets out of the car and just shoots the guy. No that’s wrong, he gets out of the car and murders the guy. In cold blood. I seem to recall a movie from a long time ago called In Cold Blood, it was rather chilling, that murder was. And just because cops do the same thing doesn’t make it any better.

  46. 46
    sharl says:

    @Ruckus: Thanks for bringing up your earlier comment – I responded to ruemara right after seeing her comment, without checking out the rest of the thread.

    You make a good point – I think it’s “otherness” that so often gets people busted illegally, unfairly, and as you note – so often unpredictably.

    As an example, my guess is white Juggalos – and most of them (though not all) are white – experience a wide discrepancy in their treatment by cops depending on whether they are wearing that face paint so many of them seem to favor. The face paint makes them easy marks for a cop who is making an arrest quota, bucking for a bonus or promotion, or just being an asshole. I’ll bet that – even before the FBI classified them as a gang – arrest statistics would bear out a painted-vs-unadorned face difference.

    So I’m sure you are correct that a disturbing number of cops are all-around assholes, though whether they would bear down harder on people of color – whether of their own volition or under orders from their management – would only be knowable from what kind of communities they police. Having said that, cops of the type you rode with deserve no extra points for being equal opportunity pricks.

  47. 47
    Mike G says:


    I just love dealing with snarly people in uniform after an 8 hour flight, and as a white middle class middle aged US citizen I know I get treated better than those who lack any of these attributes.

    I’m in the same demographic and US immigration is a horrid combination of a cattle yeard and what I imagine it’s like being processed into jail. And what a rotten introduction to the country for foreign travelers, though that’s likely a feature not a bug for Trumpanzees. Probably the second-worst I’ve experienced anywhere, and the other was a former Soviet republic a couple years after the breakup. But nobody cares because we’re-Murka-fuck-you is the dominant mentality.

  48. 48
    Capri says:

    I was a member of a jury last winter in a case where the defendant was charged with resisting arrest (along with some other stuff). The defendant was literally the only African-American in the court room. There was a dash cam on the police car that was played as evidence – in which 2 police officers and a dog took down the defendant, who was arguing with them, but otherwise totally non-aggressive. Two police officers testified in what looked like full SWAT gear- radio in ear, bullet proof vest, etc etc. They looked like they were Halloween costumed, and as they talked all I could think was “don’t they have dress blues or some such for court ?” You could tell they thought they were extremely impressive and also if they seemed sincere on the stand the jury wouldn’t care that what they said and what was shown in the dash cam were different. We did – the person was found innocent on all counts. It made me feel a little better about my fellow man.

  49. 49
    Ruckus says:

    Not disagreeing with a word of yours.
    This was just a small story to point out that racism may be the original sin in this country and is still a very real and horrible issue, but my point was that cops can be assholes just because they have a badge and a gun. If you are black there is a much higher chance you might die because of a cop, but there is always the chance any cop can decide that you need to suffer no matter what you look like or what you do. Big city, small town, blue state, red state it doesn’t really matter. Cops are on their own side, we are not on that side. And there still are a lot of cops that can be decent people, that believe in the job as normal non cops see it, but all it takes is one asshole and they seem like they will back that one up 100% no matter what s/he does. Decades ago I used to think there were and always would be a few bad apples. Now I’m convinced that there are at best, a few good cops, that barrel is rotten to the core. And another friend, who was a cop for 30 yrs tells me that is absolutely true. He said and I believe him that he could not wait to get his 30 in and get out. He harbors no illusions about what his profession has become.

  50. 50
    Ruckus says:

    At least they didn’t Rambo up and kill him.
    I’d bet that was what was going through their minds as they sat there and lied about why they did what they did. Also don’t want to bet that they learned anything. They won’t change one iota. As others have said up thread, there is no penalty for their behavior and in fact I’d bet there is at least tact approval in the station house along the lines of “You’ll get’em next time.”

  51. 51
    lethargytartare says:

    @James Powell:

    Based on his Civil War and Vietnam documentaries, I would never describe Ken Burns’ style as unflinching. More like bowing low to the powers that be. He’s more interested in being popular than being honest.

    I’ve heard several comments like this and was wondering – where do you guys get a copy of this “True History as seen on Balloon Juice?”

    do you all have the same edition, or do I have to read each of your personal favorites before I’m allowed to enjoy a Burns documentary?

  52. 52
    sharl says:

    @lethargytartare: I found a lot to admire in Ken Burns’ PBS Civil War series, but I also take some of the criticism of him seriously. I’m not a historian, but my impression is that many (if not most) historical accounts are flawed and incomplete by themselves, because even small historical events are bigger than any one account or even weighty tome can describe.

    A lot of us long time lurkers/commenters probably remember long-ago front pager Dennis G. (aka dengre), who was rather passionate about civil rights matters and how the Civil War was/is reported and remembered. For example, Dennis had real problems with Burns’ inclusion of so much commentary from Shelby Foote with little direct push-back. One sample from a comment (#76) he made under his own 2011 front-page post:

    Like you I just re-watched it when it was on PBS last week and I had watched it last year as well.

    The trouble is that Burns relies very much on the “Reconciliation” filter as his central organizing principle. Second to that is just a ton of Lost Cause nonsense. The use of Shelby Foote as our guide to understanding the conflict meant that Lost Cause frame was always there. Burns did, to his credit, include some aspects of the Emancipation understanding and a little bit about African Americans being active in their own liberation, but even that ultimately was in the service of the “Reconciliation” filter which was in the service of the “Lost Cause” filter.

    Missing from his documentary was why fighting for the Union mattered. In fact, not only is it missing, the cause of Union is discounted as something not worth fighting for at all. Still, the voice of the Union cause comes though when the voices of folks who fought for it from Lincoln to Sullivan Ballou are quoted:

    Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

    The Burns doc is an important work, but it is flawed by what it intentionally left on the cutting room floor.

    So my $0.02 worth is to enjoy the show, but from an intellectual/learning perspective, don’t absorb it all unquestioningly.

  53. 53
    sharl says:

    @sharl: LOL, after posting this comment I went back to Dennis’ old post and scrolled beyond his comment. This reply to him (comment #80) makes some legitimate points in my opinion, though it’s a lot harsher than I think it should be:

    your naive belief in the inherent goodness of America is so cute!

    “That neocons misquote Lincoln”

    They’re not misquoting him, they’re quoting him (accurately).

    “Lincoln’s phrase that America was ‘the last best hope of earth’ may or may not be true today, but in 1861 it was a very real and widespread belief—and it was something that millions of loyal Americans were willing to fight to defend.”

    The numbers of people who die fighting for an ideal are completely and totally irrelevant. If we measured ideas by the willingness of people to fight and die for them, then (purely by the numbers) Stalinist totalitarianism would be history’s greatest idea and German militarism would be preferable to American democracy.

    “And so I wonder—what do you want to replace America with and what is your plan to get it done?”

    I don’t have “a plan,” and never said I did. I just laughed at your ignorant and idiotic pimping of the savage, laughable, and idiotic idea that America is (or has ever been) “the last best hope of earth.”

    I have no time for meaningless and vacuous moralizing and nationalist posturing. Apparently you do

    Yep, we need to be able to honor and celebrate the good things our forebearers did, while acknowledging the often dubious nature of their motivations and their often wretched personal failures (slave ownership & whatnot).

  54. 54
    The Moar You Know says:

    This is gonna get real interesting now that the LEOs have started to attack other first responders.

    @artem1s: We in San Diego are having an interesting development where the local CHP has started arresting paramedics and firemen for not clearing from the freeways after crashes, even when there are still people on scene needing help. I’m not sure exactly what the fuck this is all about and neither is anyone else, but it’s more than a bit worrisome.

  55. 55
    Mnemosyne says:


    Argh. My stupid wi-fi connection ate this comment. Trying again.

    A few years ago, the Huntington Library (which has a large collection of Civil War diaries and letters) came across a cool find: a diary entry where the Union soldier mentioned that he and his friends were going sightseeing to see “where Solomon Northup was a Slave.” Northup’s 12 Years a Slave had been a massive bestseller in the North and this soldier and his friends had joined the Union Army in part because Northup’s story had moved them and made them determined to lay down their lives to end the evil that Northup had been forced to live.

    Those idealistic young men have been written out of history by Shelby Foote and other Lost Causers, who prefer to think that the North didn’t really have a problem with slavery, they were just being assholes.

  56. 56
    sharl says:

    @Mnemosyne: That DOES look like a nice find. Got it open in another tab for later reading. Thanks!

  57. 57
    LosGatosCA says:


    The police have taken the very clear position across the entire country that they are above the law, beyond any accountability to ‘civilians’, without any obligation to anything except the blue code of silence.

    This predates Trump by decades.

    Honestly, what’s the point of being a cop if you can’t command instant, unquestioned compliance without being hassled?

  58. 58
    Ian R says:

    @The Moar You Know: That seems like a great way to ensure that other first responders take the time to clear the scene thoroughly, meticulously, and very slowly before getting around to any injured cops.

  59. 59
    Matt says:


    TBH, the quickest way to filter out the crooked police would be for the whole force to report to their lockup, get in the cells, and throw away the keys. The rare ones who aren’t actively fascist are passively complicit.

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