Disastrous Reunion to Lasting Legacy?
After nearly a decade dealing with family health crises, I arrived in Cville in the wee hours of the morning after a 17 hour drive. I was looking forward to trying to rebuild my life, seeing my family and getting reacquainted with UVA and Charlottesville for awhile.
Little did I know as I pulled up, less than 10 minutes away, lying on a jail floor covered in bodily fluids with her arms handcuffed behind her back was my beautiful daughter. Why was she there? Because she had consumed too much alcohol, and because her dear friend had made the mistake of going to the UVA Medical Center to try to save her life.
Instead of rebuilding, I was deluged with the job of trying to figure out how to deal with all the legal issues since we have never had any run-ins with the law--and the stakes were high as a felony conviction ruins your life. Doing this while on the edge of exhaustion and facing having to use tuition money for legal expenses was stressful in the extreme.
As I learned what happened and finally got to see the video, I was utterly dismayed. Watching the way Jess and her friend were treated in their hour of need by the police and medics became burned into my mind. The yelling, the shoving, the carelessness, the throwing on the ground, the screaming, and the arrest of someone that needed help, had no idea what she was doing and should have been in the hospital.
I developed mild PTSD symptoms and had trouble eating and sleeping. I kept waking up to people screaming at my daughter, and then I dreamed that I was getting a call that Jess had died in jail. Nearly every day I woke up to one of the two scenes playing in my head after fitful sleep.
As I started dealing with UVA, I was blown away by the attitude, that all this was normal and above board, that it wasn't even going to look into what happened. It seemed obvious to me that this is not how you treat people... the vibe I got back was that this was a purely criminal justice issue and that she got what she deserved.
Really? I started looking around at policing, at the Gordie Center, at alcohol's impact on youth... I went wandering in the wilderness. I tried looking at everything from various perspectives reading police blogs and watching police behavior being called out. I discovered Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington, as well as others who should have gotten help but didn't, and how their parents were treated. I read Police Chief David Couper's hopeful blog and met him near his home in WI, and much more including a lot of work done at UVA.
And even more powerful things awaited. My first, intuitive response to UVA was you need to fix your response to this kind of event. This "fix it" response led me to Michael Bell whose son was executed in front of his family in Kenosha by a police officer. I went down to demonstrate with them and met many people whose lives had been forever altered by police. Mr. Bell himself is a man that will never really recover. He was an Air Force pilot and also thought of applying NTSB techniques to policing to fix shooting investigations--the institutional opposition and conflicts of interest are tremendous and must be overcome.
Which brings us back to UVA. Out of the wilderness, I am more convinced than ever that how Jess and Audrey were handled is not how you treat people, that every encounter with a police officer or medic has the potential to change your life in ways that very few other things can, and that we need consummate professionals in these jobs that care about people. We must overcome the current attitude and conflicts so that when you see a Morgan or a Jess, or if you need help, you should not hesitate to call 911 and you should be happy to see an officer coming your way, not petrified. And even when serious crimes are interdicted, people still need to be treated with respect, the same way officers desire. Respect flows from the person and the conduct, not the badge and gun.
Campus safety is a good place to push the envelope on police and legal reform, on medic response, on alcohol education, on hospital and institutional transparency--especially at a research university willing to experiment. This site is a case study to re-examine what happened and make changes. It still reflects some anger, and some coping, but the hope is more for change, the way it was when I first wrote Dean Groves figuring there was no way this could be right. My instincts are still to make it better-- I have tried every which way to get UVA to listen and make sure our children are safer for over a year and half.
I was thrilled when my daughter got into a UVA. We encouraged her to go her even while she could have gone elsewhere for nearly free. We made huge financial sacrifices to get her here believing that it was a truly outstanding institution. Let's see it... starting with getting police off the medical care front lines. We must have competent rescue, not arrest when 911 is called.