Whatever else you might say about the debacle in Ferguson, Missouri, one conclusion is inescapable: the Ferguson police and city government have given us the perfect case study for how NOT to conduct police work.
In thinking about their mistakes, it struck me that the incompetent and inappropriate response of the Ferguson police, first to African-American teen Michael Brown, and then to the fatal shooting of Brown has so much in common with the typical incompetent and inappropriate practice of homebirth midwives.
The Ferguson Police Department treated Michael Brown, his fatal shooting, and the aftermath the same way homebirth midwives treat childbirth.
1. They use intuition instead of facts
Michael Brown was unarmed, he did not pose a deadly threat to the police officer who encountered him. Apparently, that’s not what the police officer thought. He saw a large black male coming toward him, and his “intuition” told him that large black males are thugs with guns. He trusted his intuition instead of accurately assessing the situation. He pumped 6 bullets into Michael Brown, including one into the top of his head, hitting him when he was falling to the ground. His intuition was wrong and Michael Brown is dead as a direct result of substituting intuition for facts.
2. They don’t check facts; they might find out something they don’t want to know
If the police officer who shot Brown had checked and found that he was unarmed, he would have had no pretext to shoot him. Or he might have left himself exposed to injury. If homebirth midwives ordered routine prenatal testing on their patients, they might have no pretext for claiming that the patients are low risk and therefore good candidates for homebirth. Better not to check.
3. Protect yourself first
This has been on ongoing theme in Ferguson. A police officer shot Michael Brown because he was protecting himself first. Brown was never a threat to him, but he feared that he was and reacted with that in mind. The Ferguson Police Department met the subsequent peaceful protests with an array of tremendous force thereby inflaming the situation further. They were more concerned with protecting themselves from the harm that they “intuited” would come from a large group of African-Americans peacefully protesting than with accurately assessing and appropriately managing the situation.
Homebirth midwives routinely protect themselves first and leave mothers and babies to fend for themselves. Their goal is to attend a vaginal birth, collect a fee, and face no consequences. When complications develop, they ignore them, and avoid transporting to more qualified providers until someone is dead or nearly so. They drop patients in emergency rooms or make family members take patients to emergency rooms rather than expose themselves to legal responsibility by accompanying their dead or dying patients. They coach patients to lie on their behalf since protecting them must always be the primary goal.
4. Blame the victim
The Ferguson Police Department was strongly counseled by both State and Federal authorities NOT to release the surveillance video that showed that Brown may have been involved in a convenience store robbery immediately prior to the shooting. That State and Federal officials understood that releasing the video would be (correctly) interpreted as an effort to smear Brown for “getting himself shot.” It’s all the more remarkable that they forged ahead with the release of the video while simultaneously acknowledging that the officer who shot Brown knew nothing about the alleged robbery at the convenience store. That was a tacit admission that the robbery was irrelevant to the shooting, and simply a way to imply that Brown “deserved” what he got.
Homebirth midwives are inordinately fond of blaming the victim. When a mother asks for an epidural or needs a C-section or other interventions, it’s because she didn’t eat right, didn’t exercise, had too much “fear” or lacked sufficient strength and commitment. When a baby dies it’s because the baby “was meant to die” and “babies die in hospitals, too.” Homebirth midwives routinely share personal patient information on the internet and message boards in an effort to justify their own conduct by blaming the patient for the disappointment, disaster or outright tragedy that befell her.
5. Refuse to accept responsibility
Never, ever apologize for what happened.
Imagine if the Ferguson Police Department had responded to the shooting of Michael Brown by admitting, up front, that it was a mistake, promising a thorough inquiry, treating protesters as people whose anger was justified and whose protests are protected by the Constitution. And imagine if they actually did regret what happened, and could be trusted to thoroughly investigate what went wrong, and to institute policies, procedures and training sessions to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. I suspect the situation would have played out very differently.
But they couldn’t do it, because that would mean accepting responsibility and in their view the responsibility belonged with the person who “got himself shot” and not with the officer who shot him. They argue that the police need to be free to do their jobs using whatever means necessary, and protecting themselves first, because anything else would result in them being unable to protect the public.
Homebirth midwives can’t accept responsibility. First they blame the victim for her own tragedy, even if the proximate cause is negligence of the homebirth midwife, Their certifying organization has literally NO safety standards, because standards would hold them open to censure if they violated them. There is no mandated peer review, no mandated training sessions, no discussions of how to prevent the same mistakes from happening over and over again. Instead, they argue that homebirth midwives need to be free to do their jobs whatever way they want to do them, because anything else would result in a restriction of women’s freedom to have the birth of their choice.
I dare to hope that at some point we will find out the truth about what happened to Michael Brown, but regardless I think we can say some things with certainty. When we allow professionals to substitute their intuition for fact finding, disasters will happen. When we allow professionals to smear victims instead of looking to their own conduct, innocent people will suffer. And when we let professionals avoid accountability people will die. It’s true for the police, and it’s true for homebirth midwives.