In the wake of the surprising results of 2016’s presidential election, from which Donald J. Trump emerged as President-Elect, protests and demonstrations have been taking place throughout the country. On November 15, one week after Election Day, a report of anti-Trump protestors blocking an ambulance—with fatal results—began to circulate on social media. The report, which appears to be a screenshot of a Facebook private message, claims that the message’s author was transporting a patient, the father of a 4 year-old girl, when the ambulance was blocked from reaching its destination by a group of anti-Trump protesters, resulting in the death of the patient. The message in its entirety reads:
“I have to unfacebook for a few days. I had a patient die during a transfer last night because our ambulance was stopped by protesters and had to drive an extra 45 minutes around the blocked roads. I can’t today. They can give their f*cking safety pins to my patient’s fatherless 4 year old daughter.”(1)
Without any specific references to a location or EMS agency, the claim is difficult to verify. And as popular fact-checking site Snopes.com points out, the scenario of protesters blocking an ambulance and the resulting death of the patient has become a popular trope in the discourse surrounding the issue of protests in recent years. A similar case, reported in July 2016 and later determined to be false, involved the death of a pediatric heart-transplant patient during a transport interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters.
But while the pediatric heart-transplant case was proven false, and the veracity of the father’s case remains to be determined, reports of ambulances stopped by protesters are not a figment of the collective imagination of conservatives looking for reasons to condemn protests. There are numerous instances of true cases of protester-driven transport delays all over America. In Easton, Massachusetts, an ambulance transporting patients in critical condition from a motor vehicle accident became entangled with Black Lives Matter protesters and had to be diverted from the Level I Trauma Center that was their original destination—meaning that the care the patients received at the lower-level hospital to which they were diverted was not as comprehensive as the care the Level I Trauma Center could provide. (3,4) Another Black Lives Matter protest in Memphis, Tennessee impacted patients in West Memphis, Arkansas who needed to cross the I-40 Bridge to reach hospitals in Memphis, TN while the bridge was shut down for the protest. The patients, who included a possible heart attack and a high-risk premature pregnancy, only reached definitive care in Memphis after what West Memphis EMS Director Chris Brogdon referred to as “not an amount of time beneficial to the patient.” (5) The same protest also trapped a baby being transported by his parents on the I-40 Bridge; a paramedic from Crittenden EMS (Arkansas) was able to reach the baby by driving up the wrong side of the bridge from West Memphis. After picking up the baby, the paramedic drove back across the bridge to West Memphis and took an alternate route over I-55, which added an additional 25 minutes to the transport. (6,7,8) Similar incidents also occurred in Berkeley, California and in London, Great Britain, both involving Black Lives Matter protests.(9,10)
However, the cases in which there was an actual incident of protesters blocking ambulances don’t seem to go viral—at least, not on the national scale that the false reports do. The reporting of the incidents also is largely confined to local publications. The question is, why? Why are false claims being fabricated when there are plenty of actual incidents that could be pointed out?
The false cases that do go viral are most frequently disseminated by ideological conservatives and other individuals who are opposed, often vehemently, to protests in any way, shape, or form. This may offer one answer to this seemingly contradictory phenomenon—local news reports are often geographically self-limiting, so someone wanting to spark outrage over the issue of protesters blocking ambulances might find it easier to fabricate a report, which they can infuse with as much pathos as they desire. Once they have their ‘evidence’ in hand, it is a simple matter of making sure it crosses the desks of the numerous conservative news sites that are frequent purveyors of misleading or inaccurate information.
The question of the legitimacy of protesters versus the legitimacy of EMS services, and whether one negates the other, is an entire discussion in and of itself, and one I will not go into in this post. I will conclude by saying that regardless of the causes, effects, or moral questions, the trope of ‘No justice, no EMS’ appears to be here to stay—and if recent events are indication, it’s a trope we’ll be seeing rather a lot of in the near future.