WARNING: The following post is political in nature.
Another unarmed person of color was shot by police in North Miami yesterday. Many of you have probably seen the headline, but in case you didn’t have time to read the whole article here is the short version: An autistic man ran away from his group home holding a toy car. Someone called the police to report an armed man on the sidewalk. His behavioral therapist came to help talk to him and bring him home. Police showed up and he told them he was a therapist, laid down on his back, and raised his hands over his head. The police shot him in the leg. They then rolled him over to his stomach and handcuffed him before offering him medical assistance. It took 20 minutes for the medic to arrive. He is currently in stable condition at the hospital where he told his story. He says that he asked the officer, “Why did you shoot me?” and the officer replied, “I don’t know.” I’m not sure how much more clear it can be to see that there is a problem with law enforcement training. Snap judgments have no place in law enforcement, whether it is about the color of someone’s skin or misconceptions about mental illness and disability. This was the perfect storm. People with disabilities are arrested, beaten, and shot nearly as often as people of color. In a recent conversation with a friend who is married to a law enforcement officer it was brought to my attention how mental illness can often be dangerous to the officer as well. I understand that somebody with severe issues like schizophrenia or someone with PTSD that causes them to snap and become violent can put an officer’s life in danger and often that means that force has to be used to protect themselves. However, it should still be the last resort. Often, though, it is the first. Additionally, there seems to be no training and definitely a lack of understanding about disabilities vs. mental health. A man with autism is very unlikely to be a threat. I have seen incidents where someone with a physical disability, such a cerebral palsy, was grabbed and dragged by police because they didn’t move as quickly as they were ordered to or because their body doesn’t move in the same way as most people, perhaps they have jerky movements or are not able to raise their arms, and the police officers overreact and end up beating that person.Someone who is deaf could fail to follow police orders because they don’t hear, or clearly understand, them and end up tazed or shot. There have been many cases where a homeless person has been beaten and it was obvious, at least to others, that they are disabled and that’s how they ended up on the streets in the first place. That in itself shows that our country has a major issue with mental health and with disability awareness. The people who have chosen to protect us are the ones who are in the most need of training about disabilities and mental illness. The need to know how to recognize possible issues and how to approach the suspect in a way that keeps themselves and the suspect safe. Time needs to be taken, just a few moments, to better assess the situation before innocent people are hurt or killed at the hands of law enforcement. Nothing can defend these types of actions and ignorance should no longer be allowed as an excuse. I believe that most of the officers in this type of situation are good people who are just untrained and it is society’s fault that they are left in ignorance. We all need to advocate for each other and demand better training because education and advocacy can make a huge difference in how well they do their jobs and it WILL save lives.
The article referenced in this post can be read HERE.