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Police Brutality and Disability: When You Can’t Comply

text in light yellow, red, and blue sits on a black background that reads stop police violence against disabled lives.

I keep seeing people say, “you won’t get killed if you just listen to the cops. Don’t move. Listen and follow directions by the cops.”

We know for black people, this isn’t true. Black people get killed even when following directions. We saw that with Philando Castile, just recently. He was completely honest about having a legally obtained concealed carry permit. He was completely honest about having a gun in the vehicle. Yet he still was killed. We know this is because of profiling. We know this is because of racism.

text in light yellow, red, and blue sits on a black background that reads stop police violence against disabled lives.

But what about people, of any race who don’t comply, or who are unable to comply fast enough? What if those individuals are unable to do that? I am afraid every day something will happen to my son. What will happen if by some chance, he happens to have an encounter with the police? He is autistic, and people stare at him all the time because they say he is “behaving oddly” just because he is consistently stimming, and consistently moving. People call the cops on anyone they believe is acting peculiar, and though my girlfriend and I love him because of all of his eccentricities, not everyone is as accepting. In fact, most people are downright rude.

He has been threatened by neighbors just for going out of our home to get the mail. He has been told to stay in our home and not even take walks outside if he, “wants to not get hurt.” All of this is because people think he is different. He is not a threat anyone. In fact, like many disabled people he is more likely to harm himself than anyone else. Even when people are downright cruel, he does not respond with anger. Usually, he will shut down, unable to speak or communicate in any way, instead.

So, what if someone finds him peculiar enough to call the cops? What if they tell him to stop moving, and stand still? What if they tell him to put his hands behind his back? Standing still for him is nearly impossible. He literally cannot do it. He needs to be moving, so he can process everything else spinning around him, spinning around in his mind. Moving around calms him. Standing still assaults his senses, and makes it hard for him to focus on anything or anyone. If they touch him, especially in that moment, his senses will become so overloaded, he will start panicking, and to save himself his first instinct will be fight or flight. So he will run. So he will resist. So he will try to squirm away, and maybe even push them away, all in an attempt to save himself.

He also will struggle to follow commands, especially under pressure, not because he chooses not to listen, but because he needs time to process commands or any words being enunciated at him. Sometimes we have to repeat ourselves, because his brain is moving so fast, what we are saying isn’t always heard or comprehended by him. There is a huge possibility he would have trouble complying, and may even go into a meltdown where he is completely unable to respond at all from the stress.

These same kinds of things happen to other autistic people, those with mental health disabilities, those with intellectual disabilities, and people who are Deaf. People who are Deaf literally cannot hear the commands, ‘turn around’, ‘put your hands up’, or anything else. Some have been shot in the back, because they were unable to hear what the police were telling them to do. Other disabled people are physically unable to comply with police commands. These are the people who are overwhelmingly getting killed.

Do these individuals truly deserve to die, because they can’t follow a command, not because they choose not to, but because they are physically or mentally unable? Many individuals who are black or other people of color who are being killed by the police, are also disabled. Many of these individuals had 911 called because they were having a health crisis. Instead of helping them, they were killed by the police. One man was having a stroke, and the police tasered him repeatedly, and then threw him out of his car, onto the ground, where he was then run over by his own vehicle.

Just because someone does not comply does not mean they are doing so purposefully. Often, they are unable to comply. Often, they cannot handle being restrained because having strangers touch them or pin them down sends them into a panic, and often they don’t understand why they are being restrained in the first place. Restraint is often more dangerous, and causes these individuals to fight back because they feel a sense of panic.

What do you expect them to do when they are panicking? What would you do? You would probably fight back, too. The police are not trained to handle disability or mental health issues, and they need to be! Until then, maybe consider the reason they were not complying was because they weren’t able to do so.

*Written with the express permission and guidance of my young adult son.

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3 comments

  1. Son,

    I am glad you consented to Dominick writing this.

    #unabletocomply
    Adelaide Dupont recently posted..#majellaproject #campnanowrimo schedule and days

  2. I enter and exit my vehicle from the passenger side because I leave my wheelchair in the passenger seat when I drive. What if i am stopped by police and told to exit my vehicle? What happens if I open the passenger door? Is this perceived to be non compliance? Based on recent shooting the answer is a resounding yes. Next time I am pulled over I will fear for my life.

  3. Very pertinent and very well written. Thank you for this.

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