August 13 2 min read
Shared with Public
But right now, Senator Chuck Schumer is currently battling the DOJ over who will control the funds for the surveillance of autistic children and adults who wander under Kevin and Avonte's Law.
This is the latest chapter in the continued tragedy of another crop of ID tag monitoring initiatives paired with autism awareness training. These initiatives are meant to give autism parents that false sense of security that their offspring won't be harmed in an encounter with police.
I used to believe such training was the magic bullet that would solve this. I watched while one disabled POC after another died at the end of such encounters and wept, realizing I was totally wrong.
Any law enforcement ID program, registry of biometric information and DNA, or other such efforts to reduce catastrophic encounters with disabled community members who are neurodivergent or have an invisible disability label do not help the potential victims. They may reduce law enforcement risk, and they may make families and police feel better. Tagging humans without their consent and surveilling them does not reduce wandering it may or may not make it easier to find missing autistics. But regarding the death toll of neurodivergent African Americans caught in catastrophic encounters with law enforcement, nothing has changed. They are still dying regardless of how much training, IDs, tracking, or biometric database building is involved.
That means this is not working for our families.
I breakdown when I am forced to repeat the names of every young autistic African American who was shot dead by officers who knew their disabilities, were already trained in de-escalation techniques, were carrying tasers but used guns instead [see Stephon Watts ], and in some cases actually knew the victims personally from previous encounters [see Paul Childs III.] Some of the officers involved in some of the shootings and excessive use of force incidents had histories of prior bad acts that received little or no disciplinary action [see Gilberto Powell’s case].
I want anyone reading this to feel our people's pain. We can only reduce the deaths and irreparable harm when we understand that repeating and mandating solutions that aren't working perpetuate the cycle of harm to disabled Black populations.
All these programs that flip the responsibility for being victimized to the disabled person in crisis and present the solution as somehow being centered on wearing identification, carrying communication cards, or being known to law enforcement as a neurodivergent individual need to leave the catastrophic police encounter conversation. We have to consider what it means to have identification tags hanging all over our loved ones letting anyone and everyone know our disabled folks are vulnerable and excellent targets. We have to approach these things better than mandating solutions without including folk who know what it means to be autistic and marginalized in multiple ways. These people may be invaluable in crafting better solutions. I cannot emphasize enough that not listening to everyone in this conversation is costing lives.
It should not matter whether or not a person is visibly disabled. It should not matter what the respectability factor of a citizen is. We all have Miranda rights, civil rights, and the right to equal humane treatment by law enforcement and criminal justice representatives in our country.
We have all seen enough videos of law enforcement officers dumping visibly disabled people out of their wheelchairs and forcing off prosthetic limbs and crutches from citizens to understand by now that being aware a person is disabled doesn't prevent deaths or excessive use of force during engagement of those in crisis.
The most infamous historical instances of wrongful incarceration, wrongful institutionalization, and eugenics programs always began with asking the future victims to carry special identification, wear visible badges, distinctive clothing, or segregate themselves from the rest of society in very specific ways that allowed them to be easily singled out or rounded up for harm later.
Neither parents nor any other stakeholder in the disability justice conversation should be lulled by the myth that somehow, autistic loved ones will be saved if the police get more disability identification or autism training or autistic offspring have a big red sign on them saying I AM [fill in invisible disability label]. All of these methods of risk reduction depend entirely on the good graces of the officers. They also could actually open an avenue to deflect liability from city and state government by giving them a loophole to avoid responsibility for harm to citizens who won’t or can't carry these extra identity cards. Should autistic children and adults register themselves in law enforcement databases, particularly in a world of racial and ableist profiling? What are the ethical and legal concerns regarding DNA kits given to law enforcement in case an autistic child goes missing in an age where police are grabbing familial DNA without consent to aid in criminal investigations? These are things we must think about carefully before pushing for mandated autism registries and other things that might come back to harm our loved ones.
Think! What makes us believe this when every single disabled person who has died never had the opportunity to show any officer ID or anything other proof of disability because the distance they stood from those who shot them dead was too far to do anything of the sort? I need to reiterate what has been pointed out about the shooting of Korryn Gaines: "While the Baltimore County Police Department is equipped with a Mobile Crisis Team that "pairs a mental health clinician with a police officer to provide emergency police response to persons in need of crisis intervention," this unit was never called in to de-escalate the situation. Korryn Gaines was shot through the outside wall of her house and her toddler son, who they knew was in her arms because she was live-streaming this, was shot in the process. What good would Korryn's ownership of ID with “I am a childhood victim of the lead paint problem that Maryland government refuses to hold slum lords accountable for and have a permanent intellectual disability as a result” have done here?
The task before us is to reduce encounters altogether, spend money on community-based crisis response and respite centers, and educate communities about how to be more inclusive of their neurodivergent members. Mobile crisis response teams do no good if they aren't deployed and tactical assault teams are sent instead.
I have so much going on right now but this issue upsets me so much I made the time I frankly don’t have to write this. Again. If we don’t address the true problem our neurodivergent loved ones will keep paying the price with their lives.
So let's define the true problem regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us. How do we help our loved ones avoid catastrophic encounters with any law enforcement officer who may have committed previous bad acts involving excessive use of force without being held accountable for them or who may be ableist, racist, transphobic, or otherwise biased against those in the community who are marginalized?
The problem is not a problem of awareness of disability, lack of training in the identification of invisible disability, or any other method that blames a victim for not appearing disabled enough. Again, the police were aware of Korryn Gaines' psychiatric disability but did not choose to deploy the Mobile Crisis Team. Skewing the definition of the problem prevents sustainable solutions and costs lives.
It's time to end misguided efforts at mandating faux feel-good options that give no real safety but provide great optics for organizations and generate income for individuals promoting them in conferences and paid training programs. Define the true problems and help drive change to create real protections that save lives. Our loved ones are dying. Help take the first step away from this road to hell paved with our parental and professional good intentions.
|Image of Sojourner Truth, an African American woman|
in a white bonnet and shawl and dark gown, seated in a
chair beneath the image, the words read "I sell the shadow to
support the substance, Sojourner Truth. circa 1870,
By Randall Studio - https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.79.220,
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77744170
|KripHop Comic first edition.©Leroy Moore|
|Sojourner Truth, albumen silver print, circa 1870|
from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
|Image of a female form clothed entirely in black|
with a Black mask resembling a Black Panther,
she is leaning back against a tree with one arm
draped over a branch and the other petting a large
black panther, her fingers seeming to be scratching
the panther's head. The panther's teeth are bared.
|Serena Williams in her awesome catsuit. Credit Nike.|
You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers. #justdoit pic.twitter.com/dDB6D9nzaD— Nike (@Nike) August 25, 2018
"Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership"
from Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014
Discussing racial microaggression is always challenging. Anyone who is rightfully called out for any deliberate or unintentional act of racism that to them may appear slight will deny their misstep in defiance of being branded a racist.
This fear of the consequences of being labeled racist has made having an open discussion about this class of oftentimes unintentional insult difficult. Attempts devolve into a series of skirmishes in which those at fault react by gaslighting accusers into silence, then flip the script and call themselves the victims of hypersensitive minorities policing political correctness. This is something that perpetuates a kind of under the radar racism that is supported by counterattacks like the chastisement of so-called 'victimhood culture.'
Despite all this, I am entering this moment of trying to speak truth to power through this example to open a dialog that might help reduce such behavior in the autism community with no hope that it will be understood much less heeded.
We are living in one of the worst times for racial aggression and maltreatment since the beginning of the New Jim Crow era.
Seeing racist constructs in an essay written by an author appropriating rare genetic disorders linked to people our race as a convenient literary allusion for any argument adds an additional layer of sad disappointment.
That was my initial reaction to such an allusion used in a disturbing essay about autism labeling by Stephen Prutsman.
This is the paragraph of his essay I mean:The use of the term "African Americans" as a monolithic grouped object and "Sickle Cell Anemia" as an objectified construct in a literary allusion in this manner promotes the subliminal message of the "diseased Black" vs the "healthy Blacks." The reduction of a marginalized group to a construct and placement of a disabled subgroup within that population in implied opposition to the nondisabled group is not only ableist it is a dehumanization created solely to instill discomfort and guilt needed to win a written argument. This falls into a specific category of racial microaggression called microinvalidation.
No one who shares my race would use African American and Sickle Cell Anemia in any allusion about anything because right now, there is a crisis causing premature deaths in African American Sickle Cell patients directly due to race-related disparities in health care, health research, and education of medical teams. Sickle cell patients suffer bouts of excruciating pain as impacted organs fail, and their suffering is frequently ignored by ER staff believing African Americans have a high tolerance for pain, an old stereotypical holdover from the age of using and abusing the Black body for medical experimentation. Add to this the stereotype that African Americans may be asking for opioids because they are more likely to be drug addicts and you have a perfect storm of racism.
|Figure A shows normal red blood cells flowing freely in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a normal red blood cell with normal hemoglobin. Figure B shows abnormal, sickled red blood cells blocking blood flow in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a sickle cell with abnormal (sickle) hemoglobin forming abnormal strands (Information & media from U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)|