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 saying “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.