Police Silence, Sandra Bland, and the #cultofcompliance

Louis Hayes, police trainer and reformer, has a new blog up on the role the Cult of Compliance plays in keeping police silent in cases like Sandra Bland.

1) Remember – everything the police officer did was wrong. He pulled out behind Bland abruptly, she moved over to get out of his way, and he pulled her over to give her a ticket for not using a signal. Bland was doing nothing wrong before she got out of the cop’s way. This is what profiling looks like. He saw a black woman and decided to find a reason to pull her over.

2) Then he escalates the situation in countless, unprofessional, ways. He commands her to put out the cigarette, then responds to her lack of compliance with threats and eventual violence.

Cops have not criticized Encina, the officer, for his actions. Here’s what Hayes writes.

There is a segment of law enforcement officers and trainers who believe:
a citizen’s failure to immediately comply with a police officer’s orders should be

  • assumed to be a physical threat to the officer’s well-being.
  • a citizen’s perceived disrespect is a sign of danger.
  • a citizen’s disobedience is a challenge to the authority of established law.

Of course, as with anything, there are varying levels that these feelings and attitudes take hold in officers and trainers. Some officers don’t subscribe to these beliefs at all. But when I first heard the term #CultOfCompliance from freelancer David M Perry, I thought the term awfully fitting — a cult being a sub-group with entrenched beliefs, within a larger community – in this case, the police community.

How has this sentiment of Cult of Compliance taken root in law enforcement? I only have theory. Maybe because of the traffic stop videos and war stories used in police academies? These videos and stories are shared with new recruits to demonstrate that even quiet little old ladies and 12-year old girls can be as deadly as a ninja….and ballpoint pens and umbrellas as dangerous as a samurai sword.

Hayes goes on to criticize Sandra Bland in ways that I think are a mistake. It’s true that Bland was rude, but again, let’s back up – Encina initiated that by pulling her over after he profiled her. But still, Hayes is writing for a law enforcement audience and they are going to see Bland’s refusal to be perfectly compliant as at fault. That’s what we need to work on.

Being rude to a police officer, especially one who has behaved as egregiously as Encina in profiling Bland, is a constitutional right. It’s not a threat.

Welcoming a Newborn with Down Syndrome

There’s a new book published (download for free) on Welcoming a Newborn with Down Syndrome. It looks great and the authors are excellent.

This book offers support and accurate, reliable information to the new parents of a baby with Down syndrome. The book covers topics like breastfeeding, adjusting to a diagnosis, preparing siblings, understanding medical issues, preparing for the future, and, most importantly, it shares diverse stories about the daily lives of families whose children have Down syndrome at different ages.

Download it and read it! What do you think?

The W Washington Hotel Issues a Semi-False Statement

On Sunday night, a security guard refused to let two friends with physical disabilities use the accessible door to the W Washington Hotel. I wrote about it and the hotel sent me a statement over email. It’s mixed. I’m posting the whole thing in italics, but breaking it up and adding emphasis on a lie.

The W Washington DC Hotel is fully committed to ensuring that its facilities are accessible to individuals with disabilities. We deeply regret the breakdown in communication with hotel security concerning use of the main accessible entrance for individuals with disabilities on the evening of July 26.

The F Street entrance of the hotel, which is an accessible entrance, is typically used as the primary entrance of the hotel. On the evening of July 26, for security reasons, non-guests were directed to the 15th Street hotel entrance. An additional security officer employed by a third party was stationed at the F Street entrance to direct non-guests to the 15th Street entrance. Once the patrons explained that they required use of the accessible entrance, the security officer radioed the hotel for permission to grant them access. The hotel advised that the individuals should be provided access, and access was immediately granted.

The bolded section is fundamentally untrue. From my email to the manager.

When we said that we needed an accessible entrance, he asked us if we were guests of the hotel. We said no. He said, “Only hotel guests can use the accessible door.” At that point, M went around to the other side and spoke to the person at the desk, and only as she began to talk to the desk attendant was L allowed to enter.

In fact, we were denied the right to enter, after saying that we needed an accessible entrance, about four times. M became so angry that she ran around the side of the building. You can read her tweets about the physical and emotional costs of this action.

Does it matter that this part of the statement is a lie? And why lie here? There are a few options. 1) The lawyers told the Hotel to lie. 2) The security guard lied to protect his job. 3) The manager on duty and the security guard colluded to lie to protect their jobs.

There is some good here, though, as the statement continues:

We apologize that our security procedures in this rare situation compromised immediate use of the accessible entrance for these patrons. Hotel management has reminded its own staff that the F Street entrance is always to be made available for any person requiring an accessible entrance, regardless of any other temporary restrictions in place. The hotel will ensure that in the future any third party security and other temporary staff are reminded of these procedures as well.

We are disappointed that this incident occurred, as we are committed to complying with applicable accessibility laws and ensuring the best possible experience for all of our guests and visitors.

So that’s good. I hope he realizes that it wasn’t just this one security officer, but everyone, including the on-site management who didn’t recognize the severity of the statement, calling it an inconvenience. I wrote back:

It was very troubling that not only did the security guard refuse to provide accessible entry, but also your staff did not recognize the gravity, and arguably illegality, of the situation. It’s my hope that when instructing them about accessibility, you will remind your staff that disability is often not visible to the eye.

The general manager replied:

I was not there so we’ve pieced together the incident after the fact. Because of your experience yesterday, we are retraining our staff and any contract staff to be more proactive in the event we need to reroute customers from our main entrance. And to your point our employees will need to be reminded that disabilities are not always visible to the eye.

Anything outcome that helps people learn about invisible, or in this case less visible disabilities, is a good thing. Neither L nor M were using as wheelchair or cane/walker at this time, so it’s entirely possible that the guard would have reacted differently had a mobility device been visible. But let’s not forget the #cultofcompliance and the powerful nature of arbitrary rules in our society. The Man at Door F had a job to do – keep people from using that door for “security” reasons. The Man at Door F was going to do his job.

I’m a pragmatist. I’m happy that the hotel responded, that they are vowing better training, and I think the W will become more accessible as a result of this incident. But this lie at the heart of their statement irks me greatly, and I know it infuriates L, M, and S, who were with me, as well. We’re discussing what to do next.

More Anti-ADA Hate

The USA Today has a piece slamming the ADA. This is a DO NOT LINK URL, so as not to give it more attention than it deserves. It’s the usual libertarian dreamworld in which accessibility just magically happens and no one has to do anything. And he picks egregious examples of lawsuits under the ADA – lawsuits that were almost uniformly thrown out or decided against the plaintiff – and blames the ADA for it. Americans like to make up reasons to sue. Courts usually handle such things fine.

 It’s useful, though, amidst all the unity and community surrounding the ADA celebration, to remember that this argument (I call it the Sununu argument, after GHWB’s Chief of Staff who did everything he could to stop, or at least gut, the ADA) is still going strong.

 In fact, every time an otherwise good person identifies themselves to you as a libertarian, you should ask them about disability policy. I’ve been looking for a libertarian answer to disability rights for a few years now and haven’t found one.

 The ADA is the kind of law that makes me a progressive. I believe it takes federal regulations to make certain kinds of change happen, and I believe that the ADA is a major example of that. We have much more to do.

Live-Tweeting The White House Champions of Change – Disability Champions

I’m at the OEOB to live-tweet an event honoring a wonderfully diverse group of disability advocates. It’s going to be a spectacular event and I’m honored to have been invited. Maria Town, the disability liaison in the Office of Public Engagement, believes that tweeting can function as a way to increase accessibility of events like this. I’ll be joined by Emily Ladau, one of my favorite disability writers, and others, on the hashtag #WHChamps

Here’s the press release (click through for the full thing).

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, July 27 the White House will honor nine disability advocates across generations. The event will be held in conjunction with celebrations of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark civil rights law that promises equal access and equal opportunity — regardless of ability. The event will celebrate the success of the ADA and recognize both long-time disability advocates and young Americans with disabilities who are working to uphold and expand the spirit of the ADA. The program will feature remarks by Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz, former baseball player Jim Abbott, and American football fullback Derrick Coleman.

Discrimination on the Anniversary of the ADA

“Only hotel guests can use the accessible door.”

Logo of the ADA 25: 1990-2015.
From http://www.adalegacy.com/

It’s 11 at night on the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the four of us have just arrived at the W Washington hotel. They have a spectacular bar on the rooftop with a view looking out over the White House and a gloriously illuminated city. After a hot and humid day, the air is a little cooler at night, and the car from the Kennedy Center, where we had just celebrated the signing of the ADA and heard from leaders and felt the strength and power of our community. It ended with the fabulous Diane Schuur playing a short set, and her “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” is still ringing in my head.

S, one of my companions, directs our driver around to the side door where she knows its more accessible. L and M, the other two, have physical disabilities and, after a long day, would find it much less painful to avoid going up steps. From this door, we can just walk through straight to the elevators and up to the bar. Honestly, I need a drink.

And the security guard says no. He says the door is closed. We sputter a little, looking at each other, wondering if this is really happening. One of us, probably M, speaks first, saying that we need the accessibility this door provides. At that point, accessibility should be a magic word, but instead the guard hardens his commitment to compliance. We each speak, hesitantly, then more forcefully, trying to get the guard to realize he’s making a mistake. On tonight, of all nights, to this group of four – journalists, writers, performers, disability rights experts – he just doesn’t do this. He asks, “Are you guests of the hotel,” and we reply that we are not, but want to go to the bar (it’s a bar open to the public, of course, so this is not unreasonable).

His reply is that only hotel guests have the right to accessibility.

M has had it. Despite the pain it causes her, she literally runs around the corner, up the steps, and right at the desk. I trail behind, just in case she needs anything, but not to get in her way or play abled savior. She does not need my help. Outside, the guard opens the sacred door, seems M at the desk, and perhaps realizes he’s messed up, and just lets L and S in.

At the desk, the manager on duty apologizes for the inconvenience, to which I reply, “it’s not inconvenient, it’s illegal.”

This is discrimination. It’s a micro-aggression, the small acts of control that an ableist society asserts over people with disabilities. And it matters. It shows us that the ADA may be great and powerful, and it is, but we have a lot of cultural to do before this kind of denial of accessibility, when explicitly invoked, becomes unthinkable. 

I’ve called the hotel for a comment and we’ll see what they say.

Updated with tweets from L and M (used by permission)

Happy 25th Anniversary to the ADA (from Google)

Exactly 25 years ago, President George H. W. Bush took the stage in front of thousands of people, the largest White House crowd in history, and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was the work of so many people, in many venues, over decades. It stands, today, as one of the most important civil rights acts in American history.

It has long seemed to me that the history of the disability rights movement, however, is not so well known, especially compared to other civil rights struggles. The movement has its visionary leaders, acts of severe discrimination, its inspiring acts of civil disobedience, its political heroes – but it’s a marginal story, rather than a central one, despite over 50 million Americans having disabilities. I’ve been so gratified seeing the many efforts to change that over the last few months, such as the ADA Legacy Project and the various efforts that went into it. I hope to see the mobile museum this afternoon, in DC.

And now there’s Google. Last month, I was invited to be a part of Google.org’s commemoration of the ADA. Google has committed 20 million dollars to the Google Impact Challenge, looking to fund ideas that could radically change the nature of assistive technology today. This focus on disability and technology led them to celebrate the history of the disability rights movement. The commemoration celebrated ten leaders of the past and presents of the movement, activists and politicians alike, and people with all kinds of disabilities. It was my honor to interview some of the subjects and co-write all the profiles on the site, working with a great team of writers, designers, artists, filmmakers, and more. Google is committed to working on disability issues, has embraced the social model of disability, and wants to use technology to improve accessibility for all.

The site is rich. Each subjects gets a short video in addition to the longer overview video above. The profiles build out from scenes in their lives, focusing on social model issues and the way these leaders have worked to make the world a better place. They are, of course, just a few leaders in what’s a big and vibrant movement, and I tried to have the profiles reflect that as well.

Please read and share. Hopefully more to come on the Google Impact Challenge, their plans for the Cultural Institute commemoration of the disability rights movements, and more.

Happy ADA 25!

Sandra Bland and Disability

When Brian Encina slammed Sandra Bland’s head into the ground, this happened:

Encinia: Get on the ground!
Bland: For a traffic signal!
Encinia: You are yanking around, when you pull away from me, you’re resisting arrest.
Bland: Don’t it make you feel real good don’t it? A female for a traffic ticket. Don’t it make you feel good Officer Encinia? You’re a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground. I got epilepsy, you motherfucker.
Encinia: Good. Good.
Bland: Good? Good?
Female officer: You should have thought about it before you started resisting.

Here is Sandra Bland’s booking form. The New York Times says:

The intake forms also said that Ms. Bland was taking an antiseizure medication, Keppra, for epilepsy. The drug comes with a warning label approved by the Food and Drug Administration that includes a long list of possible side effects, including depression, aggressive behavior and thoughts of suicide. It was unclear whether she had access to the drug while in jail.

A friend of mine notes that three days without one’s anti-seizure medication might well affect one’s mental state.

Here’s a really important note from the editor at “This Bridge Called Our Health” (A Trans-Inclusive, Intersectional, Sex-Positive Health & Healing Blog by & for Women and Femmes of Color of all Genders.):

I think some of the discourse emerging from these ‪#‎IfIDieInPoliceCustody ‬&‪ #‎WhatHappenedToSandraBland‬ conversations are dangerously limited. Folks are saying “Sandra Bland was mentally sound” and “Black women like her would never commit suicide”, etc. Not only are we upholding precarious and dehumanizing ‘strong black woman’ archetypes that neglect to hold Black women in the fullness and breadth that we embody, but our failure to operate within a mental health & disability justice framework by making the assertion that Sandra Bland was ‘mentallly sound’ in order to prove that she did not commit suicide is a dangerous narrative that both devalues black people who navigate mental health difficulties and trauma and also erases their/our narratives from the conversation.

Stevens, the author, continues:

The carefully calculated last moments of Sandra Bland’s life of getting pulled over for a minor traffic violation on her way to work, being brutalized by law enforcement officers, and subsequently seized and held in captivity for being a Black woman is what killed Sandra Bland. THE STATE DID THIS TO HER. Whether she committed suicide or not THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE.

Race occupies the center of this narrative. But intersectionality demands we think about gender too, and that’s happening. And then we discuss class. And perhaps region (Texas racism vs Chicago racism). And so on. Disability needs to be part of this discussion.

At the moment that Bland identified as epileptic, FWIW, the ADA kicks in. It doesn’t mean she can’t be arrested, but it does mean she has the right to reasonable accommodations. When she spoke about her mental health at intake, again, the ADA kicks in. She can be incarcerated, but not without reasonable accommodations.

Don’t erase her self-disclosed identity as a disabled person. And adding her status as a disabled person to the discussion doesn’t erase her identity as a black woman.

And none of that excuses the state.

Web Accessibility in the 25th Year of the ADA

Tori Ekstrand has a great new piece on web accessibility at Slate. Here’s the core argument. Go read the whole thing!

Web accessibility for the disabled makes sense for a number of key social and economic reasons:

1. Web accessibility is something we all want and need. According the National Council on Disability, about 25 percent of people will acquire a disability at some point in their lives—yet when polled, only 2 percent of Americans think it will ever happen to them. The point here is Web accessibility is something we all will want and need—at the very least, we will have a family member who will want and need it…Web accessibility will benefit all of us, particularly in mobile (think screen readers, natural-language voice tools like Siri, closed captioning, etc.). Web accessibility, developers say, is a form of innovation that helps to drive development. It also attracts new customers and offers employers the chance to consider disabled workers in their hiring decisions.


3. We’re missing a hugely important voice in society. When we don’t include disabled communities in arguments about health care, the economy, parenting, and more, we miss important viewpoints. In addition, disability activists are mobilizing online in ways that weren’t always previously possible, and they are talking to one another across disabilities and on platforms that need accessible standards to do that. We need to support that communication across and among disability groups with accessible standards.

We can do this. And it needs not to be up to individual writers (though simple things like picture description is up to me, and to you, and to each of us), but built into the infrastructure.