The ACLU has a new petition on up-to-date guidance and training for police in dealing with people who are Deaf. I’ve signed it. It’s a good idea. Here’s some text.
For Pearl Pearson, a 64-year-old deaf man, a routine traffic stop led to a brutal assault by police. When an officer shouted instructions, he attempted to show the patrolman that he was deaf. That’s when the officer pulled him from his car and according to Pearson, beat him for not following verbal orders.
The Department of Justice can help put an end to these tragedies. Police departments need up-to-date guidance and training from the DOJ on how law enforcement must interact with deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as obligated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I hope something good comes from it. Predictably, though, I think there’s a deeper problem than response to deaf people. This story has dash-cam video and reports on the officers being cleared of any wrongdoing, as frequently happens in these cases. My emphasis.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol did not interview Pearl Pearson during the course of their investigation because of a disagreement about their interpreter.
However, Pearson and his attorney, Billy Coyle did submit an affidavit explaining that Pearson wasn’t reaching for a weapon during the stop, but that he was reaching for a hearing impaired placard so that he could communicate with the officers.
The troopers believed he was reaching for a gun.
“You have to comply with law enforcement.” Prater said. “They have to see your hands. Your hands can kill someone. That’s what you grab something with. That’s what you punch people with. That’s what you stab people with. That’s what you shoot people with: your hands.”
When the cuffs were finally on, and Pearson was in police custody his face bore the marks of the violent arrest.
Yes, by all means, the DOJ needs to update standards for dealing with deaf people. I’ve written about this specific issue before in various essays, and there are many other examples. But as always, I believe that the deeper issue is the cult of compliance.
The problem is that Pearson is deaf.
The problem is that Pearson is black.
The problem is that non-compliance justifies getting physical.
I am increasingly skeptical that CIT training or better training for responding to deaf people or blind people or transgender people (the DOJ recently put out new standards for that situation), or whatever will really help. At best, it might carve our a small class of protected people, and that’s good, they need protection.
On the other hand, I think we all need protection.
4 Replies to “Cult of Compliance: Protecting the Deaf; Protecting Us All.”
Good article. I would like to toss another factor in. Perhaps we need to realize that policing is a dangerous job. Maybe we all need to realize that we need to keep our hands in plain view at all times; don't go reaching for something. Can there be a universal "sign" of some sort that a person can indicate that he/she is deaf while keeping his hands in view. Pointing to his ears and shaking his head maybe. Just trying to expand the conversation a bit.
It's a totally reasonable idea, but two things. First, Pearson has "deaf driver" on his license. So the police could have known if they were looking for info, not being ready to jump at the first sign of noncompliance. Second, as a friend of mine wrote in the aftermath of Ethan Saylor's death – we can't make it the responsibility of the victim to make a signal not to be victimized. It's got to originate from the police side – because I don't want to just protect the deaf. I want to protect all of us.
And yes, being a police officer is a dangerous job. As a society, we have to balance risk to the officers with civil liberties. It's a VERY difficult balance. I am arguing we've strayed too far in the wrong direction.
Thanks, as always, for commenting.
WRT GiniaJim's comment about keeping both arms in view, this presumes you can raise both arms, or indeed have both arms.
When I drive it's with my left hand in my lap as I can't hold it on the wheel, whether I could keep it raised for long enough to satisfy someone probably varies from day to day.
" Perhaps we need to realize that policing is a dangerous job."
Being a fire fighter is also dangerous, but when was the last time a fireman killed or beat up an innocent person in order to ensure his own safety?