Four Essays by People of Color on Disability and Policing

The shooting of Charles Kinsey and the subsequent disclosure that his client, Arnold Rios Soto, was being kept in a psychiatric ward in the hospital, sparked some very good writing. Here’s four related pieces by people of color that should get more attention.

First, Finn GardinerManuel Díaz, and Lydia X. Z. Brown wrote: “Charles Kinsey’s Story Is About Race. It’s Also About Ableism” for Sojourners:

As autistic people of color — and specifically, as a black autistic person, a Latino autistic person, and an East-Asian autistic person — this incident strikes us particularly hard. We have largely been erased from media coverage, which has instead highlighted perspectives of white disabled people, or non-disabled black and brown parents of disabled children, at our expense.
This is personal, and so, unavoidably, political. What happened to Rios-Soto and Kinsey is a story about race, anti-blackness, and white supremacy. But it is impossible to contextualize this racism without also understanding the ableism that informs it.

There’s just a lot of basic work to do convincing people that ableism is a real thing and that we need to be concerned about it, like we are with other forms of individual and structural discrimination.  It’s not the same as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., but it is real and we must confront it.

Leroy Moore, who has been working on police violence and disability for decades, interviewed Matthew Dietz, the lawyer representing the Rios family.

2) Leroy Moore: For more than 15 years I’ve been following cases of police brutality involving people with disabilities and it is the same one answer avenue and that is the call for more police training. Is the issue of training central to this case and if so, how? What are other avenues cause it seems in this case it is bigger than just training.

Matthew Dietz, Attorney for the Arnaldo Rios Soto,: This case is more than about training. Even though it was obvious that Mr. Rios was a person with a disability and that they were told that he was a person with a disability, this fact was ignored because of a lack of training. However, after it was known that Mr. Arnaldo was a person with a disability, the police representative had the audacity to say that they did not intend to shoot the health care worker, but instead intended to shoot the autistic man. To me, this demonstrates deliberate animus against persons with disabilities.

“Deliberate animus” is a good phrase. I’d like to hear it argued more often.

At the Washington Post, Matt Ramos, a Latino father of an autistic child wrote about teaching his kids to comply with all police demands as a matter of safety, but what about his autistic child?

Comply, comply, comply was what I was taught, and it’s what I’ve been teaching my sons, to the point that they can probably repeat the speech my father gave me. But how am I supposed to teach those words to someone who doesn’t understand language the way I do? How am I supposed to warn my son about the dangers facing those who look like him when he can’t even conceptualize those differences?

As I wrote, asking Rios to comply in the context of the shooting was asking him to not be disabled, to be something other than what he is. It’s not possible. Policing cannot demand this.

Finally, not specifically on the North Miami shooting, “The Black Autist” writes about #BlackDisabledLivesMatter vs #AllDisabledLivesMatter, working through the same issues as the larger Black Lives Matter movement as it applies to disability. TJ has been working hard on raising awareness about black disabled victims of police violence in Chicago lately, and writes:

#BlackDisabledLivesMatter actually reads Black Disabled Lives SHOULD Matter, not Only Black Disabled Lives Matter and F*** Everyone Else. Black disabled people affected by violence are seldom mentioned in the media, or they are mentioned only by name but without any mention of their disability (there are instances that the disability is reported afterwards). The black disability community, including myself, are scared for our lives. Recent victims of police brutality, such as Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, were not only black but also had a disability of some sort. Certain police officers can get away with murdering black disabled people; just take a look at the two officers who got away with murdering Stephon Watts in cold blood. We are also subjected to bullying, filicide, murder, sexual assault, emotional/psychological abuse, child abuse, theft, police profiling, and manipulation from negative influences daily.

To make matters worse, our own black community is inaccessible and doesn’t have many resources to go to. African-American culture seems to have been fearing disability for centuries; starting with slavery when the disabled slaves were discarded or killed because they were unfit to perform on the plantation. That fear still carry on to today’s world, where disability in the black community is taboo (especially mental disabilities). We are either viewed as angels or devils, not just mere humans who want to explore the world and enjoy life just like abled-bodied and neurotypical people. Also add these following things to the mix of things that plague our community: lack of disability awareness/acceptance, underfunded public special education programs, lack of adequate services for the disability community, extreme unemployment/underemployment, and a scarce amount of black disabled role models.

As always, claiming one marginalized group’s lives should matter does not mean that other people’s lives don’t.

Read all these pieces! 

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