John Williams was deaf and never heard the policeman who was ordering him to stop. He was shot in the back four times. Ethan Saylor had Down syndrome and didn’t obey orders to get out of a movie seat he hadn’t paid for. He died on the floor, asphyxiated. Kajieme Powell was standing alone in a courtyard, holding a knife, deep in a mental health crisis. Police closed in on him and shot him to death.
As many as half of all the people killed by police have disabilities. For the last few years, I’ve been asking two simple questions – why are there so many killings and what can we do? I’ve asked these questions through my journalism for major news outlets, by reading expert scholarship and important studies, in meetings with the disability community and researchers, and in interviews with people in law enforcement from the White House to the beat cop on my block.
I am writing a book on the ways that diverse forces within American society criminalize and punish disability. It’s a grim topic, but once we understand the problem, we can also start working on real solutions.
Here’s my central argument: While we must empower reformers who are thinking a lot mental health and policing, that’s the first step, but we also have to help American culture really understand disability in all its diversity. Disability is routinely criminalized throughout our society, from the explicit – in court or by law enforcement – to the more subtle punishments meted out in schools, homes, workplaces, and in the media.
My book, Disability Is Not A Crime, will be the first book-length study of the criminalization of disability in American society. The book will be published by Beacon Press, probably in Spring 2017.
If you notice me blogging less and publishing many fewer essays, that’s why. I’m still here and still want to hear your stories, your links, and to stay in touch over social media and email. Your support and feedback over the last few years has made this book possible. Thank you.