In the world of Down syndrome, we talk about “presuming competence” (hey, go buy a shirt!). That instead of “awareness,” we’d like to see a shift to a general presumption of competence first. More on this in pieces to come.
I’ve been working, though, on ways of re-describing the strategic problems with police procedure as it feeds the cult of compliance. Police operate on a presuming non-compliance basis, so as soon as they get any evidence to confirm that presumption, they too often strike.
What would “presume compliance” policing look like? How dangerous would it be? I keep thinking that to roll back the proto-police state, we have to ask police to assume more risk, and that’s going to be a very hard argument to make.
Here are three stories, though, of when presuming non-compliance leads to fatalities.
On Saturday a deaf man was shot and killed by Florida deputies, allegedly because he didn’t comply with commands quickly enough. Here’s the story:
Hernandez, 35, fired his service weapon, killing Miller, because he perceived a threat, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.
The sheriff’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are investigating the shooting, and would not release further details.
Miller’s 25-year-old son witnessed his father’s death. He told the Ledger that his dad, who only had two percent of his hearing, was further impaired because his hearing aid was broken at the time. He denies that his father was a threat.
“I kept telling them that he can’t hear them,” the 25-year-old, who’s also named Edward Miller, told the Ledger. “I kept telling them he can’t understand them.”
The son told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that Hernandez shot his father six times while his dad sat inside a vehicle in the tow yard.
Meanwhile, there’s John Crawford. The surveillance video of his death has gone viral just as the Grand Jury has declined to convict the officers that shot him. Attention has rightly focused on the 911 call in which Ronald Ritchie told police Crawford was waving the gun around, including at children.
Crawford wasn’t. He was on the phone, distracted by the call, and likely didn’t hear the police until just seconds before they shot him to death.
Then there was Darrien Hunt, the man with a sword shot in Utah as he ran away. Most recent reports think he was cosplaying from . The Guardian says [my emphasis]:
Attention was swiftly drawn online to Hunt’s remarkable resemblance as he walked around on the morning of 10 September to Mugen, a swordsman character in the short-lived Japanese anime series Samurai Champloo. The Comic Con convention had also taken place in Salt Lake City, about 35 miles to the north, the weekend before the shooting.
Hunt’s aunt, Cindy Moss, previously told the Guardian that a witness to the confrontation with police had told the family that Hunt “had his earbuds in, and was kind of doing spins and stuff, like pretending he’s a samurai”.
These three stories are obviously very different. Miller was white, Hunt mixed race but appeared black, and Crawford black. Crawford had a fake gun and a lying 911 call (which is probably criminal in Ohio, I’m told). Hunt had a sword and was acting “weird.” Miller had been shouting a lot and that was interpreted as anger, rather than hearing loss.
The differences matter and what I am about to say does not erase them.
These are also the same story. A man with a permanent or temporary hearing impairment – deaf, phone, earbuds – gets the attention of the police, doesn’t respond to verbal commands quickly, and so the presumption of non-compliance leads to death.
Being deaf in front of the cops is dangerous. That’s long been clear. But just as we all move in and sometimes out of different stages of disability, putting on earbuds or listening to a phone call also renders you less likely to process verbal commands, functioning like hearing loss in terms of creating a vulnerability to a trigger-happy law enforcement officer.
The only solution that I can see is to change the strategic approach on a fundamental level to “presume compliance.”