In Washington State, the Special Olympics organized a number of “Run From the Cops” events, with the final one taking place next week. I’ll let them explain.
Grab a “partner in crime” and support the more than 10,000 Special Olympics Athletes across the state in this unique nighttime 5K. Walkers, runners, kids and costumes are welcome. All participants will receive an event t-shirt!
Special Olympics Slammer!
Law enforcement will be staged throughout the course “encouraging” participants to finish in under 45-minutes to avoid being corralled and placed in the Special Olympics Slammer! Those not finishing in under 45-minutes will be ticketed for not out running the cops.
I know this is meant to be in good fun, but it reflects a lack of understanding of the fraught relationship between police and people with disabilities in this country. Moreover, it embodies a kind of privilege that needs to be called out. More on that at the end.
Most of all, it offends me on behalf of all the dead bodies of people with disablities, bodies of men and women who ran from the cops, or didn’t obey the cops, and were killed by them. This is not a joke. It’s life and death for the people we are and the people we love.
First, as readers of this blog know, running from the cops is among the most dangerous actions a person with disabilities can take. Running from the cops violates compliance, violating compliance leads to tasing, beating, and shooting. At least once a week, I find a new story about someone with a disability failing to comply properly in the eyes of the police, and gets hurt. So this event is lampooing a behavior that results in death for far too many. There is, for example, speculation that Darren Hunt in fact had special needs (though this as not been confirmed). He was shot repeatedly in the back while running from police. Linking disability to running from the cops is not, in fact, fun or funny.
Second, the whole “slammer” language also bothers me. Prisons are intensely dangerous places for people with disabilities, while also becoming the default place to put an “unruly” person with psychiatric disability. The Rikers Island cases, reported by the New York Times, focus heavily on the such abuse. Linking disability to being thrown in the slammer is not, in fact, fun or funny.
EDIT: Third, as Walkersvillemom says below, all the false confessions from people with intellectual disability, resulting in unjust convictions, jail terms, and even death sentences. Some have died. Others, like in North Carolina, were released after 31 years.
I have asked Special Olympics Washington for comment and will publish it if they respond. I’d like to know who came up with this event.
To me, the whole thing emerges from privilege, and it’s a privilege I share. Today I was walking with my kids towards a playground. A police officer left her car and came walking quickly towards me. I never panicked. I never got defensive. I never ran. She gave us free “slurpee” coupons, then, as my son (a 7-year-old boy with Down syndrome) approached the police cruiser, she asked me if he would like it if she turned on the lights. He did. He made his “lu-lu-lu” siren sound and was difficult to pry away from the car so the police officer could go back to looking for motorists using their cellphones. Only a passing train took his attention away.
This is normal in the white middle class suburban world in which we live, and I am grateful for that. I am grateful to the police and would rely on them to help if my son ever got lost. I am so very privileged in my relationship to law enforcement. I know this, and the goal is to extend that privilege to every community, of all races, classes, genders, and levels of ability.
But I would never make the mistake of thinking everyone shares that privilege, or that being thrown in jail or running from the cops was funny.
Because it’s not funny. On the other hand, if Special Olympics Washington wanted to get attention for their event, they got it! We’re all paying attention and the next move is yours.