The “Training Isn’t Enough” Movement

Discussions around police use of force and disabled civilians usually turn quickly to training. In Chicago, for example, several high profile deaths resulted in mandatory CIT training for all Chicago officers – in policy anyway. It’s not clear whether funds have been allocated and to what extent the training is ongoing, but that’s another story.

But from many activists, particularly those most focused on the intersections of racism and ableism in police use of force, skepticism about training is becoming more prominent (it was always there). For example, Kerima Çevik was recently interviewed by Leroy Moore about policing and disability for Poor Magazine. It was a wide ranging interview and you should read all of it, but here’s an excerpt:

Çevik: Racial profiling severely reduces the probability of police accepting my son, a Hispanic presenting male, larger than his peers, walking down the street with an unsteady gait, holding an iPad without challenging him. Which would inevitably lead to them trying to stop him, taking his iPad, and verbally demanding proof his speech device was his and their response to him not being able to respond would be to try and arrest him for stealing it. Situations like the scenario I just described, that I call ‘Mustafa’s Dilemma’ and what happened to Tario Anderson is what haunts me. That is where I am now. I am in this moment of polarization along racial lines seeking solutions to avert this and other nightmare scenarios I’ve witnessed occurring to countless disabled people, for the sake of my son and all his peers.. Training has been done. Trained officers used deadly force in encounters with clearly identified disabled teens and adults. I’ve changed my entire advocacy strategy based on this truth. The best way for a person in Mustafa’s Dilemma to remain alive and safe is to avoid any circumstance in which police engagement is necessary as much as humanly possible.

The painful lesson I’ve learned is that training initiatives fail. The fallout from the slew of deaths that spurred the Black Lives Matter movement is that the majority of those lives lost were disabled Black lives. I learned the police officers that shot both Paul Childs III and Stephon Watts were thoroughly trained and also knew the victims prior to the fatal encounters. This knowledge changed the focus of both my parenting and advocacy.

Later, Moore asks:

Leroy Moore: If it’s not police training then what are your suggestions and it can be for our community (For me I think we only focus on what police need and not what the community need)?

Kerima Çevik: Leroy I agree that we are focusing on what we think police need when we need to reduce police engagement and increase community supports that limit the need for police contact as much as possible. I won’t advise the community but I can tell you what I personally would like to see happen.

I’d like to see efforts made to establish a 911-type number for mental health emergencies/psychiatric disability related crises and more community crisis response teams to answer them. There is a myth that policy makers are exploiting based on a moment in history. This myth that after the Willow brook scandal, we just opened the doors of mental institutions and threw the patients out to wander the streets, and that to this day those same individuals are out there being a danger to themselves and others. The new fear factor story being added to that is we really need to bring back mental institutions. Victim blaming every deceased victim of a catastrophic police encounter with a person with psychiatric disability and sprinkling that disgrace with a healthy dose of posthumously declaring every white male mass shooter as a mental health patient achieves this fear driven train wreck. Uh nope! I think that funding being demanded for the return of the infamous mental institution model of mental health treatment, research, and ‘residential care’ should be given to desegregated, community supported mental health solutions that work in accord with the Olmstead Decision. I think we need to build on peer mentoring and peer respite centers, an idea that has already been proven successful in other parts of the country. I think we need to be seeking preventative solutions that solve the main series of events that ends in catastrophe for so many disabled victims, and that is the present situation where a mental health call is lumped in with a 911 call and therefore has police responding where they shouldn’t be. I think we should be increasing healthy inclusive school environments for neurodivergent students at school by paying school support staff wages that retain them and training them, not calling SROs to handcuff autistic children to squad cars.

Çevik and Moore are essential voices pushing for structural change, rather than simply trying to make the police less likely to misuse force against a disabled victim.

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