By now you have heard about the behavioral therapist in Miami shot by police when the police had decided that an autistic man with a toy train was a threat to public safety. After the therapist was shot, the officer issued a statement saying that they were not aiming at the black therapist but the Hispanic autistic. I am sure that they issued that statement to try to squelch any public outcry from those in the Black Lives Matter Movement (and yes I am assuming this), but tell me how this realization is supposed to make a parent of an autistic person feel better?
According to the Ruderman Foundation, the majority of persons shot by police in the US either have mental health or developmental issues. HERE The truth is that police departments across the nation are wholly and inadequately prepared to deal with these issues that they confront every day. The one main job that the police are supposed to do is provide public safety; they are not psychiatrists, social workers, or therapists. However, with the lack of proper care and support throughout the mental health system, police departments have become the defacto go-to professionals of first contact. In essence, we expect our police to do jobs that they are not trained to do.
Now does that excuse the police? Absolutely not. And I say this not simply because I am the parent of two young men on the autism spectrum, but because the police are given the mantle of trust by the community. This basically behooves police departments to fix their own ignorance, knowing that they are the responsible party of first-contact. Is it fair? No, it’s not, but police also ask for this job. Nobody forces them “to protect and serve,” but while we honor their service, it has to be understood that their service comes with modern responsibilities. Here is a list of police training programs geared towards understanding autism.
So what do we do in the meantime?
The boys wear medic alert necklaces, which detail their diagnoses and medicine. Of course, that only works if the police get close enough to see them. The alert necklaces also won’t be of any help if the boys are shot by the police if they reach for their necklaces while alerting the officers to their disabilities. We have the same issue with cards in their wallets, detailing their diagnoses, or the medical information in their iPhones. These security measures only help if they can access it to show the police, without the police taking their movements the wrong way.
We do know that the police are trained to recognize when a suspect is lying. The most important aspect is that someone doesn’t look them in the eye, or they fidget too much. This scenario plays over and over in my head, because not only do the boys not always look you in the eye, but they both fidget, get nervous from anxiety and come off rude and disrespectful when their anxiety ratchets itself up. So not a great scenario. We do teach them to be respectful to the police. We emphasize that if they are ever stopped to do just as they are told, with no back talk or sass. But of course, being who they are, new and frustrating situations don’t always play out as they should.
Now we used to console ourselves that at least, since they generally have the para with them in public, if they got into any trouble with a policeman, then the para could help them through the situation. Considering the police just shot the therapist in Miami, while he was laying on the ground with his hands up, our pie-in-the-sky-theory no longer holds up.
Do I think that the situation in Miami unfolded the way it did because the people involved were persons of color? Perhaps, perhaps not. There was the recent tragedy where a young transgendered man with Aspergers was shot and killed by police during a meltdown, who was white. And yes he had a knife in his hand, but in another, a better world, the police would have been taught how to handle the situation without lethal force. And no, I do not believe that police lives matter less, in fact, I wholly believe, Blue Lives Matter a lot, but they also don’t matter more than the people they are supposed to help, like my autistic sons.
So no, I don’t have an answer. I thought I did. But life teaches you many lessons, not the least of which is that “but for the grace of God, go I.”
And with that, hubby and I have found another reason to not sleep well at night.