Whenever you see the clip on the news of the latest unarmed black person being killed at the hands of a rogue police officer, do you ever find yourself thinking- “My God… what if that was my child?” Because I have… I have thought about this more times than I care to count. This is something that scares the bejeezus out of me because, I not only have two black children, I have 2 Autistic black children.
So when I imagine if this were to ever happen to my son, I imagine it would go something like this:
My beautiful brown-skinned curly haired sweet boy, maybe 9-10 years down the road (so 16-17yo) walking home one evening from a friend’s house or maybe home from a shift at his first job, when someone calls the police about a “suspicious black male” in their white neighborhood. A police officer arrives, (I’m going to pause here and say- this is not going to be a jab at police officers for racism. This is merely to point out a lack of knowledge and training in mental health [specifically autism] for first responders and a need for procedure reforms) and because they are unaware that this tall-for-his-age boy, not only lives in this neighborhood, is also autistic- they do the full bit of turning their lights on, shining a flashlight on my son, and approaching him- all of which will overload his senses, making him confused and overwhelmed. They speak in a loud and firm voice- which he takes to be mean and aggressive (his nature) which makes him paralyzingly scared. They try talking to him, but because he is often uncomfortable in social situations with people he doesn’t know, he doesn’t respond. Which makes the police officer suspicious and agitated. Eli would most likely not look this officer in their eyes and would probably be fidgeting subconsciously with his hands and fingers like he normally does when he is nervous, unable to stand completely still.
Being distracted and overwhelmed by the lights, a loud affirming stranger barking orders at him, unable to fully communicate or probably comply with some of his orders… How do we think this situation would end? Say we get to the point where an officer tries to put handcuffs on my son and he has an emotional breakdown and isn’t able to process all the different emotions he’s feeling (which currently happens to him almost daily) and begins to “resist” the officer. This is where my son could lose his life. All because a first responder couldn’t read the signs.
So what are the signs?
A person with autism might:
-Have impaired sense of danger
-Be overwhelmed by police presence
-Fear a person in uniform, or become overly curious and reach for objects (badge, handcuffs)
-React with fight or flight responses
-Not respond to “stop” or other verbal commands
-Have delayed speech and language skills
-Engage in repetitive behavior (stimming, rocking, hand flapping, spinning)
-Have sensory perception issues
According to Autism Speaks: how should a police officer approach a person with autism?
-Be patient, give them space
-Use simple, concrete sentences
-Be alert to signs of increased frustrations and try to eliminate source
-Avoid quick movements and loud noises
-Do not touch them unless necessary
Yeah that’s cool, but… what if a police officer doesn’t know someone is autistic?
So if a police officer has NO IDEA that the person they are about to approach has Autism and starts exuding any of this behavior…then what? Very few Police Departments in the United States have any mandatory formal special needs training for their officers. Which means the majority of officers would not recognize ANY of this behavior and associate it with Autism Spectrum Disorder. My guess is that it would be assumed to be drug induced behavior. Like in the story of 14 year old Connor in Arizona:
-Connor was approached by a police officer in a park. When a family friend returned to the boy after being gone for only a matter of minutes, the police officer had the 14 year old boy pinned to the ground because he thought the boy was on drugs, when the family friend ran up and told the officer he had Autism and was “stimming” the officer got up and released him. The officer left the boy bruised and bleeding, the boy also needed surgery on his ankle 6 months later directly due to the incident. The officer received no discipline.
Now pause for a second and think- what if an officer stops my son and DOES have personal prejudices against POC (people of color). How likely are they to follow any of the suggested guidelines on how to approach people with mental disabilities/Autism? If someone out there has prejudices against black males- are they going to assume that this teenage black boy that won’t look him in the eyes, won’t respond to his questions, and won’t stand still and stop fidgeting is on the Autism spectrum or is he more than likely going to assume he’s on drugs or simply being disobedient? What would you think? No… no, Not the answer you would say out loud in front of people- what would be the first private thought to come into your head if you saw a black male with that behavior? Because I’d like to survey the country, personally, and see how many people answer “crack head”…
Of course these are all hypotheticals here, as my son is currently only 7 years old; but am I making any of you go:
This may just be hypothetical for me and my children’s future… but it is a reality out there for many mothers like myself who DO have teen-adult black autistic individuals in their family.
Like in the story of 18 year old Ricardo Hayes.
>>>> Read here <<<<
So…..what am I getting at?
What I’m talking about isn’t necessarily a dig at the cops themselves. I don’t want anyone thinking I am anti-cop here… My grandpa was a state police officer. I’ve had multiple family members, including my husband currently, in the military. I am NOT anti-police, anti-military, anti-government, anti-whatever else (well, I think most of us out there can agree to being anti-BAD COP… I hope anyway). However… the point I am trying to make here is: there is a huge need for multiple types of reform in our country. We could honestly all benefit from everyone taking a step back and reevaluating every inch of our country’s foundation. I could go all day, but for this blog specifically… I think our country’ public safety system needs a complete overhaul.
I feel very strongly that police officers need more education and training. Again, this is not a dig at the actual officers- this is above them. We need to be providing them with more knowledge, education, and support BEFORE they start.
Hear me out… not every state requires you to get a college degree before becoming a police officer. In most states you can become a police officer with no other education beyond a high school diploma/GED and completing the academy. State police academy’s seem to vary in length between 14 weeks to 6 months long. That’s it.
So you could have any racist Joe Blow off the street with a GED, go and complete a 3-month academy, pass a drug test, and then send him out on the streets with a loaded weapon to happen upon my little dark-skinned autistic boy who is afraid of strangers and doesn’t respond appropriately, by nature, in social interactions? No thank you…
So why is there not more schooling required to become an officer? Why are there no mental health evaluations done on potential officers to make sure they are fit for the job? Why do all departments not have mandatory mental health trainings for officers like New Jersey or Florida? Although- I’d like to point out that Florida only enacted that mandatory rule after police officers shot an autistic man’s behavioral therapist because they thought the autistic man WHO WAS SITTING & PLAYING WITH A TOY TRUCK… had a gun. See video below:
Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard the recent cries from people to “Defund the Police.” When I first heard that I thought (like I’m sure plenty of you out there did too)- Well that’s just dumb, that doesn’t make any sense. It will look like the Purge movies here…. Until I started reading and listening (which more people really need to start doing by the way, but I digress…)
From my understanding- [so, if I’m interpreting anything wrong here, please feel free to comment on the post and correct me!] -people aren’t just saying- take away the police and be done with it. They are saying, take away some of the police funding
(think larger cities here, not your Podunk barely-staying-afloat towns filled with people of the same race [*cough* white…] and generally same economic statuses)
and invest that money into the low income neighborhoods. By investing more money into the neighborhoods, the schools, the hospitals, etc you are, in one sense, improving the safety of the entire community without buying the police newest-model cars or bigger guns.
Another idea I’ve heard from “defund the police” is to dismantle the police department… *as we know it currently* See video below:
Essentially, We would still have police officers, but they would not be called for every instance. Our public safety departments would be separated into specially trained and educated groups, specifically trained to handle specific situations. Of course this may just be a dreamer’s idea, I have not had time to do the full research on this aspect yet (but you bet your ass that I will be!)
If you’ve gotten this far in the post, thank you. Whether you agree with anything I’m saying or not… thank you for at least taking the time to hear out someone else’s opinions and someone else’s feelings and fears. This blog wasn’t made in haste in the heat of the moment. I have been researching for this blog for some time now. I have checked facts, I’ve checked DOJ websites and documents. I’ve even attached all of the websites below that I used for this blog. This blog was not written purely from emotions… this blog was written from INFORMATION.
All I’m going to leave you with is: no matter what your feelings are towards Black Lives Matter, police brutality, systemic racism, or even your political views (which, racial issues are NOT political… but I find that people make it political?? idk..) just be sure to do your due diligence first. Listen to what people are saying and research the topics from trusted, impartial and unbiased publications. Just because you haven’t witnessed or experienced injustices due to the color of your skin doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen daily and doesn’t mean “this isn’t a color issue” Lastly, Remember- some of you may feel that the current issues in the world don’t affect you… but if you have a family member, friend, or even simply a community member that is a POC – this most certainly DOES affect you. Even if you have none of those…you still have fellow American citizens who need our help. This affects us all.