This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss law-enforcement responses to disabled Americans.
As discussed in The Atlantic, “The committee, chaired by democratic Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois, met against the backdrop of the death of James Boyd, a homeless man who had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, shot to death by police in Albuquerque, and Ethan Saylor, a man with Down syndrome who suffocated to death while handcuffed by off-duty deputies working as security guards in a Maryland movie theater. They are just two of many people with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities killed by law enforcement.
“In the face of these deaths and many others, the senators and witnesses all argued that something must be done. Suggested solutions included increased funding and support for Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) training and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, which would improve access to mental health services for people who come into contact with the criminal justice system and provide law enforcement officers tools to identify and respond to mental-health issues.
“While the hearing focused on troubling, high profile, and tragic cases such as those of Boyd and Saylor, the scope of the problem extends to virtually every kind of disability. Encounters with police have also taken an unnecessarily violent turn for people with disabilities that are not psychiatric or intellectual, including conditions that are physical or sensory.
“In 2008, Ernest Griglen was removed from his car by police who thought he was intoxicated. He was subsequently beaten. Griglen was, in fact, quite sober, but he is diabetic and was in insulin shock. Judging by media reports alone, people who are diabetic are often mistaken as threatening or drunk. In 2009, Antonio Love felt sick and went into a Dollar General store to use the bathroom. Time passed and he didn’t come out, so the store manager called the police. The officers knocked on the bathroom door, ordered him to come out, but got no response. They sprayed pepper spray under the door, opened it with a tire iron, then tasered Love repeatedly. Love is deaf. He couldn’t hear the police. Again, if news reports are any indication, deaf people are too frequently treated as non-compliant and tasered or beaten by police. Continue reading “Law enforcement and the disabled”