Black Males, Autism, and the Police
September 3, 2014 5:54 AM   Subscribe

"He’s black, male and autistic," she says. "[I] never know if he’ll be accosted. You ask questions later and you shoot first. It’s happened too many times all over this nation." In the wake of Ferguson, parents of autistic young men of color discuss their fears.

"It's my worst nightmare ... him not understanding, possibly, a command to put your hands up or to get on the ground."

--Lorraine Spencer, about her son Jermaine, “For Parents Of Young Black Men With Autism, Extra Fear About Police

"As a mom raising a black son, a black autistic son, I fear the day he comes in contact with law enforcement. I worry about my son because autism affects the way he communicates and responds to communication from others...We live in New York City: home to Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Eric Garner, and thousands of black men who are subjected to stop-and-frisk tactics every single day. So yes, I do worry about my son."

--Kpana Kpoto, In the wake of Kajieme Powell: An Autism Mom’s Plight

Generations of black parents have had to have the talk with our sons, the explanation that while they have a right to do everything a white kid does, exercising those rights under the wrong circumstances could be fatal. And a transgression like the one [my son's] committed against his doctor — one that might get a white child arrested — could get him killed.

--Alicia Montgomery, Autism, Like Race, Complicates Almost Everything

... when encounters occur between armed individuals and autistic males of color, the outcome is disproportionately fatal.

Had my pre-teen, autistic, multiracial son been where Trayvon Martin was on the night he was murdered by George Zimmerman, the outcome would have been the same. Had he been wandering down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in the wrong place at the wrong time he would have suffered the same fate as Michael Brown.

Every behavior that our son uses to bridge the communication gap between him and those who use verbal speech would have been viewed as a threat. His stimming and vocalizations would have been prejudged. After all, Zimmerman ignored law enforcement commands to stay put, armed himself and deliberately pursued someone he considered a suspect based entirely on that teen's race. We now know that living in or near Ferguson for anyone considered Black and male, especially if it is decided by law enforcement that individual is “behaving erratically”, marks that individual for death.

--Kerima Çevik, Catastrophic Encounters and Autistic Identity

"The initial news coverage of the incident shed little light on why lethal force was necessary when officers were not responding to any report of criminal activity and had no reason to suspect Mr. Washington of a crime just because they heard a loud noise as they were driving past...."

--Steven Eugene Washington, Unarmed Autistic Man, Killed By LAPD (from 2010)

Resources for Law Enforcement

Autism Risk Management
The Law Enforcement Awareness Network
Autism Alliance for Local Emergency Responder Training
The Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition
Autism Risk and Safety Management
Community and Law Enforcement Aware Response
Autism & Law Enforcement: 25 Field Response Tips by Dennis Debbaudt.
posted by magstheaxe (13 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Even white soccer moms worry about that gang of murderous bullies shooting their autistic child, hence the proliferation of stickers like this.
posted by 445supermag at 6:47 AM on September 3, 2014

The biggest police department to pick it up so far is one with a history of a less-than-perfect relationship with the community: the LAPD. More than half its officers have now gotten some training about the symptoms of cognitive disabilities like autism.
Compare that to statements made after Washington was shot:
Steven Eugene Washington was unarmed when police shot him March 20, 2010 in the 800 block of South Vermont Avenue. At the time, the Los Angeles Police Department said Washington was coming toward officers while trying to remove something from the waistband of his pants.

Following the shooting, LAPD announced officers would complete a one-hour training on how to handle situations involving autistic individuals.
You'd think they'd be able to complete one hour of training within four years.
posted by zamboni at 6:52 AM on September 3, 2014

Deaf people too get the shit beaten out of them for "non-compliance".

Fuck people like this. It's like they're itching to get into a fight and the first citizen that looks the wrong way will be "resisting arrest".
posted by Talez at 7:02 AM on September 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Great post. I was thinking about this very thing yesterday. My nephew's school is doing awareness training for emergency personnel and were featured on local news over the weekend. It was especially timely as my sister had been telling a story Sunday about going on her nightly walk with her teenage son who is 6'3" and let's say husky. We all live in an urban area with a lot of foot traffic. Most people looking at my nephew would immediately understand that he was in someway disabled, but on a day he dresses in a way that would be considered street attire (not Cookie Monster pajama pants) he could blend in. Well, the other day while walking down the sidewalk they passed a man that had a baseball cap that had an insignia on it that was very pertinent to my nephew's interests. So much so that he was compelled to touch the front of the hat, which the man who had not been paying attention to his surrounding was very put out by.

My nephew is white. A 'gentle giant'. If he looked like Michael Brown how would the situation differed? We now have concealed carry in my state. This is scary as hell.
posted by readery at 7:02 AM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Fuck people like this. It's like they're itching to get into a fight and the first citizen that looks the wrong way will be "resisting arrest".

Yes. The first article talks about training for people on the autism spectrum on how to deal with the police safely, when in a sane world it should be the cops getting training how not to shoot people.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:54 AM on September 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Not everywhere is like this.

In Boston, there is Jeffrey [*] . Young. Black. Male. Autistic. Habit of going loose and disappearing somewhere in the MBTA for days on end.

A lot of Bostonians know about him. A lot know his picture. Whenever he bolts, he gets the police called on him on sight, and the police know how to gently get him back to his home. His fate does not stay unlearned for long.

[*] Keeping his name elited as I'm not sure how his family feels about the situation.
posted by ocschwar at 9:17 AM on September 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

So much so that he was compelled to touch the front of the hat, which the man who had not been paying attention to his surrounding was very put out by.

The problem is that these situations are genuinely tough on both ends. On one end, you have an autistic person who is "compelled" to touch someone else. On the other hand, you have a person who does not want to be touched without their consent - which is a perfectly reasonable desire.

How do you handle those interactions? Do you say that it is okay for them to take place because one of the participants is disabled and may have difficulty stopping?

Fear of police violence is generally a justified one, but at the same time, how do you deal with these situations in a way that leaves both the autistic person and the victim fairly treated?
posted by corb at 10:32 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I totally get that. My sister was horrified, she's generally on top of reading her son and anticipates all kinds of interactions. But this was a case of him seeing one of the things that genuinely pleases him and reacting before she even noticed. The symbol on the hat is a kind of new fixation for him.

As a side note, spending time with someone that is profoundly autistic makes me so aware of the things that each of us are intrinsically drawn to or averse to. We are sensual creatures. Being around my nephew over the years and getting to know the things he gets excited to see or hear or touch and how they is just fascinating.
posted by readery at 1:19 PM on September 4, 2014

If you've an autistic child, then you should probably consider emigrating. Cops behave less like violent psychopaths almost everywhere else.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:45 AM on September 6, 2014

David Perry has been posting a lot lately about the cult of compliance.
posted by Lexica at 9:19 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

To hold off the British, obvs.
posted by corb at 10:09 AM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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