I’ve been pulled over before in North Miami with my autistic brother in the car.
My family grew up in North Miami.
I now live only about five minutes from North Miami.
But North Miami is not the place I thought it was.
North Miami is a dangerous place for black people and a dangerous place for people with disabilities.
Some will say that the shooting of Charles Kinsey was an isolated incident.
I think it is all we need to know.
The story, which is now an international news item goes like this.
Police are called by someone claiming that a man is carrying a gun, threatening to kill himself. The man is walking in the middle of a street in North Miami. The man is autistic and it is clear to see on the videotape.
A man named Charles Kinsey comes over to help the autistic man. Kinsey quickly realizes that the autistic man is just holding a toy truck- not a gun.
He is no threat to anybody and just needs to get back to his group home from which he has escaped from.
The rest of the details are still a bit fuzzy.
Police show up, pull out high-powered rifles and order the two men to lie down.
Kinsey complies, lies on his back and puts his hands high up in the sky.
The autistic man sits down next to Kinsey.
The rest of the story is well-known by now.
“All he has is a toy truck, a toy truck,” Kinsey is heard yelling at police in cellphone video. “I am a behavior therapist at a group home.”
The police then proceed to shoot Kinsey three times in the leg as he is lying down mere feet from the autistic man.
I became enraged when I first heard the news of the incident last night.
Then I became scared.
This could happen to my brother.
While I’ve always supported the Black Lives Matters movement, today is the first day that I really understand the totality of its importance.
Our police are the only people in the world that have the power to kill an American citizen if force is justified. They have the legal writ to use violence. And we need them to have that right. But it also means that we need to hold them to an incredibly high standard.
We have to pay them better, we have to recruit better people into the force and we have to train the great people already in the force on how to identity people with developmental disabilities.
It is never ok to shoot an unarmed man who poises no direct threat to an officer, himself or another person.
And it is never ok to shoot an unarmed man who is mere feet away from a person with autism.
North Miami is not the place I thought it was and I’m scared to death for my brother, for my family, for potential aides that my brother may have and for myself.
This makes it plain as day that some officers in the North Miami Police Department do not have the training or the empathy needed to do their jobs.
But North Miami is also not unique.
Ethan Saylor was a 26-year-old man from Maryland. He also had down syndrome. And he was white.
Ethan was choked to death by off duty police officers after he refused to leave a movie theatre. He wasn’t violent. Have you ever met someone with down syndrome? He wasn’t a threat.
Saylor was described by people who knew him as a sweet, loving man with an innocent spirit.
He also loved the police more than just about anything.
He was so fascinated by cop shows and the idea of helping people that he once called 911 innocently just to ask them about their work.
Ethan Saylor believed that police officers were good people who had devoted his life to protect people like him.
And they killed him on the ground in a dirty movie theatre like an animal.
He cried out for his mother as his life was ripped from him.
“Ouch Mom, that hurts, don’t touch me, get off!” he said.
Then he died of asphyxiation. The cartilage in his throat was fractured, and he had bruises and abrasions all over his face and body. The cause of death was homicide.
I’ve always said I supported Black Lives Matter because of my “empathy.”
But fuck empathy.
This is about survival.
If we can’t protect black lives, then we sure as hell won’t be able to protect autistic ones.
America has a problem folks. And its worse than we thought.
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