Autism and Police Shootings
Another black man shot by a police officer. Only this time, Charles Kinsey was an unarmed behavioral therapist trying to protect an autistic man in his charge when he was shot in the leg by a North Miami cop, despite the fact that he had his arms outstretched to demonstrate that he didn’t have a gun. The video of the event went viral Wednesday, just the latest controversy in a string of such shootings.
But by Thursday, the story took a twist when the police union president said Kinsey did everything right and that the officer meant to shoot the autistic man, not Kinsey, because he feared the patient had a gun and was going to hurt the therapist; there had been a 911 call stating that someone was armed and suicidal. However, the man had a toy truck, not a gun. Whomever the police officer was targeting, both a bleeding Kinsey and the autistic man were handcuffed. Again, social media erupted.
Disability rights activist David M. Perry wrote of what happens to “marginalized people” — people of color and the disabled — when they encounter the police. There’s a fear among autism parents that because their kids can have meltdowns, or be slow to process directions, or be impulsive, their safety is in jeopardy.
This isn’t a new concern. Actress Holly Robinson Peete memorably described trying to protect her autistic son in an essay for NBC News last year. She wrote:
“Like all moms, I worry about my son. He’s a 17-year-old, 6’2″ African American man with quirky ways. He reads and reacts to social cues differently than other teens his age. I am always putting him through mock police drills in case he gets stopped while walking on the street in our neighborhood. I even took him to the local police department and introduced him as a precautionary measure. It is my worst mommy nightmare that he’d find himself in a Trayvon Martin situation — at the wrong place and the wrong time when some tragic ‘misunderstanding’ ensues.”
As Marlene Ross commented on Facebook, “We need far more training for first responders. Very scary for our adult children who have autism.” Until this happens, autistic adults, teens and even children may be perceived incorrectly as threats.