Truth be told, this is not news for me, I’ve been familiar with it for years and years.
Those of you who have known me For long, know I’m deeply interested and read constantly about the history and issues of abuse, violence and injury of the autism/ disability community. (Sadly, there’s a lot of literature about this). My social media feed is inundated daily with missing autistic children and adults. Autistics drowning. Autistic children being abused by teaching staff. And yes, autistic children and adults being improperly interacted with by police. And sometimes even doctors and nurses, social workers, behavioral staff. It’s a reality. And it’s even more of a reality and has a higher likelihood among autistics that also are black.
Madison has Snow White skin and red hair, carries herself unlike an 18 year old girl, can have stilted speech at times, walks slanted and that posture can be compounded by her clothes and a hoodie. It’s often perceived as Suspicious. (Hoodies are often worn by autistics as a way to blunt noise, stimulus, etc.). And one of my fears believe it or not is that she will one day be “independent” of me, endure an encounter that is misunderstood and ends badly. (Some Of you know she was accused of theft at Barnes and Noble because she has poor eye contact (perceived as hiding something) and and awkward demeanor in public. I’m not sure she will ever drive independently. Not because she can’t operate a vehicle. But because her executive functioning and processing may not reach the capacity that it should be to do so. White with red hair, she is still at risk of misinterpreting, being misunderstood, and getting into an altercation with a cop. This holds true, Should she be admitted to a hospital without an advocate. And that’s not necessarily a cop’s or healthcare worker’s fault. There is still a huge knowledge deficit regarding autism and the “outside” world. And there’s even more of a gross knowledge deficit among autistics of color.
What I can tell you is that there are in fact Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders from around the country who have committed to educating police departments and EMS in how to identify and approach people with autism. They acknowledge that autistics Of color are at an even greater risk of violent altercation with LEOs and they DO work hard to rectify this problem. I’ve met them. I’ve corresponded with them. Some Of them have educated the LEOs of Dutchess County. Unfortunately, some police departments have just not “evolved” enough yet.
I’m fortunate to live somewhere where the local PD has helped to “flag” her traits should she have an issue at home where she calls the police or if she leaves the house. I rely on them to respond swiftly to the dingalings in our neighborhood, as Do my diverse race neighbors. So as scary as this is for us all, regardless of petitions signed, laws passed, regulations created, approaching these issues takes acknowledgement, Understanding, a lot of education, and the willingness to evolve.
And I’m reading a lot about police in riot gear during planned peaceful protests. Yes they were. Because they needed to prevent the corner store down The street from being wrecked. The store where many Of my black, brown and white neighbors (some of whom have developmental disabilities) walk to buy groceries and basic daily supplies. Yes, They were parked in front of my house in helmets. And two days later I saw Them in ball caps delivering meals to people who needed to eat.
So I think change IS happening among the more Marginalized members of our communities and police and first responders. I think it’s more evident in more well educated municipalities, among the more foreword Thinking states and communities, like Dutchess County. I think it will Take a tremendous amount of time and campaigning and funding. I feel the fear other parents I’ve met have for When our kids “age out”, black or white, and they're expected to navigate this world.