I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to write any more posts about shootings for a while. Not mass shootings, not shootings of police, not shootings by police, not the ever-confusing shootings of and by toddlers. The horror of the shootings that make headlines is how easy it is, for most of us, to understand that it could be any of us. To understand something has gone wrong in our society, in our schools, in our definition of protect and serve. That’s been made abundantly clear. But somehow, as these incidents continue and grow, instead of addressing how to fix things, real discussion is at a standstill, and there’s a divide the width of the Grand Canyon where it seems no one is listening: “Black Lives Matter!” “No, Blue Lives Matter!” Sigh.
I want to post about my continued quest for the perfect moon photograph, the sad state of my tank, summertime in the city, how frustrating it is to be a peasant, finding laughter in the absurdity of the everyday, blather on about writingnotwriting.
But here I am, again.
The victim didn’t die, there’s nothing to debate, it’s a blatant fuck-up. I don’t have the words for this one, thinking about it wraps my intestines tight around my shins and makes agoraphobia sound like an attractive alternative to stepping outside. A man with autism, in Florida, was upset and ran away from his group home. He didn’t run far, and his behavioral therapist found him sitting on the street playing with his toy truck. Someone called the police, reportedly stating something about an armed suspect threatening suicide. Maybe that’s what the caller honestly thought, maybe they were just frightened and freaked out by the man. Either way, when the police arrived, Charles Kinsey, the behavioral therapist from the group home, was sitting/lying on the street with him. In some ways I’ve been Charles Kinsey, and I know what he was doing, working to calm his client, set him at ease, and get him back home safely. It’s a hard, frustrating job that can shatter your heart ten times a shift while it simultaneously fills you with hope and appreciation for the small moments and subtlest of victories. It’s exhausting. But of course, I’m not a black man.
After the responding officers were told by Kinsey what was happening, told the supposed threat was a man with autism holding a toy truck (not “even” a toy gun), and Kinsey was lying on the ground with his hands up, one of those officers shot Kinsey in the leg. To keep everyone extra safe, after shooting three times, they rolled him over and handcuffed him. It’s ok, though, an honest mistake, the officer had intended to shoot the (white) man with autism. *sarcasm* Kinsey was trying to convince his client to lie on the ground, but his client was sitting and rocking, very very common amongst autistic people.
I don’t want to hear how police officers all over the country are extra jumpy because of the recent shootings of fellow officers. I understand that, and every shooting, fatal or not, is tragic for those directly involved and our greater community. I don’t understand a police officer so poorly trained that he would shoot at an unarmed man lying on the ground who had already explained what was happening. I don’t understand why we have police officers so poorly prepared to respond to calls in the community one would think for a second shooting at a vulnerable, mentally challenged, unarmed citizen (with what is now a common disorder) is an appropriate response. Who was he protecting? Who did he think he was serving? Excuses aren’t reasons, and excuses don’t erase repercussions.
Yes, in the chorus of recent shootings striking chords, this one is an off-key aria that terrifies me. It’s terrified many of my friends; one of our biggest fears, spoken or unspoken, playing onstage now under a merciless spotlight. With or without a diagnosis of autism, many neurological disorders come with a processing disorder. CAPD–Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Processing disorders mean physical hearing may not be impaired, but sounds and speech are easily muddied, resulting in delays understanding what is being said, often requiring calm, quiet, PATIENCE, visual cues and clues, and repetition. Thousands (maybe millions?) of children and adults have this disorder, it goes hand in hand with many learning disorders, autism, epilepsy, add/adhd, developmental delays, and sometimes it’s the result of medications slowing cognitive function. There are also several seizure types that leave the person seemingly aware, standing, sitting, maybe even walking and talking, but in fact the brain has “checked out” for a moment, or three, or ten. FYI, autism and epilepsy often go hand in hand. I’m not sure I have any fellow special needs mom friends whose children (regardless of age) don’t have either CAPD or a seizure disorder. Without autism, that client, the intended recipient of three bullets, could have been my child. Could be my child tomorrow. Could be any number of friends’ children; yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Stop pretending police officers are superheroes, or are supposed to be superheroes. We don’t need superheroes, we need human beings with critical thinking skills and compassion, who are trained in crisis management and deescalation skills at least as well as Charles Kinsey. We need law enforcement officers who recognize and acknowledge the difference–before firing their weapons–between an imminent threat to their lives and a pain in the ass who’s making them run, the difference between someone pointing a gun at them and a child or mentally challenged individual holding a toy. Stop pretending every day on every street in uniform in America is equivalent to being dropped into a war zone.
Yes, being a law enforcement officer is an often dangerous, always stressful job. I appreciate those who choose to take the risk and join their local force. I would appreciate adequate vetting and training even more. If we can not and do not feel safe teaching our children to approach law enforcement if they are in need, we can no longer pretend to be a democracy, we are broken. Shooting those who are unarmed, shooting at our most vulnerable citizens, is unacceptable. Period. Stop pretending this is protecting and serving anyone.