Columns / Discourse / April 5, 2017

Discussing the potential cost of ableism

I know it’s been awhile since I wrote a column, since before spring break at least, and I honestly considered not writing a column this term. The basic reason was because of my workload. It had nothing to do with the paper or those reading it. You guys are awesome!

The thing that brought me back to my column was a phone call I received from my mother. She saw something on television about autistic people and police interaction, namely that people have been killed in large numbers because cops aren’t trained to handle autism. She suggested I do a little research and maybe write on the topic, and I took her advice.

It turns out this is a real problem, and quite a huge one at that. Some sources estimate that anywhere from roughly one-third to one-half of all people killed by police suffer from some sort of mental illness or physical disability. Some of the names of these people are pretty famous, like Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and many others whose deaths became rallying cries for the Black Lives Matter movement.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, people with mental illness also suffer higher rates of incarceration than most groups. All of this information has led me to an idea that has been swirling around in my head for a long time; one that I have until now lacked the courage to suggest.

I think people could benefit a lot if the Black Lives Matter movement were to fuse with a Differently-able/ Neuro-diverse movement. I figure since both groups face many of the same problems, and for some of the same reasons, both could benefit by joining together. One such example of this is how the media presents the Black Lives Matter movement and people with mental illness or differently-abled. Instances of mental illness or physical disability have been used to justify the deaths of black men and women confronted by police.

One such instance referred to the case of Eric Garner, who was asthmatic. The piece, an article, I believe, possibly a police report, said that if Garner had not been asthmatic, the maneuver the police used would not have killed him. Whether this is true or not shouldn’t matter. Any tactic used to police the American people should be safe to use on all strata of the populace.

In another instance, a black autistic child and his black therapist had an encounter with police. When the autistic boy became frightened and agitated, he reached for a toy train that he used to calm down. This is common among autistic people. It’s called stimming, performing repetitive actions or playing with various objects to focus body energy and keep the person from becoming overwhelmed. I do the same thing and have basically my whole life. I even have my own variety of toys for this very purpose. At this point, his therapist ran out and attempted to tell the officer that the boy was harmless and reaching for a toy train. The therapist ended up getting shot for his actions. Thankfully, nobody was killed. However, certain things I came across in my sources were phrases such as “at least nobody was killed,” which is true but not an excuse. A reference to the cop defending his actions by saying that he was aiming for the autistic boy is also ableism at its finest.

Ableist practices are rampant throughout the media on both sides, from anti-vaccine claims (disproven and based on fraudulent studies) to arguments about gun control, which spread the same stereotype of people with mental illness being dangerous and made no mention to increased access to healthcare or other possible solutions to the struggles of people with mental illness. For those of you who are curious, I encourage you to do a few quick internet searches on some of the above topics.

Tony Rogde-Hinderliter

Tags:  ableism ableist black lives matter column discourse mental illness one mind opinion

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