Reposted from Lollardfish by coquiero
Editor's Note: Police brutality and disabilities -- coquiero
I have a new piece up on CNN about police killings of people with disabilities. These are situations in which police perceive a threat, there is a weapon involved, and they demand the disabled make a choice.
Don't be disabled, or -
I talk about the four killings, although just as I was filing the piece, it turns out there was another, in Kansas (I write about it here).
On CNN, I write:
In the past two weeks, police have killed at least four people with psychiatric disabilities, each of whom had a weapon. Most recently, police in St. Louis shot Kajieme Powell, killing him just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri.
Despite the well-reported issues with the video, many people have largely accepted the police account because the words "mental illness" provide a kind of universal justification. It's time to break that justification apart and to start saving some of these lives. I write:
In cases like these, we need to stop talking about mental illness and start thinking through the implications of psychiatric disabilities. We also need police whose first instinct is to de-escalate tense situations whenever and however possible, and, when necessary, solve confrontations with the absolute minimum amount of force.
"Psychiatric disability" refers to mental illness that "significantly interferes with the performance of major life activities," a category that clearly applies to people whose "erratic behavior" got them killed by police.
The distinction matters. In America, being disabled comes with certain civil rights protections. While we generally try to eradicate illness, we are required to accommodate disability. So how does a police officer accommodate someone behaving erratically and holding a knife?
Mostly, they don't. Mostly, they create a situation in which there is no out other than death.
In the piece I talk about Kajieme Powell in Missouri, Michelle Cusseaux in Arizona, Diana Showman in San Jose, and Jeffrey Towe in Sacramento.
Police are trained to seize control of situations and to punish non-compliance with force (I wrote a piece for Al Jazeera on the "cult of compliance," my term for coordinating discrete episodes of police violence). We need to work for new trainings, new approaches, and an emphasis on de-escalation.
I like the accommodation model. It has a strong legal foundation. It has a strong cultural foundation. And ...
There will always be terrible situations in which police must shoot to kill someone struggling with their disability. There could be a lot fewer. Moreover, accommodations for disability tend to have positive ripple effects for the whole population.
Every time an able-bodied person uses an automatic door or wheelchair ramp while pulling a suitcase or stroller, they should thank the Americans with Disabilities Act and the power of accommodations. Similarly, if police will accommodate psychiatric disability by not forcing confrontation whenever possible, we will all be a lot safer.
Thanks for reading. Another death on Saturday. Surely more to come.
UPDATE: Thank you so much for the recs and the shares. It's always an honor to be on the rec-list. I'd love to see you on my facebook page or twitter follows. I'm working hard to build a community of people focused on these issues.
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