On May 25, George Floyd, a 40-year-old black man from Houston, Texas, died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was placed under arrest for a nonviolent offense. Although the officers called to the scene thought he was armed, Floyd was not carrying a weapon. Despite his pleas for help, three other officers did nothing to intervene and stop senior officer Derek Chauvin as he continued to pin Floyd down even after he begged for air and eventually became unresponsive. All four officers now face charges.
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protests broke out following the senseless death of George Floyd. Protestors in cities such as Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis were calling for lasting criminal justice reform and equal treatment of Black people. Our country has long struggled with racial inequality and the need for vast criminal justice reform. According to a 2020 fact sheet by the NAACP, the American judicial system incarcerates African Americans at a rate of more than five times that of whites.
Calling for Understanding and an End to Injustice
I watched the news in the days after Floyd’s death, and I could not help but think, “What if Floyd had been diagnosed with a disability or had been caring for someone with one?” I don’t know whether he did or did not have a disability. We do know, however, that many people with disabilities around the country have also experienced alarming and sometimes tragic interactions with the police. Moreover, at the intersection of race and disability, parents of Black children with disabilities report feeling twice as fearful about their children’s interactions with law enforcement.
We can’t change the fact that interactions between law enforcement officers and people with disabilities can and do occur, particularly at the teen and young adult level. I will admit, other than brief, positive interactions, I have not personally had many interactions with law enforcement. However, for some individuals with disabilities, encounters with police can prove challenging and worrisome for them and their parents and care providers, particularly when young people have problems such as appropriate emotional and behavioral regulation, speech and language delays, personality disorders, mental health issues, and social developmental delays such as lack of eye contact.
How do we build a better path to understanding?
Preventing Negative Interactions
For those individuals who may be at risk of or who are concerned about interactions with law enforcement, it might be helpful to carry a medical alert card in a wallet, purse, or backpack. Even a hand-printed 3 x 5 index card would work and could easily be laminated at most office supply stores. The information card should include the individual’s name, full address, a commonly used telephone number, emergency contact, and relationship to the individual. You may also want to include a recent photo, along with diagnostic information. Another idea to promote safety is a medical alert bracelet or ID tag.
If you’re a parent, what should you tell your child about how to interact with and talk to police or other first responders? Check out this helpful parent tip sheet from the Pacer Center: “What Youth Need to Know if They are Questioned by Police.”
Since 2010, all Indiana first responders have been required to complete mandatory training on autism spectrum disorders. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA), a division of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community (IIDC), offers information about first responder training on the center’s website. You can email the Library at the Institute to borrow the “Training for Indiana First Responders Kit” as well as additional resources, including books, DVDs, and videos for emergency services personnel on appropriate interactions with individuals with disabilities. To talk to a librarian, call the Library at (800) 437-7924 or visit the Library website.
One final resource: Smart911 allows users to create a personal profile to alert area first responders that an individual at an address has a documented disability or significant medical condition. You can include helpful information on the SMART911 profile, including medications, allergies, challenging behaviors, service or guide dog information, and a photo of the person with a disability. You control the type of information you want to share, and information is only accessed when you call 9-1-1. In the event of an emergency, your Smart911 profile is displayed to 911 dispatchers.