Friday, February 5, 2016

Autistic and Killed By Police

This post focuses mostly on police reactions 

On February 2, 2012, police shot and killed Stephon Watts, a Chicago-area Black Autistic teenager, for panicking while holding a knife, in his home. On Thursday, February 4, 2016, police entered the apartment of Kayden Clarke, an Autistic trans man in Mesa, Arizona, and shot and killed him for being suicidal and holding a knife. In both cases, the officers knew full well of their Autistic identity, having been called to their homes before.

In Watts’ case, the police had shown up to “subdue” him, according to the news report, many, many times in the past. To have had such encounters with the police, which were undoubtedly physical in nature, would be traumatizing.  Even if Watts had not been panicking in the first place, to lash out from fear of being “subdued” again is the result of a fight or flight response. Undoubtedly, being Black and thus seen as even more intimidating also influenced the officers’ reaction. They shot Stephon Watts for being Autistic, Black, and in extreme distress. As a Black Autistic, Watts faced multiple marginalization from society, with ableism and racism as a reaction that killed him.

In Clarke's case, they had responded to a suicide call, found him holding a knife, and shot an Autistic person they knew was Autistic and in extreme distress. They had responded to a suicide call in the past for Clarke. Clarke, as an Autistic trans man, faced unique societal barriers and also clearly had mental health needs – and the police killed him for it. 

It makes me glad I was able to transport myself to the hospital for my suicidal thoughts in early January. It makes me scared of ever having the thoughts again, not just because it feels awful to have them, but because sometimes the cops kill people who are suicidal. It might be my instinct, too, to grab the nearest object to keep people from touching me or taking me away or whatnot.  

People talk in circles about the need for more training for the police regarding disability and mental health, or of having identification cards people can pull out to show the officers. It is my belief that all the training in the world won’t help what’s ingrained in society; the idea that certain people’s lives are less worth living. For instance, the police in *both* cases knew that Watts and Clarke were Autistic and in extreme distress. I don’t believe training or ID cards will fix the hair-trigger reactions of police. While we don’t know what de-escalation tactics they used, if any, before shooting Watts or Clarke, we know those people are dead because the police shot to kill. Training police could potentially save a few lives, but there have to be better solutions.

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