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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Solidarity and Law Enforcement Disability Training: The Effective Response to Police Excessive Force in the Intersections of Disability and Minority

Solidarity and Disability Training are Essential in Resolving the Conflict of Police Brutality.

By Jen Overfield, NCIL Policy Intern

Police officers are expected to respond very rapidly to situations that they may not fully understand. Many law enforcement agencies have little or no training in disability issues and the cost is high for individuals and their families. Recent statistics indicate that 50%-80% of encounters by officers involve an individual with a disability. Approximately half of those shot by police in the line of duty are estimated to have had mental health issues or other disabilities. The police brutality towards the intersections of the disability and minority communities’ demands for solidarity in advocating for a resolution. We need to advocate together for additional mandatory disability training for law enforcement if we expect change in statistics.

It is not only individuals with disabilities that are most likely to be killed by police officers. An African-American person is, on average, 4.2 times as likely to get shot and killed by a cop as a Caucasian person. A study released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs shows that transgender people are 3.32 times more likely to face violence from law enforcement than non-transgender people. Transgender people of color are nearly 2.5 times more likely to face attacks by police than white members of the transgender community. 

Three examples of excessive police force include:

  • On January 5, 2014, 18-year-old North Carolina high-school student, Keith Vidal, experienced a schizophrenic episode. Mentally agitated, Vidal frightened his family by holding a tiny screwdriver as though it were a weapon. His parents telephoned the local police, asking for an officer to help get their son to a place where he could be helped. Two officers arrived and were trying to calm the situation. A third officer arrived and 70 seconds later he shot and killed Keith.
  • A transgender man with Asperger’s, Kayden Clarke, who became incredibly well known through the Internet after a touching video of him with his service dog last year, was shot and killed by police officers in Arizona on February 4, 2016. Police entered his home and found him with a knife. Kayden, who was 24 years old, told police that he had a knife and was going to hurt himself. Police drew their firearms and shot him. He later died in the hospital.
  • According to a legal filing, Jason Harrison’s mother, Shirley Marshall, called emergency services on the morning of June 14, 2014, telling the dispatcher that her son had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and that she was worried about him, and he might need to be hospitalized. Within two minutes of the officers’ arrival at the house, Harrison, an African American man, lay dying. He was killed by six gunshot wounds to the chest, arm, and back.

Both communities and police can help avoid further brutality and death. One way is inter-community solidarity between all the communities that have higher rates, for whatever reason, of being killed by law enforcement. It is important to come together and give a voice the issue and the need for additional training. Keith Vidal was a member of the disability community. Kayden Clarke was a member of the intersection of the transgender and disability community. Jason Harrison was a member of the intersection of the African American community and disability community. What they all have in common is they were shot and killed by police officers before any de-escalation techniques were implemented.

Imagine if the officers in these three instances were trained to de-escalate the situation before responding with force. We need to come together and advocate for mandatory disability training for each officer in our community. Such solidarity is necessary to prevent future deaths in our communities!

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