When I first ran across this story earlier in the week, it sent a chill through me. Even almost a week later, it still elicits a strong sense of frustration. I’m prone to living a rather solitary life any way, not wanting to get out and visit, travel or socialize overly much. And stories like this tend to reinforce a general view that there’s no place like home. This is my nightmare on so many levels. I imagine almost every parent of an autistic child or adult is horrified at just this sort of scenario. As a person who takes autistic teens out into the community, this is especially troubling.
Charles Kinsey did everything right. He did everything in his power to protect the person he was charged with caretaking as well as protecting himself, thinking that if he kept his cool, kept his hands up he would not be shot. But he thought wrong. And as more facts became known, the excuse the police department gave was that Kinsey was accidentally shot and the real target was the 26 year-old autistic young man, Arnoldo Rios-Soto. This is not at all reassuring. The family is justifiably traumitized. Rios-Soto refuses to take off his shirt, still stained with the blood of his injured caretaker.
This is the sort of story that traumatizes *everyone* in the autism community. We generally don’t have a bias against law enforcement and would prefer to think of them as natural allies in helping to protect people who can’t protect themselves. But this is an instance where the the pleadings of the caretaker seemed to be completely and utterly ignored. He identified himself and told where he worked and what he was doing. He complied with everything the officers asked. But of course the autistic individual did not, but continued to play with his toy truck, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him. Until his caretaker was shot and BOTH of them were handcuffed. This policy of handcuffing everyone is troublesome and I’ve had personal run-ins with this before with law enforcement personnel and students with disabilities. Knowing that almost any encounter with the police will result in getting handcuffed might adds to the frustration.
It has been a rough couple of summers for people in law enforcement and I’ve generally been sympathetic to their cause. They have a tough job and it isn’t made any easier when deranged and violent people are trying to hunt them down and kill them just because they wear a badge. Here in the Atlanta area, things have been especially tense with protesters on the streets, making it inadvisable to go down town because of the risk of becoming entangled in knots of anger and outrage.
But when did some prudence and common sense go so far out the window? Couldn’t someone look through a rifle scope and see that it the toy truck wasn’t a gun? Once Kinsey identified himself and started talking, couldn’t someone interrogate him from a safe distance in order to get more information and verify his story? Call for back-up? Fortunately Kinsey will recover, but the only reason no one is dead is because the officer missed.
Generally the officers in my town seem to be supportive,working with and within the community as whole in various charity and community projects. But it is still hard to shake the images and emotions that a story like this evokes. Am I going to have to devote an extra space on our AAC devices for “Hands up, don’t shoot”?? And as a parent, I might have to have a particular and peculiar conversation with my oldest not unlike what many other parents in the country have to do.