Police need to stop using excessive force

Police need to stop using excessive force

Imagine that you are the parent or spouse of a person with a disability. Your loved one might have an intellectual disability such as autism or Down Syndrome. Likewise, they might be suffering an acute mental health episode due to schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder. For whatever reason, you are having an emergency and find yourself calling 911 for help. Minutes later, the police are on the scene and your loved one is dead. The reason your loved one is dead is because the police used excessive force.

In 2018, at least 136 people who had a disability were killed by police. That’s not okay. The police should be protecting vulnerable populations, not killing them. Sadly, people who have disabilities are susceptible to police brutality. It is unnecessary to use deadly force against people with disabilities, especially when the situation is not connected to criminal activity.

Data image
Each blue dot represents a fatal incident where deadly force was used against a person who had mental illness. It appears to be a systemic issue.

When the police treat everyone like they are a criminal, the whole community suffers. Sometimes, vulnerable people need medical help, or they require protection from themselves or others. Instead of deadly force, a successful police interaction should include de-escalation of the crisis. Responsible police forces value and implement their training in de-escalation techniques designed to calm agitated people.

For many, the nub of the problem is the way police are taught to interact from the very beginning – with so much emphasis on firearms training and personal protection, and relatively little on de-escalating confrontations.

BBC News

In addition to the problem of excessive use of deadly force, many people have incorrect ideas about people who have a disability, especially when the person has an intellectual disability or a mental illness. Police should receive education about how intellectual disabilities are different than mental illness, and how best to communicate and interact with people who are experiencing a crisis.

Take a look at these examples of excessive deadly force by police. It is likely that every one of these situations could have been avoided if the involved police had been properly trained:

Adam Trammell

Adam Trammell was tasered 15 times because he wouldn’t get out of the shower. He had Schizophrenia and thought the police might be a delusion. Police had been called to bring him to the hospital where he could receive care. Why would it ever be necessary to taser a mentally ill young man in a shower–especially 15 times?

“He was naked in the bathtub. He had no weapon,” attorney Mark Thomsen said. “There is no reason in any situation that a young African-American male suffering from mental illness should be shot [with a Taser] 15-18 times and then die.”

Ethan Saylor
Ethan Saylor had Down Syndrome. One day he stubbornly refused to leave a theater because he wanted to watch the movie again. Police were called and and within minutes Ethan was dead from asphyxiation.

According to Frederick County, Maryland, police statements, he swore at them and refused to leave. The deputies tried to remove him, despite Saylor’s caretaker’s warnings and pleas for them to wait and let her take care of it. What happened next is a little unclear, but witnesses say the deputies put Saylor on the floor, held him down and handcuffed him. Saylor, called Ethan by his family, suffered a fracture in his throat cartilage. He died of asphyxiation.

Magdiel Sanchez
Magdiel Sanchez was deaf and had an intellectual disability. He was standing on the porch of his own house while holding a pipe. When police told him to drop the pipe, he didn’t hear their command, so they shot him dead.

Witnesses could hear the officers giving Sanchez commands, but the officers did not hear the witnesses yelling that Sanchez could not hear them, Mathews said. When he was about 15ft (4.5 meters) away from the officers, they opened fire – Lindsey with his Taser and Barnes with his gun, apparently simultaneously, Mathews said.

Charleena Lyles
Charleena Lyles called the police to report a burglary. The police were aware the woman had mental health issues, and within moments of arriving on the scene, they shot her dead. She was pregnant and had four other children in the home at the time.

The officers talked about the woman previously having large metal shears, trying to prevent officers from leaving her apartment and making “weird statements” about her and her daughter turning into wolves.

Lyles had turned to Seattle police for help in the past, and the department knew she struggled with mental-health issues, according to her family and court records. A lawyer for Lyles’ estate accused police of mishandling her call by failing to recognize and prepare for “some sort of an involuntary mental-illness outburst.”

Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier.
Quintonio LeGrier was shot dead by police after he called 911 thinking that someone was trying to harm him. When the police arrived, Quintonio was in a psychotic state and was swinging an aluminum bat. Police shot Quintonio six times and also killed Bettie Jones by accident.

A jury awarded LeGrier’s family 1 million dollars in damages, but a judge overturned the settlement.

In the 2015 incident, police acknowledged that Jones — who rented a basement apartment from LeGrier’s father — was accidentally killed by Rialmo, who had been dispatched to a domestic disturbance involving LeGrier. Both LeGrier, who was going through a mental health episode, and his father called 911 before officers arrived at the family’s West Side home.

USA Today

These are just a few examples of people who have disabilities that have been killed by police. All of the deaths could have been avoided and it is incumbent upon law enforcement agencies to better train their members to ensure that lives are respected.

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