January 21, 2019

#Black Lives Matter—It’s Personal Now

The latest police-involved shooting of an unarmed black man (he survived) hits home for me, in a big way—the victim, Charles Kinsey, was a behavioral aide from a group home in North Miami who was trying to calm down his client, a 22-year old man with autism who was sitting in the middle of the road playing with a toy truck.

As shown in a cell phone video from a local bystander, after encountering the police officers, Kinsey laid down next to his client, put his arms up, and said that he worked in the group home where the young man with autism lived and had wandered away from.

A police officer then inexplicably shot Kinsey in his leg, rushed him, patted him down and handcuffed him. Then the officers handcuffed the young man with autism and he remained in a police car for over three hours. Kinsey, thank goodness, is okay, and in an interview from his hospital bed, expressed concern over his client, who was traumatized from the whole incident and had to be hospitalized himself.

News reports said that North Miami police had received erroneous reports that the client had a gun, but police later confirmed that no gun was recovered from the scene. As reported by Channel 7 TV in Miami, Kinsey said he complied with the officers’ demands. “When I went to the ground, I went to the ground just like this with my hands up,” Kinsey said. “And I’m laying down here just like this, and I’m telling him, ‘Sir, there’s no need for firearm. I’m unarmed; he’s an autistic guy. He got a toy truck in his hand.”

When I watched the video, which has now gone viral, I couldn’t help but think about our own son with developmental disabilities, who was driven today to Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA by his wonderful aide who happens to be Black. What could have happened if a police officer had pulled over their car, and my son started screaming or throwing stuff, as he does when upset? Would the police officer on the scene have made some kind of bizarre assumption and drawn their weapons? I shudder to think about it.

This incident drives home for me several key points, including the ingrained basis against Black males by many police officers, and the enormous need for every police officer to receive  training about the best practices for interacting with teens and adults with autism and other disabilities. They also need to learn and understand the huge and important role played by professional behavorial aides, and to respect what they are saying. What happened in North Miami is inexcusable, and should never happen again.