My experience with police has been both good and bad. I have had the experience of having close friends, gaming buddies, and such be police officers. I used to work with police, granted as a developer, developing programs to help police do their jobs better. I, up until a few years ago, trusted that police would always try and do the right thing.
That perception changed overnight. In February 2010, my 7 year old son, who, like me, is autistic (please don’t ask me about high or low functioning, as with all people, both of us are high functioning in some respects, low functioning in others), had an issue at school. I was at work, but wasn’t called (I have some theories as to why, as I was on the school advisory board, and was at direct political odds with the Principal over special education treatment and budget), they instead called my partner, who was a schoolteacher. She was also closer anyway, and headed to the school. When she got there, she was told “The ambulance already left”, and had to borrow money for a cab over to the local children’s hospital, where he was calm, collected, and told us his side of the story.
Now what actually happened in school, may have not been the issue, though it was clear that the school did not follow his IEP. He ended up melting down, but he was cognizant enough to do all the things we taught him to do – like sitting on the ground and asking them not to touch him until he calmed down (also in his IEP). Since they didn’t listen to that, and the school safety officer insisted on touching him, he got more upset and went looking for a friend of his, who was older, who was in 7th grade. A daughter of a good friend of the family’s. Ultimately, he hid behind a desk in a closet.
Due to school policies, the school called 911 (for a kid sitting behind a desk crying, scared). The police came in, manhandled him (I still have pictures of the bruises on his face and his back in the shape of a huge hand), dragged him from behind the desk, handcuffed him, when he said it was too tight (he’s autistic, at the time with major sensory issues, any touch could be painful if he wasn’t in the right state of mind), the police thought it would be appropriate to make the handcuffs tighter.
When they got to the hospital, the doctor/psychiatrist remarked that my son felt more comfortable in the hospital, than he did at school. Pointing to some major mishandling by both the school, and NYPD.
That was my son’s nightmare – it continued. So did mine.
I’m an activist. Not only am I an activist, but much of my activism has been in child rights. As a survivor of the “Troubled Teen Industry” (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2007/08/cult-spawned-tough-love-teen-industry), I was pretty keenly aware on laws and rules regarding ethical treatment of children, as well as special education law. This was my bailiwick. I called on as many people and organizations as I could. The NYCLU (who was very helpful in setting me up with a good lawyer), my own organization – CAFETY (Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth), and called upon every contact I had within state and local governments to look at this issue.
My son was traumatized, so I embarked on a 2 month long effort to get him in-home instruction. I talked to the public advocate, my local congressperson, my state assemblyman, my state senator. I even got appointed by the Bronx borough president to the local community board. All agreed that it was ridiculous, but at the end of the day, political pressure was not going to fix the issue.
Meanwhile, I watched my son, whom I had told all his life, to go to Police if he was lost or in danger, lose his faith in that safety. Every time we passed a policeman on the street he would try and hide. He had nightmares, he missed his friends from school, he didn’t want to talk about what happened.
I lost my faith in police to safeguard us.
I was fighting tooth and nail for justice for him. Of course, I was unaware that 3000 children in NYC per year, had had the same thing happen to them. Children, treated like prisoners, less than. The school even had the gall to say that the reason they called is because “he threatened to jump out a window on the third floor”, to which when I asked my son, he said “Why would I do that? I would get hurt or die”.
It strikes me that victim blaming is so pervasive in our world, that it is the primary way of people putting the “CYA” practice into effect. Especially in terms of people in power. Ultimately, my obsession with justice for my son, actually tore my family apart (the biggest thing I was told was that I should have never “provoked” the Principal – but what kind of person retaliates against a child for their parent’s beliefs). How many other families experienced this? I don’t know, but 3000 per year to experience the same treatment, it had to have been unimaginably stressful for those families.
Yesterday, my best friend brought this to my attention – http://www.wnyc.org/story/settlement-bars-city-schools-using-911-form-discipline/ – NYC DoE settled with 11 families for 300,000 dollars (seriously, for all the pain that they went through, that’s nothing), and is now barred from calling 911 for school discipline problems (that is huge). When I heard the news, I went through so many different emotions. The first was a sense of closure, like a literal weight had been lifted off my chest. Like a battle had been won. I wasn’t the commanding officer in the battle, but 4 years of work lay behind me – even though everything I fought for was in rubble. It felt like a pyrrhic victory. 4 years ago, I was happily partnered, my son had a pretty nuclear, if unconventional, family. Now it was a war zone, with all the damage that war causes. The next feeling I had was that of grief. Grief I could not express because there was work to do, and it needed to stop.
But it’s not over. This is all part of a systemic issue. One in which it seems those in power are not trained to think empathetically. Sure, I had issues with the principal, but the police should have responded in a much more effective manner. When I was a kid, and had similar issues, police were calm, came down and talked to me on my level, helped me figure out a better solution. They were empathic, and mindful of how I felt. They didn’t react by pulling guns on me, slapping handcuffs on me, or beating me up. I did nothing against the law. I was a child, and had a child’s reactions.
Today, we see a lot about police in the news, we read the testimony of Darren Wilson in a trial, where he actually thought he was being rushed by a two-ton Hulked out kid (Get the Gamma Guns out!), and fired off at least 9 shots at a young man in Ferguson, MO. If police were taught to slow down a little and think, more snap judgements might be correct. If police were trained to actually slow the mind down and think about solutions other than violence and show of power, then maybe Eric Garner might still be alive. Maybe all the adults who have disabilities, such as autism, who have been killed by cops, simply because they didn’t know how to or couldn’t respond, might still be alive.
No, the work is not over. It’s a cancer. It’s systemic. My personal nightmare might be resolved, even though I’ll live with the trauma done to our family for the rest of my life, but what about those who lose children to police violence? Those permanently crippled by police violence.
I’m not claiming police are bad people, but I’m a solutions person. I am a professional troubleshooter, so when I see a problem, I look for ways to solve it. The first step is identifying the real problem. The second? Identifying solutions (Then you have to put them into effect and practice them). Recently, another article was posted on Good Men Project (http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/emotional-intelligence-police-mkdn/) about Emotional Intelligence and Police. Since that incident happened, I always wondered… if police had reacted with empathy, instead of procedural training (which was in my opinion, horrible procedure, and just asking for incident), encouraged to look for solutions outside the box to defuse a situation, what would the outcome look like?
I want to leave people with a little thought – written in Police Chief Magazine, on Mindfulness training and Police.
“Mindfulness training promises to nurture the body, mind, and spirit of our police warriors. Research has shown that mindfulness enhances emotion regulation, empathy, cognitive performance, and working memory.7 These are the ingredients for an effective police encounter and a battle-ready, empathic police officer.”
Battle-ready and empathic. Think of all the lives this may change if put into effect. I certainly would be in a very different spot, and so would my son, the 3000 kids per year this happens to in schools, and very different outcomes in many high profile police violence deaths over the past 20 years.
Don’t you think it’s time for change?