Three brief and helpful articles from this past week discuss disability issues that are making headlines. The shooting of a young, un-armed black man, Michael Brown, has made international headlines. Less prominent, but equally important are issues of law enforcement with people dealing with autism and mental illness.
Police Encounters with Young Black Men with Autism
Recently, I highlighted a resource, Be Safe, available to law enforcement so that they can deal appropriately with people who have autism. For example, how should police respond if a suspect does not obey a command to put his hands up or lie on the ground? What if the suspect cannot understand the command? Concerns intensify if the person with autism is a young black man. "For Parents Of Young Black Men With Autism, Extra Fear About Police" brings additional attention to the importance of the Be Safe training. "According to the advocacy group Autism Unites, people with autism spectrum disorders are seven times more likely to interact with police over their lifetimes, compared with people without a cognitive disorder. That's particularly scary for parents already concerned about racial profiling. Michelle Smith's 28-year-old son Chris Akubuilo has severe autism and often struggles with both comprehension and speaking..."
Police Encounters with Men with Mental Illness
This past August 19, St. Louis police fatally shot 25-year-old Kajieme Powell after he stole two canned energy drinks and a packet of pastries from a local convenience store. After he took the energy drinks, he put them on the sidewalk across the street from the convenience store and began pacing near them. According to an article "Kajieme Powell Died Because Police Have Become America’s Mental-Health Workers," unnecessarily deadly encounters like this one come from systemic issues much broader than the two police offers who fired their guns. "As a result of the nation’s patchy, frequently inadequate mental-health-care system, police are all too often the first responders to mental-health crises. Powell’s death is a worst-case reminder of why this can be disastrous."
Disability Benefits in the U.S.
I've read a number of articles that the U.S. disability insurance program is spinning out of control. "The Myth of 'Out of Control' Disability Benefits," published by U.S. News and World Report, argues that stories about increasing numbers of people receiving disability benefits often overstate their case. "True, the disability insurance rolls have grown in recent decades, but most of that reflects well-understood demographic factors that have increased the number of insured workers, especially in the crucial 50 to 64 age group where risk of disability peaks. These factors include: overall population growth; the aging of baby boomers; the rise in the share of women in the labor force; and the rise in Social Security’s full retirement age from 65 to 66."
These articles give powerful reminders why we as Christians must be informed and involved on various levels with issues related to disability. They are matters of justice, mercy, and love.
Update (8/27/2014): The topic of police encounters with people who have disabilities is gaining traction in the mainstream media:
Why do police keep seeing a person’s disability as a provocation? (Washington Post) "A 2012 investigation by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram found that 'about half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country are mentally ill.'"
How police can avoid shooting the mentally ill (CNN.com) "Police in St. Louis shot Kajieme Powell, killing him just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri. Powell is black and his death initially ratcheted up tensions, but people have since seemed to accept police explanations. Powell acted erratically, had a knife and refused to put it down. Mental illness made it, in the eyes of many, a sad but unpreventable situation. In cases like these, we need to stop talking about mental illness and start thinking through the implications of psychiatric disabilities. We also need police whose first instinct is to de-escalate tense situations whenever and however possible, and, when necessary, solve confrontations with the absolute minimum amount of force."