Last night, I hugged Little Bird a little tighter.
I savored the moment a little longer – the feeling of this beautiful little boy snuggling up to me, curling his legs into my chest while he slept. I burned the image of him sleeping, peacefully, in my arms, into my memory.
It is so easy for someone else to take my boy away – I never want to forget what it feels like to see and hold my little man.
A little over a month ago, a young person with Down’s Syndrome was killed by police. Robert Saylor, age 26, appears to have been killed when the security guards (off-duty police in Frederick, Maryland) forcibly removed him from a movie theatre when he simply wanted to watch Zero-Dark-Thirty again (apparently watching a movie twice is a felony offense in the uninformed and 19th Century town that we used to call Fred-neck, Maryland).
Why didn’t these security guards ask to call his Mom – to see if she could intervene or if she would simply buy another $11 movie ticket for Robert?
Because the security guards were not trained in use-of-force techniques for individuals with Downs Syndrome, that’s why. Instead, 3 ignorant off-duty police officers decided that the best way to deal with a developmentally challenged young man who wanted to see a complicated movie again was to handcuff him and placed him face down on the ground.
Any police officer on the job more than a week can tell you that the likelihood of positional asphyxiation in that position is very high. Robert Saylor asphyxiated and died in that position.
Just because he wanted to see a movie again.
This is not the first time that police have seriously harmed individuals with Downs Syndrome. Here are just 3 recent examples:
- San Diego, California (Vista): Police beat a 21 year old man with Downs Syndrome with a baton and pepper-sprayed him while he was out taking a walk. Seems the police had been called to his neighborhood for an unrelated domestic violence call. The police assumed the man with Downs was involved in the attack – he was not – and they pepper-sprayed him and beat him with a baton because he didn’t answer the police quick enough.
- Miami, FL: Police beat a 21 year old man with Downs Syndrome because he had a suspicious bulge in his pants – a colostomy bag.
- Cleveland, OH: Police, investigating a robbery in a neighborhood, pick up a 17 year old boy with Downs Syndrome and “slam him into the police car like a football player”. His crime? Sitting on the curb listening to a walkman.
It shocks me that – in the 21st Century – police officers can’t be a bit more aware and professional. Time and again, it seems like our police are so quick to use physical force in a situation that really only calls for a little conversation and independent thought.
When will this sort of violence come to your neighborhood? My neighborhood? I hope that none of us have to experience the loss of our child at the hands of police officers that – too quickly – resorted to force and violence.
I simply cannot imagine the horror that the parents of these children felt when they learned that it was the police who jumped to conclusions, who failed to approach their children in a respectful and peaceful manner, and who beat – or murdered – their children.
Here is what I’m going to do about it – I hope you’ll do the same in your community:
I intend to write to each of the Chief Law Enforcement Officers in Dallas County, Texas, to find out whether their police officers have received training in use of force and interacting with citizens with Downs Syndrome or other developmental conditions.
Please – join me.
Attached to this post is a sample letter you can use to ask your local police department to tell you what sort of training they have provided officers related to use-of-force and interaction with citizens with Downs Syndrome.
Please download it – tweak it as you feel appropriate – and send it off. If you do use the letter, post your city and state in the comments section – I’d love to see how many of us are holding our local law enforcement accountable.
Letter to Police regarding Downs Syndrome (Word Doc)by