By Kat Bjørnstad
Content warning: Institutional racism, institutional ableism, police brutality, psychiatric hospitalization, non-graphic discussion of sexual assault, bad language
God help me, I am getting back into blogging (or making an attempt), and the subject I have chosen for my first post, on ASDay 2020 no less, is...this.
I must love hate mail. And disappointment in humanity.
The years have made me more cynical, more skeptical, and more radical. I have my reasons, and those close to me know them. I have avoided my blog for good reasons as well, which I may eventually share publicly. But it’s Autistics Speaking Day. Corina Becker invented ASDay to speak out in the face of silence and erasure of Autistic voices. I promoted it on Facebook because Corina motivated me.
And this year is the 11th ASDay, marking its 10th anniversary. I see things happening in our country that I can’t stay silent about, for both Autistic people and other minorities. I never thought this would happen in America.
I am focusing on how the police deal with disabled people, but there’s a relationship with how they treat people of color, people with disabilities, women, and the LGBT community. I have seen all of these things first hand.
I knew police were unfair when I learned that my grandfather was suspected of being on drugs following an accident. The cause of his “slurred” speech and panic? He was Deaf. His wife was injured.
But you can trust the police, they said. They’re there to protect you.
My hometown, Smithton, Illinois, could be classified as a sundown town. Black people don’t live there for long. Bricks get thrown through windows, people threatened, cars set on fire. The police do not help these victims. They further ostracize them. They prevent them from getting justice. They pull them over for suspicious behavior when they are just driving through town. There’s not an official policy forbidding black people from living there, or from visiting. That’s not how these things work. It is simply understood. And no one has any interest in changing it.
But they told me the police were my friends and would help me. It seemed true, because I was white. The police were generally helpful when I was young and I never had an exact reason to fear them. Because there was no category I could fit into that they could use to discriminate against me.
Of course, this is no longer true.
I was 17 when I was diagnosed as autistic. There was a lot of, “If only we’d known!” But I don’t think my life would be better if we had. The first thing that happened was they questioned my ability to go to college. I don’t doubt for a second that had I been identified as a child, they would have forced me into special education, given me ABA, removed my autonomy further.
I was in my early 20’s when I was diagnosed with PTSD, and in my mid-20’s when I started developing schizoaffective disorder. I was in my late 20’s when I was diagnosed. You would be amazed how many people will take the opportunity to gaslight you when they can literally claim that anything they have done to you is a hallucination, or that any conclusion you have arrived at is a delusion.
You would be amazed how often the people who do this are the very people you rely on for protection.
I wish I could be more specific. It is extremely risky to discuss the specifics even with close friends. I have personal experience with this but that experience is just too personal, and I apologize for vagueposting, but I have my own safety to consider. So the examples that I give are going to be a little less personal, because that’s safer.
Cops can and will use your diagnosis against you. Years ago, Lydia Brown posted about a woman who was forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation so she couldn’t make a rape report. I shuddered with the rest of you, and prayed it wasn’t common.
A year or more ago, during one of my hospitalizations, there was another patient, a black woman in her mid-20’s, who was reluctant to tell her story initially. She eventually admitted that she had been violently raped, and she didn’t know if the police were doing anything because they brought her there, to literally the worst hospital in the system. The other patients and the staff were stumped. “Did you want to hurt yourself?” we asked. No, she was understandably upset about the assault, but hardly suicidal. She was enthusiastic about therapy, and hoped to use it as an opportunity to improve herself. She had a hopeful attitude, and while I admit her behavior was a little strange at times, it was hardly alarming and within the bounds of normal stress reactions.
I have witnessed rape investigations firsthand, though, so maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me so much. I never forget that. Reporting crimes, if you’re a minority, can be dangerous to your health.
They are trained to see certain indicators of anxiety as indicators of deception. This is extremely dangerous for anyone with an anxiety disorder, or anyone really who is neurodivervent. Can’t make eye contact? Liar. Stuttering during interrogation? Liar. So you’re thinking more training will help, awareness will help, that they will stop if they only know better.
No. Give them an opportunity to fuck you over and they will. Laws change according to their whims. If they can use a diagnosis to lean on you, they will. They will lie. They will purposely trigger you. They will twist evidence to make you look more unstable. They will take someone else’s side without believing you or even giving you an opportunity to explain, because they’ve already confirmed you aren’t normal. That gives them permission.
I can’t believe people are actually publicly identifying themselves as Autistic thinking that the police will act differently if they know. They do it because they can, not because they have to. People with disabilities are shot at an alarmingly high rate by the cops. Ever seen what happens to wheelchair users at a protest? Did the cops not know that those people probably couldn’t get up if they were yanked from their chairs and beaten? No. American cops know that when they shoot a disabled person, the response will largely be crickets.
Note: I am not saying that disabled people shouldn’t be prosecuted for crimes that weren’t due to their disability, or that a disabled person holding a knife should be ignored. I am saying that the number of disabled people shot by police each year is disproportionate to the number of those in the general population. Please, if you are Autistic and you think that makes being a violent incel-Nazi okay, stop that right the fuck now, because you are making it worse for us all.
Also, if you defend Autistic murderers on this basis, especially for pay, especially when their status as Autistic is purely based on non-professional speculation post-crime, you can fuck right off. (Yes, John Elder Robinson, I am talking about you, if it wasn’t obvious by how painfully specific I was. So please whine about me on your Twitter, because surely I could have said you were going to get more of us killed without being so mean about it.)
What training cops are getting now is already problematic. The organizations consulted are often those run by non-disabled people who do not adequately understand our problems and needs. They often consider their own first. They may mean well. But Neurodivergent K has said more about presumption of benevolence than I ever could, and said it better than anyone else can.
And time and time again, non-disabled people running disability organizations have proved unwilling to listen to disabled people. They look out for their own self-interests instead of ours. For example, to make up in the press for fatally shooting an autistic man, one police department made a visually painful Autism Speaks police car. Autistic people really don’t like Autism Speaks. A$ happily takes money from neonazis and sues Autistic people speaking out against them. Also this action allowed the police department to look good while making absolutely zero effort to examine how their policies were hurting disabled people. Autism Speaks was complicit.
This has powerful implications with police involvement, because we may very well have to report that we are being abused one day, by people who can claim that they just want what’s best for us...and hey, officer, did you know they’re crazy? This makes it incredibly risky for us to go to the police for help, because chances are slim that they’ll take our sides. I have seen plenty of abuse victims in hospitals for being the one with the mental health diagnosis, while their partner is home calling them at the hospital explaining how they’re throwing away their shit.
If we can’t keep our behavior 100% calm when being rapidly questioned and even threatened with violence, if we can’t even avoid looking afraid, we must be dangerous. They face no consequences for not taking us seriously, even if we die as a result, at their hands or due to medical neglect. Maybe you get lucky, get the one officer in twenty who will treat you like a human. But for us, police involvement just means our day could be getting a whole lot worse.
I have had maybe a dozen interactions with police since I was diagnosed, and there was one single officer who was polite. One. Only one. He was doing a welfare check, and was excited about my rats. He understood my nervousness and didn’t take it personally. I can’t get him every time I deal with the police though. So I avoid them. Every time a minority deals with a cop, it is Schrödinger’s cop.
Police are not going to get better until they face consequences for their behavior. Police in countries with accountability tend not to shoot people as often. Iceland just had its first police shooting, and people mourned! Here in America it’s just same shit, different day.
I am from St. Louis. Racial disparity is very pronounced here. There are certain neighborhoods you don’t go to if you’re white, and others you avoid if you’re black. I remember the Ferguson riots. Not long after that, at a Ferguson restaurant, every co-worker at a table my ex-husband was seated at was served except for one. Let’s be honest, I don’t even have to tell you what race this guy was. The white manager was unhelpful and wore a T-shirt proclaiming her having survived the riots.
Another example from home. St. Louis County (separate from the city, just to make it confusing) is well known for running scams on mostly black drivers through ticketing and vehicle impound, to the point of clear illegal activity by the police. There are towns there that rely entirely on writing tickets to black drivers.
My ex and I were driving through one of these towns, less than 500 residents. We were ticketed. When we went to court it was unbelievably crowded with mostly black people. The only white people there besides myself and my ex were the police and court officers. There’s no way that in a town that is 98% white that didn’t look suspicious to the powers that be. No one said a word. We paid our ticket, went back to our car, and talked about how fucked up it was. I am unaware of the county taking serious effort to rectify this. After all, there’s good money in racism.
Disabled people are suffering. We cannot afford to ignore the BLM movement. We face a similar struggle.
The police aren’t there to protect us. They’re there to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. Do you realize how many serial killers were ignored by (or in Dahmer’s case, assisted by) the police because the victims were considered disposable? They aren’t even testing rape kits. They don’t give two fucks about us. We just make painfully convenient targets.
So if you call 911 because your kid is having a completely predictable issue related to his disability, and you call 911, and he winds up shot? I blame the police first, of course. But I also blame you. Disabled people have been warning you. Other minorities have been warning you. You haven’t been listening.
#Black Lives Matter
#Disabled Lives Matter