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Autistic People and Police Brutality: the Unnerving Combo that Just Won’t End

It was the morning of Monday, July 20th, when Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist at a group home located North Miami, was shot three times while trying to protect a twenty-three year old autistic patient named Arnaldo Rios. who is nonverbal, meaning he communicates through ways other than speech. As this story gained momentum across various social media sites and news reports, people became increasingly more infuriated. Infuriated for the sake that Kinsey was inexcusably shot not once, not twice, but three times. While this shooting brought up another conversation about the correlation of race and police brutality (which was well needed), there was a small part about this story that made some people’s hair stand on it’s end.

A few days later, it was revealed that the officer was in fact not trying to shoot Kinsey, but to kill Arnaldo.  As if that’s any better. s time went on, we continued to fight for Kinsey’s rights and wish him a speedy recovery, which he thankfully was able to make. But let’s admit, did any of us ever wonder how Arnaldo reacted to all of this? Well if you’re wondering the answer to that question, it’s: not so great. At a Miami news conference that took place a few days after the shooting, Arnaldo’s sister described that he was extremely traumatized by the event, and was suffering from symptoms of trauma including night terrors, lack of appetite, and even continued to wear the blood covered shirt from the day of the event.  A traumatic event like this creates enough emotional damage to last a life time, and can be perceived very differently by someone who is autistic.

Lets backtrack. What exactly is autism? In short, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. 

Someone like Arnaldo, who is typically nonverbal, would be considered to have what is known as ‘severe autism’, but that doesn’t prevent him from living a happy, healthy life.

So, why am I bringing this day up? If it only happened once, why does it matter? Because it didn’t happen just once, and if things don’t change soon, the trauma that Arnaldo experienced could be a constant occurance for autistic people all over the country. 

Just a few days before the Kinsey incident, a homeless autistic man was attacked by police in Oregon. The reason being that he was “disturbing the peace.”

This week, a Nevada woman painted “Autistic Son Lives Here Cops No Excuse” over her garage door. Next to it, she attached an additional sign that read “nonverbal” after she said that the police attacked her son. 

Often times when someone who is autistic is under high amounts of stress, they undergo something that is most commonly referred to as a “meltdown”, and might end up with the individual doing whatever it takes to escape what is causing them stress. Does that make them dangerous? Absolutely not. Does that mean they intend to harm anyone? Absolutely not. The best thing to do in that situation is get them away from the environment, and find a calm room. Of course that may be far from easy, but it’s a lot better than assaulting the individual, is it not?

Look, I know not all police are bad, not all of them attack, and not all of them are ‘bad seeds’. But this is a growing problem, and it seems as though it is only getting worse.

The voices of autistic people need to be heard. They cannot be silenced anymore.

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