Police Don’t Need Better Training; They Need to Stop Treating Noncompliance as Justification for Violence.
This is an article about how police departments routinely treat disabled people as violent, because the disabilities prevent immediate compliance, and police routinely apply violence to any form of noncompliance.
Magdiel Sanchez, a 35-year-old Latino man, was sitting on his porch in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night as two law-enforcement officers approached his house. He got up and walked toward them, when, according to news reports and a statement, the officers noticed he was holding a metal pipe. They started giving him “verbal commands” to lie down, then one fired his Taser and the other shot him in the chest with his sidearm. Sanchez died. Officers later claimed not to have heard neighbors shouting that Sanchez was deaf and couldn’t hear their commands.
The police were there because allegedly Sanchez’s father had been in a hit-and-run (injuring property, not people, if the accusations are true). Sanchez carried the pipe, neighbors said, to ward off dogs. He was deaf and reportedly developmentally disabled. In a statement, the ACLU said, “Magdiel Sanchez was shot at his own home, without having committed any crime, and in front of neighbors who knew he was deaf trying to communicate to the police that what they were about to do was wrong.”
Sanchez is far from the first deaf or disabled person to be killed or brutalized by police. It happens almost every day. According to The Washington Post, police have shot 165 people in mental-health crisis in the first 263 days this year (and 715 total). When you add people like Sanchez and individuals with invisible, undiagnosed, or unrevealed disabilities, the numbers start to get much higher. In a white paper I co-wrote in 2016 for the Ruderman Foundation, I noted that disability-rights advocates routinely argue that a third to a half of all people killed by police are disabled. Most of those people, especially in cases where police clearly misused lethal force, turn out to also be marginalized by race, class, gender orientation, or other factors that intensify vulnerability.
At least four disabled people died at the hands of police this week. One previous case of unjustified police violence came to light. Except for the brief media attention of the Sanchez and Leibel cases, that’s a pretty normal week. It’s unlikely anyone will be held accountable, except possibly in the situation where Leibel, a white teenager in an affluent neighborhood, was brutalized. There, the combination of powerful video, a compelling victim, widespread coverage, and a good lawyer might help. In the other cases, the multiply marginalized status of the victims plus the lethality of the encounter will make accountability difficult, if not impossible. And then next week, alas, the same types of stories will play out again, and more people will die.
The subhead on the article quoted above makes it clear: The problem is not individual police officers, or even individual policies.
Rather the problem is the intersection of court decisions and law enforcement culture which makes the application of violence routine, and in fact rewarded, in circumstances that no decent human being would do so.