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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Guest Post: On Disability and the Violence Against Rinaldo and Charles Kinsey

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 57 seconds.
cw: discussion of police violence, violence against disabled people, ableism (and disclaimer: autism is a spectrum. not all autistic folks are cognitively disabled.)

i'm sorry i keep posting about this. i can't sleep. i keep crying and i need to talk about it. i'm really struggling with this ‪#‎CharlesKinsey‬ video and the implications of it. i shouldn't have watched it, but the autistic man Kinsey was taking care of is so similar to my brother in size, physicality & mannerisms, and his diagnosis. my brother is nonverbal, cognitively disabled, and autistic. my brother does not use sign language. he doesn't type. he doesn't really use PECS. his communication all happens through his body, not language. he is very, very big. i've seen him handcuffed. i've seen him followed by hospital security. i've seen nurses struggle to help him and run from the room crying because they're so uncomfortable with him. i've seen him restrained. it's all extremely terrifying and hard for me to talk about, but nobody else talks about it, so here i go.

if you don't know, a significantly cognitively disabled autistic 23-year-old man named Rinaldo walked away from his group home and was in the street. he was playing with a toy truck, probably moving in a way that is different from normative bodies (possibly hand flapping, jumping, making sounds that aren't words, running or walking erratically). a "concerned neighbor" saw him and called the police, saying there was a man brandishing a gun and threatening to kill himself.

police came & luckily a caretaker from Rinaldo's home was there to explain-- Charles Kinsey, a black man. Still, despite laying on the ground with his arms up and miraculously keeping Rinaldo calm and collected, Kinsey got shot at 3 times by a police officer and was struck in the leg.

but i am so, so, SO thankful Charles Kinsey was there (and lived through it), because it's entirely possible Rinaldo would be dead otherwise given that he was pretty upset. something i really hope doesn't get erased in this discussion, something people who insist "‪#‎alllivesmatter‬" should address. up to half of all police killings happen to disabled folks. the reality is, someone like my brother, someone like Rinaldo, has a life expectancy of 40 years. people ask 'where are all the old autistic people' like it's proof that vaccines or pollution cause autism, but the reality is, having a significant cognitive disability drastically reduces their life expectancy. they will probably not die from old age but due to lack of resources for these folks when they're adults (especially after their parents pass away), poor treatment in the healthcare industry, and violence at the hands of law enforcement.

here's what i need people to know. what i don't really talk about because it's so hard for me, it breaks my heart, i can't even type this without getting my stupid keyboard all wet and snotty.

i love my brother but it took me until my mid-twenties and being challenged at a lot of angles by remarkably patient parents, friends, professors, and folks online to acknowledge i wasn't viewing him the same way i view people who can communicate and express their agency and identity through language. i felt sorry for him. i didn't know how to bond with him for most of my life. i resented him. i bought into the "autism is so sad" shit. i think about it now and i am so ashamed of myself, and the lengths i went to deny it even in my own head. i say this to be transparent and as a disclaimer for why i'm not putting up with anybody's "the only disability in life is a bad attitude" bullshit.

i don't always use the right terms and i know people disagree with the use of 'cognitively disabled' but it's the
term i'm choosing right now. i mess up the labels. i understand that-- both of my brothers and my dad are autistic, all with different abilities and disabilities, and the two who are verbal don't agree on cure rhetoric or labeling language. i'm saying that to acknowledge the conversation is complex & often painful for autistic people.

but people ask me questions like, "who would want to have sex with someone like that" when i talk about the prevalence of sexual abuse against people like my brother, people like Rinaldo.

and people ask me, "do you ever wish your brother had been aborted?"

i need nearly everybody i know to acknowledge: you don't see cognitively disabled people, and if you do, you don't see their lives as holding the same value as a person who isn't disabled. you don't recognize their agency. you don't advocate for them in your intersectional work. you are uncomfortable with the deviant ways they behave or express themselves. you feel sorry for them, you imagine your mind locked in a body like that, unable to escape, refusing to acknowledge that a mind that works differently than yours is still a good, loved, worthy mind. you avert your eyes on the VERY rare occasion that you see a nonverbal cognitively disabled person in public. at best, your share inspirational stories in which a cognitively disabled person isn't being treated like shit and you say "wow, this person is a hero." and yeah, sometimes seeing a healthy and happy cognitively disabled person who isn't the victim of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse is enough for me to tear up because nine times out of ten that's what i'm reading in the paper but that shouldn't be the norm.

it's really easy for people to deny my brother's humanity because people like my brother are completely erased from social and political spheres. he exists in his home and in his special school, safely tucked away from the neurotypical kids. his body is not welcome in public. his disability is not welcome in public. he makes people uncomfortable. he disrupts standard or "acceptable" communicative behaviors. he screams sometimes. he jumps around. he runs off. he makes strange faces. he doesn't always listen when you say "stop" and he definitely would not understand a police officer's command to get down, or to drop something like his favorite toy guitar, or to put his hands up.

but i want to be very, very clear.

my brother isn't seen in public spaces because *we* make them inaccessible.

but guess what? it isn't my brother's responsibility to adhere to acceptable social norms. it isn't. *you* need to get over the discomfort you feel when you encounter a life who experiences and processes the world differently from you.

it isn't my brother's responsibility to not jump or stim so he can stay in a hotel. it isn't his responsibility to walk in straight line and keep his voice down. it isn't his responsibility to eat with a fucking fork so YOU don't feel weirded out. my own brother and dad couldn't come to my wedding because airplanes and significant cognitive disabilities are a fucking death sentence.

people love to give my parents advice about the right ways to advocate for and take care of my brother, but my brother's experience is unique and the reality is, *his life is ALWAYS in danger because ablebodied people do not see cognitively disabled people.*

there is no media representation, and on the rare occasion there is, it's extremely problematic. friends of mine still say 'retard' and 'fucktard' and 'hurr durr' and jokingly diagnose people with autism. there is limited legal protection for him. there is hardly any police training for dealing with significant cognitive disabilities. very little acknowledgement in even the most critical spaces. even within the neurodiverse movement, these conversations are seldom had. i'm completely sick of it. my brother's life is in danger, his life expectancy is less than half of yours, because we don't want to talk about or acknowledge him-- and it's easy as hell, because my brother is never going to tweet, use a hashtag, post about his experience on facebook. his narrative isn't one we share with each other online or include in our academic scholarship.

so. please consider this. when you see a man playing with a toy truck in the road and his body moves differently than you're used to seeing, ask yourself, is it possible this person is disabled? am i wearing my FUCKING GLASSES? would calling the police on this person actually be helpful? would telling the police this man is threatening suicide when he obviously isn't be at all helpful?

again, THANK GOD Charles Kinsey was there and able to keep Rinaldo calm. If it was my brother, it's entirely possible he would have stood up and run and been shot without question.

i can't be quiet about this. i know this kind of stuff pisses off some of my autistic friends who want caretakers and family to stay the hell out of it & not acknowledge the "severity" of some folks (& i do take issue with that language, but the spectrum is not a monolithic experience) in comparison to neurotypical people, but again, 1) you don't know my diagnosis or mental health situation, and 2) if nobody is advocating for and acknowledging Rinaldo (or my brother) in this discussion, we're failing some of our most vulnerable people who are condemned to live on the margins because we don't know how to talk about or to them. and i'm not going to be quiet about it.

don't call police on disabled people. don't call police period, unless there is an imminent threat to you. you could get somebody killed.

[Some names changed or removed for anonymity]

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