Angela: Police impact on the disabled community
A group of police officers in downtown San Jose. File photo.

I attended the Oct. 7 “Safety for All: Conversations on Law Enforcement from the perspectives of People with Disabilities” hosted by Parents Helping Parents. As a mother of a special needs child I am deeply concerned about current policing practices and their impact on the disability community and beyond. Police training in the U.S. is inadequate for the safety of our families and communities because of an underlying philosophy that puts the needs of people with disabilities last.

Police training in the U.S. is inadequate to say the least. According to a 2013 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report, U.S. police academies spend approximately 71 hours on firearms training against 21 hours of de-escalation training. When it comes to arrests, the disparity in numbers highlights a clear focus on combat and escalation over strategies on diffusing possibly dangerous situations.

Many situations would likely benefit from de-escalation strategies, but as professor of sociology Rayshawn Ray notes—as cited in BBC News— “Nine out of 10 calls for law enforcement have nothing to do with violence at all, and while they definitely encounter violent situations that could escalate, often… it’s police officers who are escalating the situation.” Escalating behaviors from police represent training put to practice. The current state of policing alone presents dangers for any citizen, especially minorities, such as people with disabilities.

The outcomes of poorly trained police officers criminalizes our children and families as people with disabilities are sent to jail or prison, where they may be subjected to abuse and violence from other inmates or correctional officers. The Arc as presented at the event indicates that people with disabilities have an overall 43% chance of arrest, with a disproportionate risk falling on young Black men.

In addition, the Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that people with disabilities represent the largest minority population in U.S. jails and prisons nationwide. Even with the dangers of incarceration, police training can lead to greater, more immediate dangers still.

According to Teen Vogue, people with disabilities represent more than half of the people killed each year by police. This is astonishing when you consider that BBC News states about 1,000 people are killed yearly by police in the U.S. That is about 600 grieving mothers and fathers who pray each night that they wake up from the nightmare of having lost their children—young or grown—to police violence. Six-hundred grave stones, with names etched in stone and memories carved into our souls, but whose charming smiles we will never see again but in old photos. Six-hundred possibly preventable, needless deaths affecting our communities.

Police training leaves officers ill-equipped to handle situations they might otherwise act in to ensure the safety of our families, and especially the safety of people with disabilities. The disproportionate focus on firearms training over de-escalation makes it clear that the philosophy about this training is on combat and criminalization, and this is further illustrated by police escalation, the more than half of all U.S. deaths being people with disabilities and the rates of which people with disabilities are jailed or imprisoned.

Police as an institution must be reformed for the safety of our loved ones and for all Americans.

Caterina Angela is a mother and behavioral interventionist.

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