March 30, 2016—It’s hard to keep track of violence perpetuated by police officers. Data on shootings and killings are often scattered, kept away from the pubic eye by local, state, and federal agencies. But the frequent reports involving police violence toward disabled individuals have started to grab people’s attention.
Dominican University historian David M. Perry and disability rights activist Lawrence Carter-Long have recently worked on a paper for the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability rights nonprofit, that sheds some light on the data regarding police violence toward disabled persons. According to the research, one third of the people killed by police officers in the United States had some form of disability. They included autism, mental illness, developmental delays, and other problems. Part of the paper’s conclusion is that persons with disability have a difficult time communicating, making it difficult for them to understand police instructions.
From the study:
“Disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers. Disabled individuals make up the majority of those killed in use-of-force cases that attract widespread attention. This is true both for cases deemed illegal or against policy and for those in which officers are ultimately fully exonerated.”
The Guardian has also reported on this story, highlighting the role of the media in failing to cover these incidents:
“After examining coverage over the past three years, Perry and Carter-Long say it is shocking that the prevalence of disability is not being accurately, or commonly, reported. ‘Media coverage of police violence fails to recognize or report the disability element when Americans are injured or killed by law enforcement, resulting in their stories being segregated from the issue in the media,’ they conclude.
Raising public awareness is vital to build pressure for change, and this is urgently needed in demonstrating the links between police aggression and disability. We know from campaigning work in the UK and the US that encountering the police or criminal justice system can be an extremely traumatic, confusing and, at worst, deadly experience for someone with a serious mental health problem or with intellectual disabilities.”
A recently released Los Angeles Police Department report shows that shootings by LA officers rose more than 50 percent between 2014 and 2015, and that during the same period, officers were also more likely to be injured while on duty. But the report also shows that blacks account for a great percentage of the victims. According to The Guardian, that’s the reality across the country.
At least 1,134 people died in police-involved incidents in 2015 alone. About 15 percent of the dead were young black men between the ages of 15 and 34.
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