The Autistic Self Advocacy Network calls for both justice in the Marcus Abrams case and changes in the ways autistic people and other people with disabilities are treated by police. Recently in Minnesota, St. Paul Metro Transit police allegedly assaulted autistic teen Marcus Abrams. Abrams’ family told press that police tackled Abrams to the platform floor, splitting his lip. Abrams also suffered a seizure and had to be transported to a local hospital. He had on headphones and could not hear the police. At the hospital, police and staff seemed concerned with running drug tests and alcohol level tests than treating his injuries, according to his mother. She also says he still has lingering pains from the beating.
This is not an isolated incident, especially for Black autistic teenagers like Abrams. The NYPD reportedly assaulted Troy Canales, a Black autistic teenager. In Louisiana, school police reportedly handcuffed and pinned to the ground an autistic Black ten-year-old girl. Tario Anderson in South Carolina, Javonte “Jay” Gorham in North Carolina, and Reginald “Neli” Latson, Kayleb Moon-Robinson, and Brian Thompson in Virginia have also been reported to be victims of police injustice.
Protesters in Minneapolis/St. Paul took to chanting “Autism is Not A Crime” about this incident, and we agree. Autism is not a crime, and neither is being Black. Because it can take autistic people longer to respond to police, autistic people are often treated as if we are intoxicated, or assumed to be noncompliant. This is also true for many other people with disabilities. Furthermore, the intersections of race and disability cannot be ignored when so many are victims of injustice.
ASAN calls upon the St. Paul Metro Transit Police to fully investigate their treatment of Marcus Abrams. We also call upon all police departments to make appropriate measures to prevent this from happening again. This includes training of police on how to appropriately handle situations in which a person might have a disability, which must include situations in which a person exhibits behavior – such as not responding to verbal instructions or appearing intoxicated – that could be a result of a disability. Police should be trained in avoiding escalation in interactions with those who are autistic or otherwise disabled, and end racial profiling of individuals of color. In case of police brutality, accountability is essential.
The safety of people with disabilities in interactions with the police is a pressing civil and human rights issue. We will continue to monitor this case and advocate for broad reforms of police practices. For more information, please contact Samantha Crane, ASAN’s Public Policy Director, at SCrane@autisticadvocacy.org.