The Autistic Self Advocacy Network strongly condemns the police shooting of Charles Kinsey, an unarmed Black support worker to an autistic man in Miami. Those who support people with disabilities should never have to worry that they or the people they support will be subject to violence as a result of prejudice on the basis of disability, race or any other characteristic. We urge immediate and independent investigation and policy change to not only bring justice for Mr. Kinsey and the person he supports, but also to put an end to police practices that jeopardize the lives of people with disabilities, people of color, and particularly people of color with disabilities, who all too frequently experience the intersection of both racial and disability related biases.
The autistic man Mr. Kinsey supports, whose full name has not been disclosed, was a danger to nobody when he walked away from his group home holding a toy truck. Yet despite Mr. Kinsey’s attempts to explain that his client’s disability might interfere with swift response and that nobody was armed, police responded by opening fire and injuring Mr. Kinsey. A police chief later claimed that the officer had been attempting to fire on the autistic man Mr. Kinsey supports, despite Mr. Kinsey’s repeated explanations that he was not a threat and video evidence showing that the autistic man was unarmed and sitting down. This act is reprehensible and without justification.
We urge the Miami police department and the Miami prosecutor’s office to act decisively in order to ensure that Mr. Kinsey and the man he supports receive justice. We urge both the Miami prosecutor’s office and US Department of Justice to conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate enforcement action, including a review of concerns of systemic bias on the part of local law enforcement. Additionally, we urge the disability community to support meaningful policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels to prevent future violence and ensure that officers who injure or kill innocent people are held accountable.
To that end, ASAN reiterates its support for H.R. 2302, the Police Training and Independent Review Act. This bill would require state law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding to establish independent prosecutors to investigate and, as necessary, prosecute the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to train officers on a variety of related subjects, including training on disability, as a condition of receiving certain federal funding.
One critical component to reducing police violence, as articulated by a multitude of civil rights and disability rights advocates, is the use of trained interdisciplinary crisis teams as an alternative to armed police when responding to disability and mental health-related 911 calls. The current over-reliance on police instead of trained crisis responders when responding to disability-related calls places people with disabilities, especially people of color, and their loved ones, in fear that they will be targeted for police violence as a result of disability-related behavior in public – even conduct as innocuous as sitting in a street with a toy truck. It also places people with disabilities, people of color and others disproportionately subject to police violence in an untenable position when they face a true disability-related crisis: either forgo publicly-funded emergency services or take the risk that a 911 call will place them or their loved ones in even greater danger.
Jurisdictions that have established trained multidisciplinary crisis teams to respond to these sorts of 911 calls have seen dramatic reductions in police use of force. Although the 911 caller in this instance had inaccurately reported the situation as one of an armed individual threatening suicide, trained crisis responders are also preferable in mental health-related crises. We urge municipalities across the country to revise their policies and practices to ensure that appropriately trained professionals are dispatched in response to disability-related calls to 911.
Racial justice advocates and communities of color have long called for better police accountability and urged reforms in crisis response practices. We urge the disability community to bring the full weight of our support behind them. The time to act is long past.
For more information on ASAN’s positions on this bill and related issues, please contact Samantha Crane, Director of Public Policy, at email@example.com.