Robert Saylor’s death is not about lack of Down syndrome awareness.

Yeah, I really do think this.  I’ve used this blog to talk about our family’s personal experiences, but Robert Saylor’s death is a scary glimpse into LP’s (possible) future, and I really need to get this off my chest.

Robert Saylor was a young man with Down syndrome, who was killed by three off duty policemen last month.  He refused to leave a movie theater and died of asphyxiation after three off-duty cops decided to hog tie him on the ground.

There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Saylor died because he had Down syndrome.  Let me suggest here, however, that we are focusing on the wrong aspect of how Robert Saylor’s Down syndrome played into his death.

The police are saying he was obese and his Down syndrome made him more susceptible to having breathing issues, and that is why he died.

By this logic, we have to accept that the policemen had no option other than to hogtie this man over a movie ticket.

Are you with me, here?  I keep reading that various Ds organizations are calling for more police training and awareness of Ds and its related health issues.  All this does, in my mind, is shift the focus onto the differences of those with Ds, and whether or not the police are required to know about the health implications of every disability.

Can I, instead, propose the real way in which Down syndrome played into Robert Saylor’s death?

Those three off-duty cops took one look at Robert Saylor, and saw a big, fat, retard.

I’m sorry that sounds harsh but I think it is accurate of their perception, based on the events.  They saw a man who was not their equal, and therefore not deserving of any critical thought.  Why was this man, clearly disabled, by himself?  How was he planning on getting home?  Was the theater so full that he had to be escorted out right that very second?  If you are three off duty cops moonlighting at a shopping mall, are there many other pressing things to get to?  Is there a shooting around the corner that requires your presence?  Why is it necessary to escalate the situation to the point of laying hands?  Even if you did put your hands on him, why did you have to put him on the ground?  There is risk involved every time you physically restrain someone.  Was that risk worth it, in that situation?

I think those men did some calculus and weighed the convenience against any possible repercussions, and ultimately, Robert Saylor wasn’t worth any extra effort.  

This is a police brutality case, not an awareness case.  The family says that Robert Saylor had no ongoing health issues other than his weight.***  If Saylor hadn’t had Down syndrome and was just obese, there would be no question of the brutality of what the police did.

I’ve sent my emails and made my calls.  I want to be clear, I don’t object to additional training.  I just don’t want the fight for it to add fuel to the logic that somehow, Ds itself was really the culprit of Robert Saylor’s death, when in reality, those three officers are the culprits.  At this point, there is a petition here going around in an effort to have an outside agency investigate the officers.  There is a petition here calling for more training and awareness and rigorous investigation practices. Maybe the petition will make a difference.  I hope it does.

I hope Robert Saylor’s family can find some peace after losing their son, amidst all the politics and bureaucracy.  I hope there is space for them to remember who he was, and what he contributed to the world before he had to leave it.

***Update.  Stories have now come on the news about the cardiovascular issues that Robert Saylor had (discovered upon autopsy), as well as some personality traits (didn’t like to be touched).  This just makes my blood boil.  Why is there an urge to dig up all sorts of information on a victim in order to explain why his death was understandable, or perhaps even ok?  My stance remains the same.  You don’t put a man down on the ground over a movie ticket.  There are other ways to escort a person out of an area.  Those officers had all the training they needed; they chose not to use it.

17 Comments on “Robert Saylor’s death is not about lack of Down syndrome awareness.”

  1. Lisa says:

    Amen, sister.

  2. TUC says:

    You made me cry. We need justice and peace.

  3. Latke says:

    I say the more hidden health problems they dig up the better. It only underscores why the use of force should always be a last resort to any reasonably well trained officer (not to mention any civilized human being who’s not a bully or bigoted asshole).

    • jisun says:

      Yes, I agree, but there’s no one out there arguing that like you are, dear husband. They are using those facts as reasons why his death was understandable. I really feel like the subtext for this is, “Look, he already had all these problems, Robert Saylor was already not worth saving.” I’m preaching to the choir, I know.

  4. Jisun — I really hope you’re not right about what those off-duty sheriff deputies thought when they saw Ethan. Unfortunately, I know Fredneck Maryland too well.

    Latke — good point about health issues…hadn’t thought about it that way. I’m still struggling to understand why any use of force was nec’y based on what we know. I mean, I’ve seen all sorts of people get stubborn and cuss at the police and even the trigger-happy police in the most rural places I’ve lived have found ways to de-escalate the situation without hog-tying anybody.


    • Latke says:

      Exactly. I’m not familiar the justice system in Maryland, but if it’s anything like California, the DA could have charged those guys for some form of crime (homicide, battery, whatever) without a grand jury. But I presume that because it was a politically sensitive case, they circled the wagons and took it to the grand jury for cover, where they were able to present a santized version of events in secret–with no cross-examination or opposition witnesses–and get a rubber-stamped decision that absolved the officers of misconduct, let the DA off the hook on a thorny issue, and placed the blame for what happened on Down syndrome. And now, the national Ds “advocacy” groups appear to have accepted this premise by pushing for “training” on Ds issues (whatever that means), when what really needs to happen is (a) punishment for the cops, and (b) a hefty payout by the mall that (presumably) employed these thugs as security.

    • jisun says:

      I absolutely agree with Latke. LBD I know it is ugly but I 100% believe that was what those officers were thinking. It is impossible to prove and the NDSS is choosing to bury is head in the sand over it, but there is no other feasible explanation. The same thing for Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin; none of that would have happened if their skin hadn’t been dark. Then the media goes and picks them apart to try to rationalize why it was OK. It makes me sick to my stomach.

      • Latke says:

        At least the prosecutors in the Grant and Martin cases had the courage to let 12 in a box decide whether what happened was appropriate. Or at least they felt like they had no choice. I suspect that says something about the difference between the NAACP and the apologists at the NDSS, who are certainly not the public face off any community I’m a part of.

        • The NDSS, NDSC, and others may find that unless they muscle-up in their response, they will find themselves without a chair when the music stops. Why are they being such sheep? I’d love to know, but frankly am not too impressed with anything they’ve done in terms of DS advocacy, unless I’m missing their big claim-to-fame.

          I’m not a criminal lawyer, and its been years since i took the bar in Maryland, but I seem to recall that the Prosecutor could have filed an “information” in lieu of a grand jury indictment. But, you are spot on…the grand jury gives cover to cowards, and there are a lot of cowards in this particular case.

          I hope the Saylors get the best trial attorney out there to go after the mall, the theatre, the individual rent-a-cops, and a civil rights suit against the Sheriff and City. I’d love to see those defendants argue “damages”, just to repeatedly see them marginalize the community of cognitively disabled again and again, and show their true colors.

          There is no reason, based on what is publicly known, why Ethan should have been handcuffed, and no reason that he should have been hog-tied face down. Even the Taliban doesn’t use that “hold” anymore.


  5. Hi & thank you for commenting at my site. I replied to your question & although a bit lengthy I believe truthful disclosure is the only option.

  6. You ask why? We know why. You nailed it. Our advocates half ass deal with the R word . A form letter here and there. There is no respect, a man died over it and we are still begging.

  7. Jennifer Campbell says:

    Jisun – you are SPOT ON. I have been struggling with deciding who we are arguing with more – the DOJ or with our own organizations. Their insistence to call for “more training” is only perpetuating the link that the DOJ has anchored on – DS = Positional Asphyxiation = Homicide. The DS part has nothing to do with this….cut off oxygen and we ALL have a heart condition. Plain. Simple. Period. When questioned about what follow-up NDSC has done with their one “strongly-worded letter” (the press release) calling for an independent investigation – we received a reply of “if we hit a brick wall, then we will reach out to the community”. WTF? THIS is our voice? So where do we go from here? This ordeal, albeit far from over, should be a wake up call to us all – if this is how our nationals are handling “advocacy” then what else have they screwed up? Frustrating and infuriating all at the same time.

    • jisun says:

      I don’t know what the path ahead is, Jennifer, it is keeping me up at night and causing me to neglect the rest of my life. The only thing I can think is that every movement has a period of evolution like this. I am holding onto the idea that we can keep up the dialogue between us all, and the truth will emerge.

  8. […] Kimchi Latkes runs several posts about Ethan Saylor […]

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