Police Training, Robert Saylor, and Justice… Again.Posted: March 29, 2013
Well, Latke wrote this hilarious thing (basically making fun of me), and I was all set to post it, but I can’t. I can’t because I can’t get over what is happening with Robert Saylor’s death. So I know I wrote about this already. I also know that maybe it makes people uncomfortable. I get it. It makes me uncomfortable as well, for very complicated reasons. But. I can’t let it go.
I’ve become bloggy friends with this guy, LBD. LBD knows another guy, Scott Silverii, who has a kid with Ds and also happens to be in law enforcement. Together, they are trying to organize an effort to call for greater police training and awareness of Down syndrome. Guys, I commend what you are doing.
But I still am not sure I agree.
Scott wrote this post, in which he argued for greater police training on disabilities such as Ds. I commented, part of which was this:
My honest feeling is that those men already had the training they needed, but chose not to utilize it. I just don’t see why putting a man to the ground was an appropriate response, let alone having him face down for so long. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You can go read his comment in response at his blog, but here are some parts of it:
…restraining, cuffing and leaving him on the ground totally negates the universal use of force continuum. The use of force continuum guides the way officers handle situations….
…officers, having been trained to address DS or similar disabilities, should have backed off. Giving ground is never a bad thing in police matters. Awareness would have cued them into de-escalating the situation through communications or separation. Ethan was not trying to escape, so taking a few steps back would not have threated him or officers. Plus 3 on 1 places everyone at edge….
It seems we are all in agreement that he should have never been on the ground, let alone left there to asphyxiate. After that is where I logically part ways.
Why would it be necessary for those officers to have had more training about Down syndrome or any other disability in order to have prevented the excess use of force? What about having Down syndrome is so different that one would need specific training on it?
In my mind, they had all the information they needed to know. I think it was probably clear from talking to Robert Saylor that he had an intellectual disability and might not understand the situation as the officers did. It was also not hard to see that Robert was obese. So what about Down syndrome did those officers need in order to know that laying hands on Robert was probably not the best course of action? I’m not being flippant here. Don’t officers get trained on the hazards of putting a man in a prone position? Scott, help me out here. When I worked at the group home, we did restraints. Being held down in a prone position a potentially dangerous for anyone. Bones and joints are at risk, asphyxiation is possible, a whole host of things. Being overweight or obese magnifies these risks, sure. I would imagine that police officers get more, not less training than some kid out of college working in a group home. I just don’t see how being trained on Down syndrome’s particularities would make his obesity any more apparent than it already was. They saw him, didn’t they?
Similarly, aren’t officers given any training to take into account the level of understanding being shown by the person in question? People who don’t understand a situation are very understandably more agitated when you question them, order them around, or touch them. This seems like common sense to me, and for that reason I cannot understand why those three officers are being supported in their decision to escalate the situation.
I agree, if they had been educated about Down syndrome, exposed to its possibilities, they may not have acted the way they did. For that, I do support further training. But without that training, could they have been expected to act differently? Absolutely.
You have to look at the greater context of what is happening. The DA could have charged those three officers with inappropriate use of force and the resulting charge of assault/battery/manslaughter/homicide. Clearly, they didn’t want to, so instead they went to a grand jury for an indictment. I think they did this knowing full well that behind closed doors without public scrutiny, they could get a rubber stamp stating that what the officers did was ok, because the guy had Down syndrome, what could they have done, oh, what an unfortunate event, let’s feel badly and all go home. Huh.
So the NDSS goes into a meeting with the DOJ, and they all come out singing kumbaya, saying they’re going to collaborate on more police training. Huh. In the meantime, somehow, someone got the idea that it is ok for the officers to be investigated by their own people. Huh.
All this attention on police training is the easy out. Those officers had all the information they needed. They chose to act in a way that was more convenient for them, fucked it up, and killed a man.
Again, if all this leads to more training, great. Problem is, when large bodies wielding power screw up the response is… more training. I don’t want to discount the value of training, but I don’t think it is the cops’ job to have encyclopedic knowledge of every disability or every condition that might make a person different. It is their job to use their training to treat every person humanely and with respect as an equal. Let’s just be careful. I don’t want the cops trained to treat my son as being Down syndrome. I want them to treat him as a human being, who might have an intellectual disability, who might have a differently shaped body. What I’m afraid is, that with all this talk of training, we are collectively closing our eyes to an ugly truth. It is easier to hold hands and make promises about the future instead of learning some hard lessons from the past.
Robert Saylor was brutalized over the cost of a movie ticket because he had Down syndrome and was valued as less of a human being. After he died, the blame was placed on the fact that he had an extra chromosome.
Let’s acknowledge this ugly truth, put the blame on those officers where it belongs, and then talk about how to train our police forces.
Ok. I’m done now. I know the three people who read this blog are mostly interested in our family and cute pictures of the Taters, but I hope you guys can see why Robert Saylor’s death hurts me so much.
LBD and Scott, I will help you in any way that I can. Police training, thumbs up. Independent inquiry, thumbs up. Justice, thumbs up.