The Shooting of the Autistic Man’s Aide
I’d like to comment on an incident that took place this week.
Here’s what happened:
A severely autistic man got out from a facility in Florida. He was out on his own. He brought with him a preferred toy, a toy truck.
Someone in the home noticed that he was missing, and an aide was sent out to get him.
The aide is a black man.
At some point, the police were called with a report that a man was threatening to commit suicide with a gun pointed at his head. The police arrived and began to try to talk to the two men, the autistic man and the aide.
They apparently gave instructions to both men, only the aide followed the instructions by lying down on the street. He apparently tried to explain to the police that the other man was autistic and he had a toy truck in his hands. It was not a gun.
The police did not listen (or believe the man). One of them fired a shot that (it was later admitted) was meant to hit the autistic man who “had what was believed to be a gun,” and instead hit the leg of the aide. The aide remained on the ground, even though he had been shot.
The police said they thought the autistic man was going to shoot the other man. The policeman who shot said he was aiming for the autistic man, but missed and hit the aide.
An official statement said that “the officers were justified in their actions. They did everything that they could do and were human beings. And, we had a human being miss his target and unfortunately strike” the autistic man.
They claimed that—to them–the autistic man was threatening the aide.
The aide was trying to protect his client, while his arms remained high in the air. He was talking to the police and telling them that they don’t have a gun and that he’s a mental health counselor. He specially said he was a behavioral therapist and that the man sitting at his feet is holding a toy truck.
That was the incident.
Now, here’s my take…
First of all, it’s not that I don’t care about all of the police-related shootings (nor is it right on any level to ambush and kill police officers), but this incident does hit home.
What if this were my son and he forgot the instructions on how to act with police officers that we have been trying to give him for the last few years?
Yes, we started talking to him when he was about nine or ten. We said, follow the instructions the police give you. If they want you to lie on the ground, do it. The ground is dirty and I know he’s not going to like being on the ground in that manner, but we’ve stressed over and over to just do it.
Do what the officers tell you to do.
But, what if he panics and takes a step toward an officer? Or, puts his hands down? Or, if he forgets all that we’ve told him? Or whatever?
This situation was even scarier because a non-autistic man was trying to tell the police that the man was autistic and had a toy truck—and they weren’t listening.
They just responded—they admitted to trying to shoot the autistic man, missing him, and getting the aide in the leg.
They just decided to shoot the man!
How scary is that?
Why didn’t the police listen to the aide? Why was firing a gun the only response?
Sticking to just this one case, this response is a real fear within the autism community.
Re-training and re-thinking all types of situations on so many levels needs to happen with the police—and within each and every community.
And, it needs to happen today.
This was an incident that could have been deadly. Sadly, because the aide was only injured, I believe this story isn’t getting as much attention as it deserves.
Please, all community members—especially those with a special needs child—I ask you to take this incident seriously. And, I beg law enforcement to do the same.
This is a matter of life or death for our kids and adults on the autism spectrum.
We can no longer wait.
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