A police encounter can mean a death for a disabled person. Let’s change the law

May 20, 2019

© 2008 Tony Webster. CC BY 2.0


In the coverage of police use of force, we talk a lot about race — and we should. Black and brown communities bear a greater burden than whites when it comes to violence at the hands of law enforcement.

But there’s another group heavily impacted by police use of force that’s less talked about: people with disabilities.

The danger faced by people with disabilities in a police encounter is laid out in a 2016 study by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which found that one third to one half of those killed by police are people with disabilities.

Individuals with physical, mental health, developmental or intellectual disabilities may not understand the shouted commands of law enforcement. Their confusion is taken for non-compliance. In this adrenaline-driven “command and control” form of policing, no one is protected. The only ones served are the funeral industry.

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