Here’s the part that keeps me up at night (quoted from the CNN report below):
“Please be still … get down … lay on your stomach,” Kinsey says in the video.
The man beside him rocks back and forth.
Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist, was accidentally shot because the officer was aiming for Kinsey’s client. His autistic client, who could be my son. A 23-year-old non-verbal man, just six years older than my own, whose actions were misunderstood.
Kinsey was trying to help this young man, who left his group home unattended.
The young man, who could be my son, was playing with a toy truck in the middle of the street.
We don’t know all the details of the situation yet, why someone called police, claiming that a man was walking around with a gun and threatening to kill himself. When police arrived, they found Kinsey in the street with his client.
Two to three shots were fired sometime after the video clip ends showing Kinsey lying on the ground, his client sitting up next to him.
The President of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association explained the officer’s intent:
“The movement of the white individual made it look like he was going to discharge a fire arm into Mr. Kinsey and the officer discharged trying to strike and stop the white man and unfortunately, he missed the white male and shot Mr. Kinsey by accident.”
Unfortunately, he missed the white male. The young man who could be my son. The officer shot at him. And missed, hitting Kinsey in the leg instead.
We’ll hear more about the full situation in the coming days, I hope. The videos released so far don’t show the moment of the shooting, but I can imagine what might have happened.
I have no doubt that the autistic man’s movements appeared odd, threatening, and confusing to someone who didn’t know him and who had entered the situation on high alert, assuming that someone was holding a gun. It remains to be seen whether any racial bias impacted the officer’s reactions to these two men, but it seems to me that his lack of understanding of autism sure did.
Kinsey, trained in crisis intervention and quite familiar with his own client’s motivations and actions, tried to give the police some impromptu autism awareness when they arrived. He did not have the freedom or time to explain before finding himself laying on the ground with his hands up, at gunpoint. He still tried — he yelled from his prone position about his client’s “toy truck” and the absence of a weapon. The officers didn’t hear him, according to their representatives at the press conference.
This man who could be my son probably did not respond to the officer’s request to freeze or put his hands up, probably refused to drop the item in his hand. He may have even been acting aggressively toward his caregiver, given the stressfulness of the situation, as my son often does when anxiety takes hold and he has no other way to communicate his distress. That doesn’t mean he deserved to be shot.
This story made headlines because of the current volatile situation in this country and the important conversations about race that we need to have, because the caregiver who was accidentally shot was an African-American man.
But this story is also about the man they were aiming for, the one that they fortunately missed.
Because autism awareness can’t be reliably taught in the midst of a heated situation like this, what can we do to prevent the next one? I’m not entirely sure, but here are a couple of resources:
Jerry Turing (Mr. Bacon from the blog Bacon and Juice Boxes: Our Life with Autism) an autism dad and a police officer, is offering free webinars for autism families about how to establish good relationships with their local police departments. Sign up here.
Be Safe, The Movie is a resource that our local Autism Society has been using this summer to teach families and police about safe interactions with each other.