creative commons license
I'm not the kind of person that immediately shouts for someone to lose their job when they do something wrong. We all make mistakes, and jobs are hard to come by nowadays.
But I'm also the kind of person that gets their dander up when organizations try to sweep problems under the rug, and whitewash a situation to cover their own backside.
I recently wrote about how two police officers in Tybee Island, Georgia tased a young autistic man who was sitting outside a restaurant waiting for his brother, who was inside. They not only tased him, but wrestled him to the ground, bruising him and breaking his tooth in the process. Originally, the police chief did what might be expected. He defended the actions of his men, and even went so far as to "blame the victim" and his family somewhat by saying that he was sorry that he had been left "unattended". That last statement, which implies that no one with any kind of disability that impairs communication should ever be left alone, even for a few minutes, got me (and a lot of other people, I'm sure) very upset. I don't realistically expect that the whole world will change overnight, and that the world and everyone in it will totally understand my autistic son as he grows up. I also don't think it unreasonable that he should not have to fear being beat up and tased for sitting on the curb outside a restaurant on a hot day.
Evidently there are some reasonable people living in Tybee, and some of them are actually in a position to do something. According to this article:
Tybee drops charges against autistic teen
WTOC11 reports that,
Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman and Schleicher asked Police Chief Price James W. Price to have the GBI investigate the incident and make sure no laws were broken by police.
Many politicians, both local and national, would have followed on what the police chief originally said, and would have tried to cover up the situation and hope it would go away. I applaud the mayor and city manager, who asked a neutral party (the Georgia Bureau of Investigation-the state counterpart to the FBI) to look into the matter. As police officers themselves, the GBI would have an excellent understanding of what proper police procedure in such cases should be, as well as having practical experience in similar types of situations. Yet as a neutral party, they also understand that the public needs to have confidence in its law enforcement officers. Law abiding public citizens should not have to fear their own police force. When law enforcement officers "go too far", it impairs the ability of all other officers on the force in their ability to do their job. When you are in a job that serves the public, you need to be accountable to that public. You may not like it, but that's part of the job.
According to another recent article in the Savannah Morning News, "Tybee Police Learn About Autism", the two police officers that arrested Clifford, as well as a jailer, have both resigned their posts. The police chief has been suspended, and officers are now being sent for training on dealing with people with autism.
My hat is off to the city of Tybee, for stepping up and doing the right thing. Nothing will undo the damage that has been done. Clifford will forever more be afraid of the police, and it will be that much harder for him to react calmly the next time he interacts with them. But it looks as if the city is stepping up, doing what it can to prevent future similar occurrences, and weeding out a few bad apples (while sending an important message to the rest of the department).
I don't know if the police chief will keep his job, or if he should. I am not in a position to know what he knew, when he knew it, and what he has done in the interim. But I trust now that the people of Tybee will do the right thing, because of what they've done thus far. And if he does keep his job, I sincerely hope that he issues a much more heartfelt and all encompassing apology to Clifford and his family, for them having to have endured this.