Friday, July 2, 2010

Honesty, Justice, and Trust

photo credit-navets
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.


Kent Adams said...

This is a result of years of educating the public. We all need to do our part to protect and educate the public. Less time on vaccines and so forth and more time trying to improve the lives of autistic people locally, regionally and national.

Club 166 said...

Fortunately, although there are still pockets of ignorance regarding vaccines, I think people are getting the message that vaccines don't cause autism.

So yes, we do need to spend time advocating for things that will have a direct impact on the lives of autistic individuals. And judging from the comments given on some of the sites posting stories detailing how autistics have been abused, we have a lot of education and advocacy left to do.


Kent Adams said...

Fortunately, although there are still pockets of ignorance regarding vaccines, I think people are getting the message that vaccines don't cause autism.

As I see it Joe, this was a job of the AAP, not autistic parents. It was primarily autistic parents and the influence of bloggers who turned the tide and made the authorities wake up to the abuse and anti-vaccination movement. But, I feel, and this is my opinion, that educating the public about the anti-vaccination agenda should have been taken up more vigorously by the AAP than happened. There was a time they wanted parents like us, parents to autistic children to speak out and be willing to appear in ads to support vaccination. I volunteered to help the AAP. They never went anywhere with this campaign. The AAP, in my mind, was more worried about vaccination trends and reversing the effects of celebrity propaganda than they ever were in educating themselves about autism and how to effectively practice good medicine in relation to autism and reaching out to those of us who defended them. I came to this personal conclusion years ago and it is why I became angry with the advocacy I see that is associated with ND, namely that to be autistic friendly equates to being against anti-vaccinationists. This crusade has been a diversion from doing the real world advocacy in our local communities and educating the public about autism. A very sad diversion. Being pro-vaccine, like I see on many blogs is confusing the issue of advocating for autistic children and adults. In my view, the lines between the two need to diverge.

Club 166 said...

You're right, in that it should have been the job of AAP, but they blew it. The government wasn't careful when they recommended (based on the precautionary principle) to eliminate thimerasol from vaccines, and the AAP was constantly playing catch up, and didn't follow up with that campaign (which I also volunteered for, but never heard from them).

And while the majority of those who subscribe to one flavor or another of ND seem to also favor proper vaccination of all children, you are right that one doesn't necessarily follow from the other, and that the AAP and govt. dropping the ball on getting the message out on vaccines has distracted from the ultimately more important message of respect for all persons, no matter their neurological makeup.

But the media and the public seem to be coming along on the vaccine thing, so at least from this point forward we should be able to devote more time and energy to the larger picture. I'm not sure I'd say that the two issues need to "diverge", but they certainly should be properly kept separate.


Daisy said...

Training is essential. I'd love to present training workshops to police officers and other emergency service providers. Maybe that will be my next career.