On Nov. 29 a Tucson, Arizona, police officer shot and killed 61-year-old Richard Lee Richards.
Richards was a man in a motorized wheelchair who had been suspected of stealing a toolbox from Walmart and allegedly flashing a knife, according to The New York Times.
Police are not an effective way of making sure marginalized people and communities are safe. Public safety, especially for marginalized communities, needs to be looked at from a lens outside of law enforcement.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, disabilities are any condition which affects and limits an individual's mental or physical abilities. Disabilities can even make it harder for people to interact with the world around them.
Disabilities vary and are complex; some are visible while some are not.
While it is unclear if Richards had any recorded disability, it’s very clear he was seen using a motorized wheelchair. There is no way the police should have even pointed their guns at someone who appeared to have a disability.
Regardless of the situation, police should have taken steps to de-escalate it before guns entered the equation.
This isn’t the only time a person with disabilities has been a victim of police violence. According to NBC, between 2013-2016, almost half of the people killed by police had some type of disability.
NBC said in 2013 police killed 26-year-old Ethan Saylor who had down syndrome. Saylor purchased a ticket to a movie and attempted to stay for another viewing when he then got into an altercation with the theater security. Saylor was unarmed, but the police deputies working as security guards dragged and restrained him until he suffocated.
Police officers in Dayton, Ohio, on Sept. 30 conducted a traffic stop on a Black man named Clifford Owensby after being observed by narcotics detectives. They wanted him to get out of his car but he told them multiple times he was a paraplegic. The police officers bluntly disregarded his well-being and human rights after he said that he was disabled.
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It is also important to understand that disability and race intersect in matters of police violence.
According to The Hill, Black disabled people encounter higher rates of police violence. When there are conversations about police brutality, disabled people should be included.
Elijah McClain, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Marcus-David Peters, LaQuan McDonald, Freddie Gray and Tanisha Anderson were all Black disabled people killed by police or died while in police custody within the last decade.
It’s difficult to find accurate data on police shootings and even harder to find them when the victims are Black or disabled. However, the names that are known are still alarming.
These aren’t isolated events or the cause of a few bad apples.
While there have been reform attempts for police interactions with disabled people, none of them will work because policing wasn’t designed with the public safety of disabled people in mind.
A police's first instinct should not be to inflict harm or kill someone but this is the reality for marginalized people.
In Owensby’s, Richards’s and Saylor’s case, there didn’t appear to be any attempt by the police to appropriately accommodate or deescalate the situation.
The police’s job is to keep the public safe. If the police aren’t able to properly keep the public safe without inflicting harm, maybe we should look at other solutions besides the police.
No one should be scared to call the police when their loved one is in a mental crisis because they are afraid the police will harm them.
There should be community-based safety organizations to step in and offer help to each other.
There are people in the community who are better equipped to handle certain situations than the police.
The police shouldn’t be the first response when dealing with those with disabilities when it is shown time and time again they don’t care about their safety.