Open Letter to Washington State’s Unchecked Ableist Racism

WTF, people? You’re supposed to be better than this!

In 2015, my son Adrien(who happens to be half-Black and autistic), my co-parenting mother, and I made the cross-continental move from Brooklyn NY to King County WA.

Me and Adrien during our 2015 move

We moved away from the noise and crowdedness, which was worsening Adrien’s anxiety due to hyper/hypo-sensitivity issues. We moved away from the hunting of young men of color who, according to that famous Stop and Frisk report statistic, are stopped by police more times than there are actual men of color in the city. We moved to a weird place, full of friendly weird people (I mean, naked bike ride, people), where Adrien’s swaying, stimming, and general aloofness was just another kind of accepted weird; not a signal of attack for trigger-happy, ill-trained racists who react on conditioned instinct rather than training but get away with it because “my job is hard”. We moved to the county where racism is confronted by white people; the county of billboard PSA’s reminding people that asking “What are you?” can be offensive. An increasingly left leaning place; a shining example of how a state can lead national progress. Or so we thought.

Invasion of Casual YIMBY Gentrification:

In our first 6 months living in King County WA, the Black family directly above us in our apartment complex was raided by a small army SWAT team at 3am on a weekday. We were violently awoken by the bang of a flash grenade and battering ram; I can only imagine the harrowing trauma the children in that apartment felt. All the officers were white. The all-white property management didn’t show any concern the time of the raid or the effects it had on its at least 60% of color community. Then it happened in other buildings within our complex. That first year, I witnessed 4 raids, all on families of color or mixed poor families (I do find more mixed people here than I did in NYC, a different story for a different day). Yes, families. With children. In my complex, I have witnessed family after family being pushed out and white, single, higher paying renters come in to replace them. It’s all legal because of a lease clause wherein any person accused of drug dealing or arrested by police (charges and convictions need not occur) on the premises can (will) be evicted.

I complained, they denied, it still goes on. Those they can’t push out by force, they push out financially. Using the full 10% legally allowable rent raise per year on poorly upkept housing, families who don’t get anywhere near a 10% yearly salary raise cannot afford to continue living in the complex. Developments continue under property management from companies in California, where Orwellian marketing of gentrification has championed in choking out Bay Area communities of color (I’m sure the ridiculously fast rising number of homeless families of color in SF has nothing to do with YIMBY-ing — nope, nothing to see here). The violence of gentrification exists where I live too, even with the state being mostly white and single person rental housing outnumbering family rental housing.

If You’re a Black Autistic Kid, Make Sure You Announce Your Autism Well So Cops Don’t Kill You:

There’s a place I am legally obligated to send the kiddo every weekday. It sucks. He thinks it sucks, I think it sucks; every morning it’s like, “this ish again?” The school admits it sucks but waives responsibility with the almighty bureaucratic line, “we’re doing the best we can”. Not to get all Supernatural on everyone but, ‘do the best of someone better’, ya know?

In a school year with not one but two teachers quitting without notice, one of which could not spell the word, “scenes”, a class of 13 SE kids are left with a non-SE certified substitute and 2 paras, and another class’s SE teacher who “checks up” on them (though I’ve never seen her significantly interact with the class during her “checks”). Adrien has muddled through thanks to engaging academic play at home. At school, he traces his name (he’s almost-13 and has been doing that task since early intervention), colors in worksheets, has repetitive computer tasks, and someone helps him cheat at math worksheets by giving him the answers; at home, I engage him in analyzing our latest Roald Dahl read while discussing clay animation adaptations over a plasticine sculpting session. But, you know, they’re the professionals.

I mostly ignore the school district administration’s email blasts. Adrien is a number to them, they are plutocratic pawns to me and I don’t particularly enjoy chess (why don’t the pawns simply overthrow the royalty, dammit?). I have better things to do, like spend time with Adrien teaching him the things the school district fails to, than attend PTA and School Board meetings. Today, however, an email entitled, “FYI…Autism and the Police Staying Safe Together” caught my attention. Safe together? Like, the police need to be safe……from…..autism?

Double take. Let’s read that one more time because surely it doesn’t suggest officers need safety against our autistic children, right? I mean — what?!

Email titled “FYI…Autism and the Police Staying Safe Together”

This sounds like a discussion where they are open to hearing us out. Great, I thought. I mean, it could be better. As far as this advocate mom is concerned, the panel should be made up of all autistic people. Autistic law enforcement professionals (Don’t have any? Probably part of the problem. Should we get into autistic law enforcement professionals of color?), autistic parents, and a few autistic activists. You know, because autistic people don’t all think alike — in fact, that’s kinda the point. Plus your law enforcement lineup is plural; it’s a bit clear where the bias lives when one activist has to talk for all autistic youth of but a few police department officials get to speak individually.

Then I saw the flyer.

Flyer for Seattle Children’s Police & Autistic Children Panel
“ For individuals with autism spectrum disorder, learning to interact with police and first responders is critical.”

I agree with the second part. It is critical for my autistic son to understand when to call for a first responder. My son used to go to school next to fire station, he understands medical responders’ role. He was also 5 years old when cops came into his bus and violently removed an autistic 7-year old girl because she was having a sensory breakdown. It traumatized him and he remains nervous around police officers to this day. The fact that he is very aware he is of color and knows people who look like him are being killed all the time by uniformed men with guns doesn’t help his anxiety.

It is irresponsible and ableist for a police department to impart any responsibility to any minor, let alone an autistic child as the enforcer of “proper” interaction with a police officer. Adrien’s reactions are hyper-correlated to his environments. It is not an uncommon behavior for autistic people. If people have threatening body language, as many or even most police officers do, Adrien will sway, pace, and stim more because it’s how he soothes anxiety. Police officers need to be the ones who check their instinctual aggression against people of color, not our autistic children of color.

“ The autism community must work together with law enforcement and the general public to ensure we are all safe together.”

While the email claims the panel is a space to speak our concerns, the flyer clearly shows the intent here is to take accountability away from police and their racist ableism. The behavior is pervasive and abhorrent. Black people must help end racism, Muslims must help end Middle East terrorism, sexual assault victims/survivors must help end sexual assault. Down the line of crap US society expects from those exploited and/or oppressed, we eventually get to “autistic kids of color need to help cops not kill them”.

“How can I help police and the community at large think disabled rather than dangerous?”

What, the actual, fuck?! Nope. That’s when my Nope-o-meter broke. Because no and because fuck you for even suggesting it. How other people perceive our kids is their fucking problem not ours. If y’all want to get together and talk about how to get better at your ableist racism, then by all means. But don’t invite us, it is not our job to educate you or help to not be assholes.

If I’m over-reacting to the flyer in comparison to what the email wrote, why did my son’s already not-great district make a point to distance themselves from the event? Why send the flyer to parents a mere two days before the event? It’s almost as if they’re counting on us parents of autistic children not being able to get childcare or make arrangements in time. The coded language work is just plain flimsy on this one. I smell the BS and see you hiding in a linguistic Spicer’s bush.

Cohorting along with racist expectations of police compliance is supposed autism advocate Seattle Children’s Hospital who I’m sure would have deflective platitudes to offer over the racial divide among quality of autism management and care for children and adults.

I’ll be going, Adrien in tow, to this panel May 18th, in order to voice exactly these concerns straight to their faces. If you live in King County, and care about autistic youth of color, then please join me.

So it turns out liberals in Brooklyn NY and King County WA are similar. How does that feel, Seattle, to know you’re looking like Brooklyn?

On a related note: if anyone knows where the safe space for awesome, autistic teens of color is in the US, let me know. We may be looking to move soon.