If I Should Encounter the Police

This post is shared, with permission, by my friend Addye. It’s a narrative we don’t hear often enough but we’re starting to and this is an effort to get the narrative focus back where it belongs: with the words, thoughts, and feelings by people who live those experiences.

I am a proud, unapologetically Black, expressive Black woman. 
I have bipolar disorder type 2, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. 
I have 3 children: 2 are autistic w/moderate-severe speech delays and sensory processing disorder. 1 has ADHD.
My husband/friend/partner is Puerto Rican.

If I encounter police and my rights as a citizen and human start to be violated, I’m going to speak up. If my husband encounters police and his rights as a citizen and human start to be violated he’s going to speak up.

My children’s reactions to certain shifts in tone of voice and yelling/shouting/screaming, commands, and having sudden demands placed on them can and does at varying times trigger fear, anxiety, sensory overload, shutting down/freezing up/losing the ability to vocalize or articulate what’s happening, running away, and sometimes lashing out in an attempt to physically grasp something that can ground them and help them process on a sensory level where their bodies are in space (spatial awareness) & the emotions they’re experiencing. If they encounter police and their rights as citizens and human beings start to be violated let there be no question that I’m going to protect them, speak up for them, fight for them.

I say all of that to say this: I’ve read yet another story of a Black person in a mental health crisis being tasered, kicked, and killed by police even though this person called the police themselves for help because they knew they were in crisis. Alfred Olango was just last week. Scott’s wife told police her husband suffered from a traumatic brain injury. 2 years ago it was Tanesha Anderson after being body slammed to the ground and suffocated. This year it was a teen autistic Latino boy and his aide in the street with the aide telling police what the situation was and begging for them to de-escalate with his hands up-and he was still shot, and that officer won’t be facing any charges. A white, 6 year old autistic boy was shot and killed last year in Louisiana after his father led police on a chase (those officers, both Black, have been indicted and are currently facing 2nd degree murder charges, btw) Case after case after case after case after case it has been too many people brutalized and killed by police, esp Black, Brown, and differently abled people. Too many are calling for help and losing their lives or that of a loved one they were trying to get help for. Too. Many.

I say this as a veteran who has served this country and was a military police officer whose primary function was law enforcement (my base had no flight line to guard) + has seen non lethal de-escalation work again and again in violent situations or in situations where differently abled citizens are in crisis: this morning we’re having a talk in my house about what to do if we need help for ourselves or the kids. We’re discussing what our alternatives are to calling the police. Trying to come up with an action plan that is centered around getting help that is safe and centered around non lethal de-escalation. Considering getting ID bracelets for the kids and making visuals to carry with us…going over what to say if we get pulled over and have the kids in the car with us…needing to find out what their schools’ protocols are around involving police when a student is in crisis…we’re trying to find out because at this point we are no longer sure that calling 911 is safe-not if that means police are going to have to show up. We no longer feel that there’s a guarantee any of us would survive an encounter with police because of who we are. And: I know my rights. If they are being violated or I witness it happening to my husband or children, there’s a 99.9% chance I’m not going to just let it continue. I’m going to speak up, I’m going to demand to be treated like a human being. I’m going to try and protect my children. Hear me: I am not violent. I am a law abiding citizen. I value safety. I am proactive and aggressive in the treatment and management of my illness. I have my faults but I like to think I’m a decent person, I married a decent person, we have friendly, loving, respectful kids-I will speak up for us and assert our rights. That might get me killed in an encounter with police or at the least, harmed. I’ve been sitting with that for a long time now: any encounter I have with police could end in me no longer being here because of what I look like and who I am and the chance that I could be in a mental health crisis one day despite being compliant in my treatment.

That’s my reality. That’s our reality. I don’t know what yours is. It could be vastly different than ours over here. But I’m hoping you can at least see a reality that differs from yours and see where the disparity is…and how there needs to be a change in how policing is done in this country, in police culture and the dominance/influence of police unions, and policing’s reliance on deadly force. At a minimum I’m hoping you can at least see that…and if something does happen to me or my family during an encounter with police you understand that my refusal to stay silent, my determination to assert my rights, or whatever reaction my children have in those moments isn’t just “non compliance”. We deserve better. We deserve to live, to be protected, and to have the ability to call for help that won’t brutalize or end our lives.

— — — — — — — — — — — —

The mission of Being Black at School is to provide resources for both parents and educators, as well as the students themselves, about how they fit into American public education as a system. BBAS seeks to recognize how systemic racism hurts students and perpetuates distrust in learning communities that are meant to be safe for all students. We are representative of the change we seek to make in disrupting systems in education to benefit those hurt most by it: Black students. The framework of Being Black at School uses demographic data, unconscious bias, and cultural competency as a supportive structure to education in order to create equitable and safe spaces.