For decades now disability rights activists and related organisations have been campaigning for better communication and interactions between the disability community and that of the powers of law enforcement, due to the sometimes tragic consequences that have resulted from these interactions. Sad to say, the statistics show that in America the disabled are more likely to be shot at and injured than able-bodied people. Recent cases of the last couple of years include a mentally ill veteran called Stanley Gibson who was shot by police in the course of a fracas in 2011, and this past summer, 2013, Dainell Simmons, a long-term resident at a care facility, died after being shot with a stun gun. In 2011 police in Houston shot a double amputee for allegedly “threatening” them with an object that turned out to be a pen.
The lack of understanding about disability-related issues causes problems during arrests, in court, in mediation, in prisons and jails and just about every aspect of the legal and justice system. However it is hoped that things are about to change, following a grant from the US Department of Justice of nearly half a million dollars, to establish a national centre for outreach, education and more, so as to bridge the gap between the disabled community and the law enforcement one. The goal is that of reducing the risk of negative and harmful interactions between these two groups and creates a safer environment for all.
One of the initiatives planned is to give officers special training in dealing with disabled people, both those with physical mobility problems, in wheelchairs, etc., and also those with mental and cognitive disabilities, who may have trouble understanding and complying with commands from the police (this kind of training is considered paramount, following the kind of tragic deaths described above of Dainell Simmons and Stanley Gibson). Given that some developmentally disabled people use wheelchairs and ventilators, the police need to know how to handle them safely to reduce the risks of injuries and deaths, and the same training will apply to all wheelchair users, not just those with mental problems.
There will be experts available to provide advice and consulting, and victim advocates to help disabled people who need help with the process of going to court. The DOJ grant in combination with the support of partner organizations should help get this ambitious project off the ground, until such time as it becomes self-supporting.
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