Betty Pleasant is best known as the colorfully opinionated Soulvine political columnist for the Wave newspapers that circulate across the southern swath of Los Angeles. This week, though, she writes as the mother of an autistic adult reacting to the police shooting of 27-year-old Steven Washington, who was unarmed and autistic. It's over the top, as Pleasant's takes usually are, but it feels like an authentic expression of her fears.
The one thing I live with every day, all day, is the gut-wrenching fear that my son, Russell, will be shot dead in the street by a cop.
Russell is fine as long as he is not anxious or afraid. His anxieties are triggered by delays, unexpected occurrences and disruptions in his routines. When anxious, he does that pacing, arms-flaying, mumbling thing that makes you think he’s on something. When he’s afraid, he runs, and hostile situations and people yelling at him makes him afraid. Adding the facts that he is a big, Black man in a predominately White environment, Russell is potentially the ideal victim of a police killing. All police encounters are anxiety-inducing, even among people without developmental disabilities.
But my fear is that if a cop confronts Russell and he starts twitching, wringing his hands and throwing his arms around, the cop will “fear for his life” and kill my son....
Russell is a sweet, gentle man who has never done anything wrong in his life. He does not know how to do wrong....But when he’s upset and “freaking out,” he has to be treated gently. He must be talked to calmly and reasonably and be made to sit or stand still, take deep breaths, because his heart pounds like crazy during those episodes, and he needs to be soothed into getting a grip on himself. Will a cop do that? No. He’d just kill him.
The LAPD talks here about its training awareness of autism. The officers who shot Washington said they saw him reach for his waistband as he approached them and thought he was going for a weapon.