In this Dec. 30, 2014, file photo, a street side memorial with a painted portrait of Ezell Ford near where he was shot when police confronted him on Aug. 11, 2014, is shown on a street near his home.
( AP Photo/Raquel Maria Dillon, File
Speaker 1: When talking about police brutality against black men and women there's one thing that often gets lost in the conversation, and that's disability. Victims of police brutality, including Freddie Gray, Keith Lamont Scott and Tanisha Anderson who are all black, we're all killed by police and each had a disability. And as police violence against black people continues to be in the national spotlight, the reality of police violence against disabled people, especially disabled people of color is often less discussed. And while there's no federal data on police violence against people with disabilities experts estimate that around 30 to 50% of people killed by police also have a disability. To understand how police violence affects the black disabled community I spoke with Haben Girma, a disability rights advocate and author of Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.
Haben Girma: There are so many black disabled lives that have been lost to police violence. Eric Smith is an example from Chicago. He was 22, an honors student and deaf. He was on the side of the road talking with his grandmother. He was deaf and signing, so physical gestures. The police described him as a large black man, they assumed he was a threat, they shouted orders, he could not hear the orders. It's not his fault, deafness wasn't the problem here the problem was the police's assumptions. They saw black man, shouted commands, he didn't respond, they killed him.
Haben Girma: And this is not an isolated story, there are many, many stories like this. When we talk about police violence we need to also talk about disabled black people and the intersections of ableism and racism. Racism causes many officers to see black and brown people as a threat. And when we don't comply because we didn't hear the command or we can't move in a certain way, or we don't see a physical gesture, or maybe there's an invisible disability and like a psychiatric disability, then the noncompliance is interpreted as threatening. And that's the cause of a lot of the violence against the black and brown people, an intersection of racism and ableism, and any solutions to police brutality against black people need to also address ableism.
Speaker 1: How often have you wanted to protest these past weeks and have you been able to?
Haben Girma: I want people to expand the definition of protest. Right now the definition of protest is very able-bodied, it's a physical standing up in the street holding signs. There are many different ways to protest. There are disabled people who are protesting in the streets using wheelchairs or other assistive devices. There are disabled people protesting from home through social media, through calls to their representatives so we should expand the definition of protest. We also need to make sure the physical and digital protests are accessible. Content online needs to have captions, sign language interpreters and images need to also include image descriptions. If you post a photo, a chart, a flyer, include text describing what's in that chart image or flyer so blind people can also access it, participate in the movement, join the protests. Digital and physical protests needs to be accessible.
Speaker 1: We're also in the middle of a global pandemic which is affecting black people at higher rates than it is white people in many parts of the country. Haben, did you feel like you got the support that you needed to be able to ride out stay-at-home orders or the pandemic more broadly?
Haben Girma: I'm blessed to have a safe, accessible home. If a situation arose where I needed to go to the hospital, I'm deeply concerned that I would be denied communication access. A lot of hospitals are isolating people with COVID-19. I need communication access, I'm deafblind. I'm engaging with you right now by an assistant typing on a keyboard and I'm reading in braille. I'm concerned they would not allow me to have an interpreter at the hospital. And then how would I know what health options I have? Would I get the care I need? And a lot of disabled people around the United States are also concerned about not getting cared or already being denied care.
Speaker 1: We're also joined now by Vilissa Thompson, a social worker and disability rights activist. Vilissa, what about you in this pandemic? It's been difficult for able-bodied people to get things like groceries or just be able to survive in many ways. How did you feel you were supported or not supported during the peak of the pandemic?
Vilissa Thompson: Luckily I have community here that if I need assistance I gain it, but if I was to get the virus my main concern would be who will advocate for me? Even as a social worker I know I have a robust network of social workers who I know would but it makes me fearful about what kind of care would I receive in a hospital setting, even with my own professional background because I know that does not protect me from medicalized racism, ableism, and so forth.
Vilissa Thompson: For me, I worry about the kind of care I will get, I worry about if my quality of life would be respected, if doctors will feel the need to do all the means necessary to keep me alive or will they see me as a burden and de-value my life so that I will not be getting the necessary supports needed to live or to get well. For me it's all about depending on who I encounter at the hospital and how they view me, that will pre-determine not only the quality of care but possibly me having my life.
Vilissa Thompson: And even though I know how to advocate for myself from being an activist and being a social worker, I know those meanings are still not enough, particularly when you are isolated in the cases of contracting the virus and having to figure out what's going on. Which could be very scary as someone who has surgeries, any of those they're with a family during that time, I can not even imagine being alone in the hospital and not having anyone to be by my side to advocate for me, to understand what's going on in case I'm not able to. Those are real fears that I and many other people in the community have right now. If we do get sick, who's going to be there? What quality of care are we going to receive? All those things run through my mind. And as we have been through the peak and with reports on a possible second peak coming.
Speaker 1: Vilissa, what do you think police departments can do better in terms of dealing with black people with disabilities? I haven't mentioned a couple of examples of things they can improve on. What do you think?
Vilissa Thompson: Personally I don't think that they're willing to do anything to improve because they've received the adequate training over the past several years and we're still dying at the hands of the police. For me, particularly as a social worker, knowing that there are people within my profession within these departments, I am seeing that there is no type of training or educating the police to stop them killing black disabled folks or other disabled people of color. This is what they want to do, this is the culture that has been cultivated since the enactment of the police in this country. I think that we need to face the music that nothing will keep the police from killing us because they don't care about not killing us.
Speaker 1: Vilissa Thompson is a Social Worker and Disability-Rights Activist. Vilissa, thank you.
Vilissa Thompson: Thank you.
Speaker 1: And Haben Girma is a Disability-Rights Advocate and Author. Haben, thank you for joining us.
Haben Girma: Thank you.
Speaker 1: And we'd like to know if you are disabled what your interactions with police have been like. You can give us a call and tell us your story at 877-8-MY-TAKE.