Up to half of the people killed by police in the United States have some form of physical or mental disability, according to a study.
The Ruderman Family Foundation has published a chilling paper which states that while police clashes with citizens, particularly minorities, have received a lot of scrutiny, another factor is almost always discounted — the fact that disabilities also come into play during police interactions.
Compiled by David M. Perry, a history professor at Dominican University in Illinois, and Lawrence Carter-Long, a disability rights advocate, with records from three years, the report reveals that media accounts of police violence fail to report the disability factor when citizens are shot by the law enforcement officers.
In the case of Sandra Bland — the black woman who was arrested for refusing to put out her cigarette during a traffic stop and who was later found dead in jail — was not just chronically depressed but also epileptic. Bland’s apparent suicide made headlines but the fact that was hidden from the limelight was that she stopped receiving her epilepsy medication while in prison; sudden withdrawal from Keppra can cause suicidal thoughts, reports the FDA.
Laquan McDonald, who was shot last year by a Chicago police officer and who became a symbol for the black rights activist groups, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and “complex mental health problems.”
Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer had a history of asthma and hypertensive cardiovascular disorder. Freddie Gray, who was arrested on an allegation of possessing an illegal switchblade and who fell into a coma on the way to the police station, had severe lead poisoning in his childhood. John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver who was shot dead because he did not heed the repeated calls to put down a wood piece and a closed pocketknife, was deaf.
As the report suggests, it is the responsibility of the law enforcement department to train officers to specifically address people with mental and physical disabilities. Additionally, it is the job of the media to report objectively and take into accounts factors beyond race and other forms of discrimination, when such cases occur.