I can only remember encountering police officers face to face once in my life a few years ago when they knocked on my door regarding a car which belonged to a friend of one of my sisters. They actually showed genuine concern for the friend’s safety and her mental well-being, which is known for being fragile from time to time. Sadly, police officers are getting a bad rap due to recent events. But what can be done to fix that for spectrum people and people in general?
Like many people, and especially people on the spectrum including me, I get much of the information beyond my own daily world through television. Some weeks ago, I saw a documentary that aired on a Chicago news station about the city’s police department doing a number of bad raids due to having inaccurate search warrants, which resulted in a number of families and children being traumatized and emotionally scarred. Now that the superintendent of that department has been relieved of duty and a new one is in place, as well as a law enacted to protect children in the event of a police raid, I’m hoping they’re on their way to fixing all of that and becoming better officers as a result. With the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of four police officers who either restrained him or prevented people from intervening, another police scandal is occurring and it’s almost unbelievable, but it happened.
It all started when George Floyd was thought to have paid for cigarettes at a local grocery store with a counterfeit $20 bill. Two officers there claimed that he was “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself”. Three officers leaned on Floyd’s neck, torso, and legs while a fourth was watching it happen, with Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe and calling for his mom while multiple witnesses were recording it. One officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes straight. The four officers involved have since been fired and murder charges have been filed. None of this brings back Mr. Floyd or makes black citizens feel safe.
Since then, I’ve heard of protests starting up all over the world as a result and how they started out being peaceful but quickly turned to riots and looting of various public properties. Let me be clear: what happened to Mr. Floyd is inexcusable and it makes me sick. The other incidents about the senseless killing of minority citizens, and even the targeting of minorities because they look like minorities, is unfair and should not happen in this nation. But what should be taken into consideration is that not all cops are like the ones I described earlier. Some are, but not all of them, I assure you – the media would be broadcasting it every day. Unfortunately, there aren’t interesting news stories about police who do their dangerous jobs every day by arresting dangerous persons, or helping in neighborhoods in ways big and small. And the honest and decent cops who do their jobs and are in the middle of these current events must be deeply hurt by the fact that people may now be afraid of them.
Everyone may have their own stories about interaction with police; this is mine. The cops who came to my house to ask about the friend of my sister were actually concerned about her safety and her mental stability. There are people out there who do care about other people. Mr. Rogers once said on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood that whenever he got scared about something going on as a child, his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers” as there are always people out there willing to help. There are helpers out there, doctors, teachers, parents, policemen, anybody. I guess in all these times of chaos and uncertainty and distrust, some people just don’t know where to look. But look nonetheless, even in unexpected places.
Most of the people who have spoken about the current state of police departments at least agree that police are asked not only to enforce laws, but also to act as intake social workers, counselors, and to identify psychological issues – as funding is cut for social services programs, more falls on the police but it doesn’t necessarily come with training. We who are on the spectrum have specific behaviors and issues which may not be familiar to police, and we can do many things to help ourselves and help the police when we come into contact.
Think about doing two things to help yourself: first, carry a card you write that describes the affect your Asperger’s or autism has on you (including the fact that you might take longer to answer questions, or talk to yourself or have different physical characteristics). Second, when we can all go out again, think about making an appointment with a community service officer to talk about your situations and concerns – not only will you get information, but the officer meeting you and getting to know someone on the spectrum will give the police experience in dealing with a special population.
When we were little, we’re taught that if we are lost or in trouble to “find a policeman.” I hope that our nation finds a way to get back to the point that police are always someone to trust. Until then, remember that we don’t want everyone assuming that just because we are on the spectrum, we aren’t all like Dustin Hoffman in ‘Rainman’, or any of the negative images from the news. The same is true of the police – please try not to judge all police by the sad and terrible acts which took the life of George Floyd or the others who were the victims of injustice. May their memories be a blessing and may we seek change as their legacy.
Reminding people that most police officers are very good but we should also help them in situations where we’re stopped, give info on yourself that you’re spectrum, the best thing is to make appointment at station, and treat them as a source of advice.