Obesity, disability are not capital offenses

This is unbelievable.  The AP story as published here by ABC News begins with these words:

“Eric Garner was overweight and in poor health. He was a nuisance to shop owners who complained about him selling untaxed cigarettes on the street. When police came to arrest him, he resisted. And if he could repeatedly say, “I can’t breathe,” it means he could breathe.”

If we are going to give cops a free pass to kill people, let’s just say so.  Or if we are going bury their offenses in bullshit, can we at least try to be convincing?  Because the state of someone’s health or disability is supposed to be a factor that influences a person’s treatment at the hands of the police to help ensure their safe and fair treatment, not a factor contributing to or justifying their death at the hands of the police.  Disability is not a crime.

But that’s not the narrative we hear in the news.  Even in the comments people expressing outrage are countered by many others blaming the victim.

Well, obviously the fat bastard deserved to die.  Because obese people did it to themselves and if he was guilty of being fat then he was of bad character and probably guilty of whatever else the police said he was.  Right?  Because fat.

And look what a nuisance the guy was to shop owners.  SHOP OWNERS for God’s sake!  The US runs on business interests.  Hell, the supreme court ruled that Corporations are people, clearly their interests need protecting.  With lethal force if necessary.

And he lied to the police.  The fact that he was able to gasp out the words “I can’t breathe” *clearly* indicates that he could.  Had he told the truth and said “I can’t breathe ENOUGH” perhaps he would be alive today.  When it comes to police, everyone knows “you lie, you die,” right?

The police are apparently the only entity in the US not bound by the Americans With Disabilities Act which was created to ensure that people of all abilities in this country get a chance to participate.  But these same differences are used by police to justify lethal force.

Deaf people sometimes do not respond to police because they cannot hear the police.  Deafness does not equal non-compliance with the officer.  Autistic people who are unable to remain calm under restraint are particularly vulnerable.

But deafness and autism are not self-evident.  That someone is obese is self-evident and  you have to have been living under a rock the last decade or so to not know the plethora of co-morbidities associated with obesity – including asthma.  When you go into the ER and say you are having trouble breathing, they immediately treat you because many breathing problems escalate quickly.  And who doesn’t know that obesity is associated with apnea?  Putting someone with apnea onto either their stomach or back will make it harder for them to breathe.

We are ALL entitled to equal protection under the law.  We cannot allow lethal force to be justified because of someone’s disability, or their obesity, any more than we can on the basis of their race.

If an obese person dies early of a heart attack while asleep or going about their daily routine then it might be the case that they were complicit in their own death. But when someone does not survive contact with the police or justice system and dies violently, their obesity, illness or disability does not make them complicit in their own death.


Below are just a few of the cases in where a person’s disability was not taken into account by police resulting in either inappropriate and excessive force or death.  These are merely examples to illustrate the point and not even close to being a comprehensive list.

A 50-year-old deaf wood carver from the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation was shot while walking on the street with the tools of his trade, wood and a carving knife.

In September 2014 Edward Miller was killed in September after failing to respond to officer’s instructions, despite the man’s son who was at the scene telling the officer his father was deaf.

In 2013 Maryland police officers asphyxiated Ethan Saylor, an unarmed man with Down syndrome.

In 2010  an LAPD officer shot Steven Eugene Washington in the head while the autistic boy was reaching for a cell phone clipped to his waistband.

In August, 10 year-old Ryan Maldonado was dragged handcuffed out of class by an officer who then laid the boy out on the trunk of his police cruiser.  The boy’s father who had arrived 10 minutes before the police and might have been able to calm the boy was not allowed to see or talk to his son before or during the arrest.

See also: Police are failing America’s disabled at The Daily Beast

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2 Responses to Obesity, disability are not capital offenses

  1. T. Rob! This was amazing. Thank you for writing this and your latest post. It’s been an age, my friend, and I hope you’re doing well. Miss the old WebSphereUserGroup crew. Again, powerful stuff. I appreciate your thoughts.

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