NBC News, March 14, 2016, by Ari Melber and Marti Hause.
Almost half of the people who die at the hands of police have some kind of disability, according to a new report, as officers are often drawn into emergencies where urgent care may be more appropriate than lethal force.
The report, published by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization, proposes that while police interactions with minorities draw increasing scrutiny, disability and health considerations are still neglected in media coverage and law enforcement policy.
"Police have become the default responders to mental health calls," write the authors, historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long, who analyzed incidents from 2013 to 2015. They propose that "people with psychiatric disabilities" are presumed to be "dangerous to themselves and others" in police interactions.
The report wades directly into the racial debates over policing, noting that while coverage of police brutality cases has understandably "focused on race," that lens can also obscure how disability also factors into police interactions.
Take one of the most discussed recent police brutality cases — the Chicago Police shooting of LaQuan McDonald, a black teenager killed while acting erratically and holding a knife. Prosecutors took the unusual step of charging an officer with first degree murder, noting McDonald did not pose a lethal threat to the officers who had surrounded him. When video of the shooting was released, it sparked the resignation of Chicago's police chief and a national debate over race and policing.
There was far less focus, however, on McDonald's health. According to a later investigation by the Chicago Tribune, McDonald suffered from PTSD and "complex mental health problems."
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