It was dark, probably past my usual bed time.
After a long evening at a school event, I drove home two African-American male classmates. I dropped off the first, sitting in the passenger seat, and the second declined to take his friend’s now vacant seat.
“You can sit up front,” I offered cheerfully.
“No, that’s not right,” he replied softly.
My heart ached.
He asked me to wait just a minute as I pulled up to his house and he ran inside. He came back with a few dollars for gas money, pressing it into my hand and insisting I take it. What am I?, I thought. His chauffeur? Aren’t we friends?
My aching heart split.
By now, most of America knows what happened in Miami last Monday. Charles Kinsey, a black man, was shot while lying on his back with hands in the air, attempting to calm a nonverbal autistic man sitting in the street. An incorrect 911 tip suggested Arnaldo Rios, the autistic man, was armed and suicidal. Kinsey called out, “All he has is a toy truck in his hand – a toy truck. I’m a behavioral therapist at the group home.” He pleaded for Arnaldo to be still and continued to cry out there was no need for guns. Apparently, none of that mattered. The officer shot anyway.
At first glance, this was one more in a long string of white officers shooting black men. Later, the officer said he was aiming for the (unarmed, unthreatening) autistic patient. Like that would be better.
I’m not anti-authority or anti-gun. I’m anti-carelessness and anti-ego, and I’m terrified of the trigger-happy.
We talk to Henry about law enforcement, about how they take care of us and keep us safe. About how they patrol our neighborhood to keep the bad guys out. About how he can trust them.
Can I? He doesn’t have a paid aide. I’m it. Keith is it. If he has a tantrum in Whole Foods, we are the ones who will be there.
We are long past the point of hoping for change. We cannot trust our loved ones will survive if they #handsupdontshoot. We are now at the point we must act.
I can’t change the systemic problems of racism or ableism, but I can use what I’ve been given to fight for small changes. You can too. We can watch the obstacles fall like dominos.
We’ve come a long way since the evening my classmate refused to sit in the front seat of my car. We have a long way to go.
I know I went a little dark and stormy today. This doesn’t feel like delight, does it? So, here’s what I will delight in: the power to act. Here are my action steps. I hope you will act too.
- Contact local first responders, encouraging them to utilize training resources such as Experience Autism.
- Contact TEACCH and our local chapter of the Autism Society to inquire about a Be Safe Interactive Movie Screening.
- Continue to encourage positive, authentic interactions between our family and people of color. No token friends here, but real relationships.