It is not easy to be a police officer. As I am not a cop I only get that in an academic sense. But I do get it.
It’s not easy to be a person who is Deaf. As I am hearing I only understand that in an academic sense. But to the extent possible, I do understand.
It seems that every time the police shoot a Deaf person (or an unarmed black man for that matter) I am encouraged by some news outlets, as well as by some people I love and respect, to feel more sorry for the hard lot that police officers have to face than for the victim of the police officers’ uncalculated (hopefully) act. They talk about fear, and stress and “tunnel vision,” words that offer no comfort when applied to a public servant we have armed and trust with the responsibility of deadly force.
I hear about split second decision-making being the difference between life and death. But then I must balance that against arrogance like the police arresting nurses for having the temerity to talk back when ordered to violate the Constitution.
I grew up in a very monochrome world. The world of my youth was white and so I had a very difficult time mentally processing the plight of being Black in America. I will admit it never crossed my mind, in any appreciable way, until I went to Wisconsin with a gentle giant of a man. A Buddhist. A Black man. We were teaching theatre classes in a community program and every time we went into a restaurant it seems they had just run out of whatever it was he ordered. I asked aren’t you outraged? He said “of course, but it’s only food and I will not trade my soul for it.” He is one of the best men I’ve known.
It’s hard to make the leap from bad service to a bullet. Especially when, for me, bad service is just bad service, it’s never a statement of hate, and a bullet is just unthinkable-meaning I never need to think about it, because wherever I go I am white.
I lived in Harlem for a short time. I did not gain enlightenment there because it’s Harlem and the plight is harder to see, oh and I am white. Maybe that’s the reason I did not have an epiphany living in Harlem. It may be so obvious there but I missed the point completely… because I’m white.
If I really tried to pin point the time I finally saw it, or at least the hint of it, it was during law school in Boston. Subtle, engrained racism. I saw it, finally. At first it was still so detached from my day-to-day reality I didn’t connect it. Then I met people that I started to love. People of Color that I loved, and there it was! Institutionalized, casual, pervasive racism directly impacting friends. It did not start when I noticed it. I started to see it because it weighed down not just people I met, but people I loved. Shame on me for not seeing it earlier. Not until I “had a reason to.” I ALWAYS should have had a reason to.
I’m not even sure the exact day it hit me. The day or moment that I realized they are shooting people I love. They are shooting people.
They are shooting people because of the color of their skin.
This gets me to today.
They are shooting people who are Deaf.
They shoot people who are Deaf not out of any sense of animus (who ever said “I hate Deaf people”). They shoot Deaf people out of fear and laziness.
I love the Deaf Community. I love their language and humor and inner strength that comes from the fact that just identifying themselves as a culture is an act of rebellion. Loving their own Deafness is daily sedition. They are cool that way.
You love those you serve. I love the Deaf Community.
I love Magdiel Sanchez. I never met him, but I can say without reservation that I love him. And they shot him, because he was Deaf. They shot him because law enforcement training gives the briefest nod to dealing with citizens with disabilities and even less to people who are Deaf.
A few years ago as part of a case I did a survey of law enforcement policies in my state and found a troubling trend. Some had policies for communicating with “suspects who are hearing-impaired,” but none had policies for communicating with citizens who are Deaf. In other words if you are only trained to deal with suspects who are Deaf then every person who is Deaf is a suspect.
Mr. Sanchez was not a suspect. Mr. Sanchez was in his own yard. Now, Mr. Sanchez did have a pipe. Mr. Sanchez had a pipe. Not a gun. A pipe. The police officer that pulled the trigger had tried to talk or engage with Mr. Sanchez before he decided to pull out his gun, so he had the time to evaluate the difference between a pipe and a gun. His partner, having all the same time and information pulled out his Taser. The police officer that shot Mr. Sanchez was not making a split second decision.
The police officer that shot Mr. Sanchez was not making a split second decision. He had tried to talk to Mr. Sanchez. The neighbors had time to warn the officer that Mr. Sanchez was Deaf. The second that was “split” was long gone. His partner, having all the same number of seconds pulled out his Taser.
The neighbors were yelling at the police officers explaining to them that Mr. Sanchez was Deaf. The police officer that shot Mr. Sanchez had all the information he needed to not pull the trigger, before pulling the trigger. His partner, having all the same information used his Taser.
One officer pulled out his Taser, and the other pulled his gun.
One officer pulled his gun on a man with a pipe while he was being told the man was Deaf, and pulled the trigger because the Deaf man failed to obey his commands. The other pulled his Taser in order to control the situation if the pipe came too close.
One officer pulled his gun on a non-suspect who was sitting in his own yard because all Deaf people are suspects.
One officer pulled his gun while his partner pulled his Taser.
His partner pulled his Taser.
I’m not a cop. I have never had to deal with split second decisions that could mean the difference between life and death. But here is the important part. The part not to miss in this story. The police officer that shot Mr. Sanchez was NOT dealing with a split second decision. He made a choice. He had a choice, gun or Taser. We know he had that choice because the other officer pulled his Taser.
The officer with the gun chose to ignore his training on the principle of “situational awareness.” To ignore the information he had access to from the neighbors, who were obviously there before the officer or his gun, and willingly, adamantly provided Intel that could inform the officer’s choice-as it seems to have informed his partner’s. The officer pulled his gun and in doing so chose to ignore the very idea of protecting the public, even the suspect (who was not a suspect), from harm if at all possible. He chose to pull his gun because he was scared or lazy or both, but not because it was necessary.
How can I state that it was “not necessary?” I was not there!
His partner pulled his Taser.
Please law enforcement. Please.
Please stop shooting People of Color.
Please stop shooting people who are Deaf.