From Courthouse News Service:
DAYTON, Ohio (CN) - Dayton police "mistook" a mentally handicapped teenager's speech impediment for "disrespect," so they Tasered, pepper-sprayed and beat him and called for backup from "upward of 20 police officers" after the boy rode his bicycle home to ask his mother for help, the boy's mom says.
Pamela Ford says her "mentally challenged/handicapped" son Jesse Kersey, 17, was riding his bike near his Dayton home when Officer Willie Hooper stopped him and tried to talk to him.
The mom says that "Prior to the incident described below, defendant Hooper knew Jesse and was aware that Jesse was mentally challenged/handicapped and a minor child."
"Jesse was charged with assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing official business."
However, "Jesse was declared incompetent by the Montgomery County Juvenile Court and the charges against Jesse were dismissed."
Jesse and his mom seek damages from the city and the two lead officers, for false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault, battery, excessive use of force, infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.
(Edited to add: Here's another article that gives the police officers' side of the story as well. Interesting to note that even if you were to take the cops' side as gospel, it still brings up some questions. Why would the cops behave this way even after being told, more than once, that there was a disability/communication issue? Is this an appropriate force level for a kid riding his bicycle the wrong way down a street? At any point, did the officer even try to take what would probably be minimal efforts to defuse the situation? Even knowing the police side of the story, I still think the mother could have been charged with several counts of "exactly what Rob would have done".)
That could be Schuyler. That could be any non-verbal but ambulatory kid with a developmental disorder. It could be your kid.
Officer Willie Hooper knew Jesse Kersey, he was already aware of the young man's disability. He knew, and yet he still did this. He knew, but he didn't understand, didn't extend basic human dignity to a young man who didn't understand and couldn't communicate to the officer's satisfaction. This doesn't sound like a mistake. It sounds like a value judgment, one that ultimately concluded that a kid like Jesse Kersey HAD no value.
Now, where would someone get the idea that people with developmental disabilities have diminished value as human beings?
All this week, on Twitter and Facebook and my blog, I've made a little noise wherever I can about Tracy Morgan's recent remarks about kids with developmental disorders, and I've had a few good discussions about the topic. But I've also been told that I need to lighten up, that the attention directed at Morgan is tiresome, that free speech includes immunity from personal responsibility or simple human decency. I've been told that jokes about people with disabilities are harmless.
When I talk about a societal narrative fed by the likes of Tracy Morgan and members of the Dayton Police Department and the entitled hipsters loudly demanding their freedom of speech when taken to task for calling someone a retard, a societal narrative that re-enforces the idea that the least powerful among us are fair game, THIS is why it's important.
And when parents and advocates stand up and protest this narrative, we're not doing so to get a ride on "the Tracy Morgan free publicity train", as comedian Rob Corddry suggested on Twitter this week. We're not opportunists, looking for some sort of self-promotion. We're not pleased that Tracy Morgan gave us a chance to make a larger point, and we're not happy to shock the world with the story of Jesse Kersey, or any of the others who have been denied their dignity because they have the audacity to be broken, to be less than perfect, to be different.
We would love to live in a universe where our fellow citizens of the world heard vile remarks or read of monstrous deeds and stood up to say that we as a society are better than this. We'd like public figures and groups besides parents and the same advocacy groups like the Arc or Special Olympics to say "Well now, I may not have a dog in this fight, but that right there? THAT'S fucked up." We would like for the denial of basic human dignity to be something that distresses most anyone, outside those of us in the disability community. We'd like to feel like we have more choices that either keeping our mouths shut or standing on a hill, shouting into the wind and hoping we don't get hit by lightning.
In my book, I wrote about the island I dream about, the one where we'd go to live, just our little family, where a protecting ocean would shield Schuyler from the likes of Tracy Morgan and Officer Hooper and a depressingly large segment of society that sees her as a punchline, or worse. I admitted that I knew it was wrong, but it was still a very happy fantasy.
After this week and the conversations I keep finding myself having and the walls I keep throwing myself against, I would take Schuyler to that island in the time it would take to pack her sock monkeys and get to the airport.