It’s been six months since this incident but somehow I have managed to miss any news of it. And it’s certainly the type of story that should have lit up my Facebook newsfeed and the blogosphere: a man in his 20s with Down syndrome died of asphyxiation after a scuffle with off-duty sheriff’s deputies who tried to forcibly remove him from a second showing of a movie. Just reading this makes my heart seize up and fall a few inches within my chest and makes me want to scrub the knowledge of it from my mind.
How is it that in the intervening months this hasn’t been passed around more? How did I miss it? Somehow I know that Kanye and Kim named their baby girl North West (just confirming yet again why I do not watch their shows/buy their products or support them in any way, monetarily or with my viewing/listening time), but I didn’t know that a young man with mental disabilities who idolized the police died because of people’s lack of training or sensitivity or understanding or … I don’t know what. I love this editorial from the Washington Post: where’s the outrage, indeed?
As the mother of a nearly-15-year-old daughter with Down’s, who is getting to be a full-size adolescent (still quite short, which isn’t unusual, but a solid 85 pounds), and who certainly has her own opinions and desires that sometimes don’t quite mesh with mine (which isn’t unusual for an adolescent, either!), I am honestly just sickened by this.
I can totally see this happening to her if she were in the same situation: went to see a movie she really liked, decided to just stay seated for a second show, makes a bit of a fuss about being asked to leave. Even if I have explained to her some of the societal norms and expectations for this, she either may have forgotten, not understood, or just chosen to forget. So she stays. Some security officers at the mall who happen to also be sheriff’s deputies or police officers (who in this case aren’t even in any kind of recognizable uniform) tell her to leave; she stubbornly digs in her heels and stays. They pick her up and she resists (wouldn’t you?), and she somehow ends up asphyxiated. It’s a nightmare scenario, all the more so because it’s so easy to imagine happening.
What’s more sickening is knowing that if just one of those officers/deputies had any experience spending time with someone with a mental disability, they might have just simply quietly sat and waited. Waited for someone in uniform, talked to someone who knew the young man, taken a moment to make a phone call, just waited for him to stop panicking or being scared, throwing a fit, whatever. Even just let it pass; was it worth tossing him out of the theater? My daughter, even in situations at home where she’s throwing a little tantrum, tends to recover within a couple of minutes and then just nicely go about doing what I’ve asked, as if she never resisted. So simple, so safe.
So, as the Post asks: Why did Robert Ethan Saylor die? Where is the outrage? Here’s the Post’s editorial on the topic that just ran a couple of weeks ago: I know I’d like to make this news more widely known.