I didn’t know Robert Ethan Saylor. But I am mourning as deeply as if I did. I am grieved over the senseless loss of a kind and innocent soul over the price of a movie ticket. And because this could be my son in the future. Not even close to being stocky, my little guy with the pacemaker who is well known to be stubborn and has difficulty with transitions could have something like this in his future. It would probably kill him instantly.
If you are hearing about this for the first time, Robert Ethan Saylor lost his life on the floor of a movie theater at the hands of three off duty police officers because he wanted to stay and watch the movie again. News reports stated “An autopsy showed Saylor died of asphyxiation brought on by his Down Syndrome. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, but the grand jury found no evidence to charge the deputies.” So, it’s death by Down Syndrome.
Last week the Internet and my Facebook stream featured dozens of images of cute kids with socks and touching videos. I don’t mind these. Those adorable pictures got me through the early days of coming to terms with the reality of giving birth to a little boy with Down Syndrome and a serious congenital heart defect.
But what is going to happen to these cute kids as they become adults? They aren’t so many pictures of the older adults with Down Syndrome. They are entering a world that views their lives as expendable, given the atrocious abortion rate of babies with Down syndrome, the lack of services and supports and the callous attitudes such as those that appeared in the recent Washington Post story announcing “Grand Jury Rejects Criminal Charges in death of Robert Saylor, Man with Down Syndrome.”
It should be noted that there are two other recent police brutality cases involving young men with Down Syndrome. In December of 2012, news reports stated that Antonio Martinez, 21, was walking to his family’s bakery while officers were in the area responding to a domestic violence call. An officer thought he looked suspicious and stopped him. When asked to stop, he wouldn’t listen. He was pepper sprayed, hit on the head with a baton and handcuffed.
In September of 2011 Gilberto Powell, 22, was stopped by Miami-Dade officers after they saw a bulge in his waist band. (It was his colostomy bag.) News reports state that he tried to run when they patted him down. Police said Powell broke free as officers tried to place him in handcuffs, hitting his head on the ground. He was struck in the face and handcuffed.
Three sets of handcuffs were placed on Ethan Saylor. This wasn’t even about proper training. This was simple common sense. Any parent or professional who works with the Down Syndrome population knows they need a longer time to process information, that communication is difficult, and that transitions can be tough but can often be handled with a gentle tone. Maybe a first/then. At the very least they could have called his family and just waited. Or maybe they could have extended a little grace and bought him the damn ticket.
I hope and pray that we see justice for Ethan. This is a Rosa Parks moment for the disability community. Ethan’s death cries out for justice. This is personal to all of us in the Down Syndrome Community. We’re not going to let this get swept under the rug.