Don’t Copsplain to me: On surviving the NYPD while Autistic & Black

Editor’s note: this article contains mentions of extreme abuse and ableism.

I am of mixed heritage.

I am Native American, Scottish, and Latinx on one side, and I am Chinese and Guyanese West Indian on the other.

I am proud of my heritage. I should be, right? The diaspora of my ethnic background is its own tapestry of rich cultural history.

Here in New York, with my brown and at times reddish skin, I am a person of color– a Black autistic male on sight.

Unfortunately, to the police I am nothing more than the concept that is the word Black.

Blackness

Skin tone– and perhaps my height and broad shoulders– is all they see of me. Blackness. Not the color, but the concept of being Black as a racial institution and all the baggage that comes with it.

I am not Caucasian and surely not white as they see it. Nor do I care to be. I am an Autistic man of color, mixed with many beautiful peoples; but being non-white and Autistic is treated as a criminal offense when seeking help from the police, or alternatively, for trying to reason with them– which will get you threatened, forced to obey, or killed.  

Our skin tone and humanity is somehow seen as less than compared to those with lighter complexions, those who are white on sight, the institution of Whiteness. This threat against Blackness is amplified if we are poor, an immigrant, physically disabled, or have religious beliefs that aren’t Christian.

White Christians are who law enforcement deems as somehow more worthy of serving and protecting.

If you are Black and Autistic, you quickly learn that your existence is a recipe for disaster when you are in the periphery of the police.

This article is about trauma, and how neurotypical abusers can easily work with, manipulate, and conspire with police by relying on the certainty police bias.

I do not enjoy reliving these experiences, but I feel that it’s important that you should know about them.

Story One: The Danger of Calling for Help

Profiling and White Neurotypical Privilege

Have you ever been profiled? Ever been invalidated and treated as worthless by police because of your skin tone?

If not, that is called white privilege.

Have you ever been beaten sore and bloody by your abuser, then had the police side with them because your abuser told the police to ignore you because of your disability?

Well, that is your neurotypical privilege.

You live with privilege until you have been profiled, until you have been abused and called for help– only for your abuser to say,

“Ignore him. He has Asperger’s.”

That’s what happened to me.

That’s the hopelessness of being on the bottom rung of the privilege ladder.

I was living with a family member after my mother had abandoned me. There was a man living there– a relative– who was violent, and I was the most frequent subject of his rage.

One day, I called the police.

I had dared to risk my life and called the police for help during a time when I was home alone with the relative whose explosive anger and violence could only be reeled in by other family members.

My abuser sat there in nothing but an open bathrobe as I struggled to explain the recent attack, the evidence of it visible on my body as fresh marks and still-bleeding wounds.

I tried several times to get a word in, but my bruised body meant nothing. I began to film with my cellphone, knowing that can be dangerous. But, the officer simply screamed at me and threatened to take my phone, so I stopped.

Those words were still ringing in my ears.

One more time for the people in the back: “Oh, so you have Asperger’s? Everyone is a little bit like that, and if we’re ever called here again, it’s you we’ll be hauling away.”

If you don’t know what that means, I’ll translate. It means: Despite obvious signs of abuse, enough to make an arrest, plus property damage, etc., we’re willing to let you be MURDERED because someone said you have “Asperger’s.”

I didn’t know that I had a diagnosis. That was the first I’d heard of any formal diagnosis.

I did– and still do– have an autism diagnosis. I didn’t know it at the time, though. The abuser’s mother told him to say Asperger’s in the event that he got busted while she wasn’t home to cover up or justify the abuse.

Even if autism and Asperger’s are the same, saying Asperger’s seems to come with different biases, that somehow the autistic person is more in control and calculated, a person who demands special privileges and has no empathy.

She banked on that word doing the work of causing officers to see my life as less valuable and my account as less reliable… that it would be believed that I somehow brought that violence on myself.

She was right.

The police taught me that my life wasn’t worth protecting that day. The officer only listened to my abuser.

After the police left, I ran away to hide. I am not sure how I survived that night.

I later slept in my own bloodied sheets and was told not to call the cops or an ambulance again.

But I had already learned that the cops couldn’t be relied on to save me.

That was years ago.

Good Cops, Bad Cops

Do I believe all cops would have reacted that way?

No.

But many would, and many more would look the other way when a “bad cop” let an autistic person, or a Black person, be abused.

Calling the police can’t be a game of Russian Roulette for autistic and Black people.

Just this year, in Riverhead, NY, 8-year-old Thomas Valva suffered a similar fate at the hands of his police officer father. As documented here:

In the final two days of his life, 8-year-old Thomas Valva was allegedly dragged down a staircase by his father’s fiancée in their Center Moriches home, after soiling his pants, and then pushed into the bitterly cold garage—as the fiancee’ sent video links to Thomas’ father, who was out of the house and working as an NYPD police officer.

When the fiancee’ later texted that Thomas was not looking good, with the camera showing him shaking on the garage floor and needing to go to the bathroom, Officer Michael Valva allegedly responded, “F—k the piece of s—t, Thomas. He is not going anywhere.”.

If enough “good cops” are willing to look the other way, then are they really any less guilty than the ones who let their stereotypes end Black and autistic lives?

Not from where I’m sitting. Not for George Floyd.

“Blue lives matter” and your behavior on Social Media

I noticed some of you on social media start off with posts where the first half of your written lectures are meant to convince that #NotAllOfficers are bad. You mention the proverbial “thin blue line” whenever somebody is murdered by an unnecessary act of force and police brutality, as if those lives are justifiable collateral.

Then, towards the end, you begin to shift the blame to victims from marginalized groups.

When you shift blame to victims, you give legitimacy to murderers.

We all know there are “good cops” out there, but the “good cops” look the other way when the violent ones have their knee on an innocent person’s throat for nine minutes.

I’ll tell you another story.

After a particularly bad incident, I ran away from home for a few days, scared, cold, and lonely. I was running low on resources. I shared my food, what I thought would be my last meal, with a homeless man.

This was quite humbling, and it felt like I wasn’t alone for a few minutes before he disappeared. 

Day 4: Hope Calls

I was ready to die when I received the call that I have been accepted into SUNY Cobleskill, the university of my dreams. They told me they’d mailed out my acceptance letter but hadn’t received a response.

I couldn’t tell them about the situation I was in, so I told them that maybe my mail was running slow.

Reluctantly, I slunk back to my abusive mother’s house, a mother who had previously abandoned me on Christmas Eve, leaving me no choice but to live with relatives who were even more abusive. 

I had gotten the call the morning of my fourth day on the street. With the new hope for a better life, I went back to Mom’s house hoping to catch the mail lady at her usual time.

But I was too late. I would have to face my mother.

A Sick Game

I knocked on the door and nobody answered, so I used the key I still had. As I turned the lock, an evil snickering came from the other side, and the bolt clicked itself back into place.

I had been wandering and hungry on the streets, so I was addled. Confused. I didn’t understand what was going on. Like many times in the past, I didn’t understand that I had walked into a trap.

I went to try to open it again, but the key spun right back around in the lock. Peels of laughter could be heard through the door. I knocked and spoke through the door, hoping the good news would end this game. “I just got a call about my acceptance letter to school. Please open the mailbox so I can get my acceptance letter,” but the laughter intensified.

I wouldn’t be getting in, nor would I be given my mail.

Defeated

Defeated, I walked downstairs, sat in the lobby, and began to cry. A gentle neighbor who recognized me asked me what was wrong, and I told them everything.

This neighbor had suspected for years that I had been abused, but before they could offer any further comfort, the police showed up en masse. They piled out of two cars and entered the lobby.

“Are you Andrew?” one asked. 

I confirmed and explained the situation to them, but they became very aggressive. They told me that I had to get in the cop car– or else. I was on the verge of melting down, my fight or flight response on high alert. I pleaded with them to leave me be, promising to go away.

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” I explained.

In fact, that’s what I do. I explain. And explain. And plead, and beg, and explain. I feel like if I reason with someone enough, they will understand and have compassion.

No such luck. 

They had no patience. I was a nuisance. Their threats became more severe, urgent. Terrifying.

One officer seemed to take pity or understand. I suspect he could tell that I was terrified.

He softened his tone, “Please get in the cop car, or we’re going to have to make you.” This time, it wasn’t so much a threat as it was a plea. At least, I felt, someone wanted to help me, even though every option was a loss.

Just that sliver of kindness was enough to bring my panic down to be present enough to realize that running– eloping– would likely end up with me being shot and killed. That’s what my family had wanted, to use the police to erase me from their lives.

Resigned, I ended up going with them. I was too panicked to reason with myself that if I wasn’t being arrested, I shouldn’t have to get in the car.

Instead of jail, they took me to the hospital where I was placed on an involuntary 72-hour psych hold. It would have been shorter, but no one was there to support me had I been released. They wouldn’t send someone as obviously fragile as I was back onto the frigid New York streets with nowhere to go.

I didn’t know this at the time. I didn’t even know why the police showed up. After years of trauma, I’d internalized that I would always be perceived as guilty and that there were no heroes who were trying to rescue me.

To my family, to the police, to the medical professionals– I was a nuisance to be processed in the way that left them the least culpable, legally. 

An Arsenal of Weapons 

I later found out that my mother had called the front desk and to tell them stories of me having an arsenal of weapons. A staff member later confided that she had told building personnel that I had “a high tech weapons safe.”

I didn’t, of course. I don’t have the executive function to ensure I have food to eat, much less the savvy and finances to secure that kind of equipment. No one thought I actually was in possession of those things, because no one asked about them.

Had there been any actual fear that I had an arsenal of “high tech weapons,” a simple search would’ve proven that I didn’t.

I imagine she either wanted me to be killed, arrested, or detained in a psych ward so that I couldn’t go to a college and have an opportunity to get away.

I wasn’t the problem, nor even my disability. My happiness was. My potential to be something more was.

Those three days were horrifying. From what I can remember, I spent the hours mostly in a waiting area where patients were vomiting and one was bleeding profusely from his rectum and wearing nothing but a gown.

I remembered thinking that college was a place for white neurotypicals.

The moment I was discharged, I left with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and a MetroCard.

My doctor referred me to a shelter for the “criminally insane.”

Years later, when the pandemic hit, I had to move back in with the family member who had gone to bat for my abuser. The violence has stopped, but I still can’t hear a police or ambulance siren without experiencing a PTSD flashback.

The Cost of Being Black and a Good Person

 I hate injustice. I hate abuse. I’m a physically strong person with a deep sense of love for humanity. I would risk my life to save someone in need.

But I can’t even risk acts of kindness without the fear of  someone– especially a cop– mistaking me for a threat because I am an autistic person of color.

I feel that an act of heroism is likely to end up with me being shot or put in prison.

Do you feel that way?

An Appeal to Citizens

I’d like to ask police to stop being abusive and a much bigger threat to me than I have ever been to anyone, but I doubt that will get very far.

They are so involved in the defense of themselves and their profession that they have no room to even hold space to think about me.

They’ll see the title of this article and look straight for the comments.

But what I want to know is why do those of who who are not police, who are fellow citizens– flaunt their goodness in front of people like me who have been failed by them? Why do you try to convince me with your statistics and your emotional appeals that “blue lives matter”? That “all lives matter”?

Of course all lives matter, but stop bringing it up as an argument against Black lives mattering as if those two things can’t be true at the same time.

Why do you spend so much energy in front of people who have known their oppression, people of color, people of marginalized groups, people of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities?

Are you like my relative, banking on the fact that the police will side with you if you need them?

Are you like Patricia Ripley, the mother who pushed her autistic 9-year-old-son into a canal– not once, but twice– then told police that two Black men kidnapped her son?

Are you trying to maintain the illusion that people like me can trust those officers because you agree that people like me are the problem?

Because I feel like if you were really on my side, if you really empathized with me, you’d be terrified for me every time I left my house.

I’m terrified for me.

You’d empathize with this mother who had to do this to her house and yard:

house
Image credit @lesleymarin on Twitter

What people of color, autistics, and other marginalized people need from you is to stop participating in a culture that excuses what needs to be fixed.

It doesn’t matter if #NotAllCops are bad.

What matters is people are dying, and more will die, if we don’t address the reality that police brutality happens and that Black and autistic lives are at higher risk.

16 Comments


  1. AspieWolf:

    So glad that Terra’s words “in her last Mama’s perspective Post” affected you and healed some of the hurt which you feel. I’m also glad that you have landed at the SUNY University majoring in Philosophy. This safe location and all of its subjects may become a bridge which you can cross and grow stronger in so doing.

    Your stories published online today make me cringe. Thank you for sharing.

    I’m an old white man dodging Virus bugs across the country, in a isolated, green Montana pine forest 7 miles from Idaho. Nearest traffic signal is 45 miles away. I attempt to “really feel” what you have written in your post concerning abusive relatives and life in crowded, downtown NYC. It sure is a very different world, I’ve been there –– only briefly. Never have lived there, could NOT survive in that population density, even if everyone was cheerful, friendly and handing out free $2 bills as a sign of peace and good luck.

    For you, Good Luck young man!!!

    It is a wide, extensive world, leave the abusive relatives behind to rot and don’t look back. Make your own way as you are presently doing! 🙂

    ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

    Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiative (and creation). There is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas & splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

    All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents & meetings & material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

    Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
    Boldness has genius, power & magic in it.

    Begin it now…!!!

    -GOETHE
    German poet & dramatist
    1749 – 1832

    1. Author

      Thank you so very much for this incredible response. These are words I certainly needed to hear tonight.

      1. AspieWolf:

        Glad that I was able to stir you –– if even for a brief moment or two.

        Years ago I stumbled upon old RIP Goethe’s advice about “taking a giant leap forward.” I printed this message up, framed it and hung it on my Office Wall for many visitors to see and ponder, –– possibly becoming inspired…

        Yes this ancient Philosopher’s message is scary, really scary. I have thought about the decision of climbing in the darkness to the top high diving board at a quiet, giant pool. And then in that same total darkness bouncing off of the diving board head-first, pointed downward with gravity. You can’t see water. All you can do is HOPE that there WILL BE water beneath you and catch you from this perilous high dive.

        Scary? Damn right. Takes some guts to go forward into the unknown…

        Really scary, but what this old German Philosopher from a different century is saying CAN BECOME QUITE TRUE… It all begins with muscling up a great amount of personal courage and taking the most difficult FIRST STEP…

        “All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from this decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents & meetings & material assistance which no man [or woman] could have dreamed would have come his way.”

        In my life, I HAVE experienced elements of exactly that which RIP Goethe is communicating. Don’t be reckless in your decision to jump off a high dive into the void of darkness. Lay out a few basic plans of 1, 2 & 3 –– THEN go decisively forward!!! There is NO means to pre-judge the effectiveness of a bold new personal decision. Only the personal right to go forward with something bold and scary. Land of the Free, Home of the Brave… And if your karma is good, you’ll get some unforeseen help which you have previously earned and justly deserve.

        Time, it wounds all heels and WILL catch up to the bullies and bad guys!!! So keep a stiff upper lip, even when sharing your last meal with a homeless person on the streets of NYC. How scary was that? But you didn’t expire. You made it to the next day and made another magic meal happen.

        And in parting: I’m old, retired, still struggling professionally (I’m an Inventor) and financially while attempting to live on $612 per month social security pension. It really helps keep me from starving, but $612 monthly income [which I formerly earned] doesn’t cover today’s basic expenses to stay alive.

        Yet I’m the crazy old white-haired broke guy wearing old, worn clothes giving away $2 bills. I may part with as little as two or three of them a week, or maybe six or ten. I buy em’ at the Bank and provide them as a “Tip” to anyone I’ve come across who impressed me and seemed to need some sort of surprise in their own life. Like a startled Bank Teller or the unkempt 20 yr. old Kid bolting-on tires in the back. So I tag them with a crisp, clean, new $2 bill. Most waitresses serving me food (before the Pandemic) are recipients of a $2 bill in their cash tip for meal services, especially if they were efficient and pleasant.

        And guess what I tell them all? I say “if you are hungry, spend this $2 unique cash bill tonight. It is MY GIFT to you…”

        “But if you are not that hungry to part with this special denomination of cash, then think of someone in your own loop who needs a surprise or a hug or a kiss and give this special, negotiable cash bill away. Don’t keep it too long, keep it moving. Play it forward. Don’t put it into some child’s piggy bank, put it into someone’s hand (young or old) who can participate and pass this $2 cash surprise along to someone else in their own network in need of a surprise!”

        My kicks in life these daze come from handing out $2 bills to strangers. Last Christmas, it was to 8 people working at a Tire Store in Colorado, including the Owner who didn’t need $2. He did need a surprise though. And the next time I saw this man, he remembered and told me a short story of who HE SURPRISED with this $2 in his own network.

        So consider stepping off of a dark and scary high dive, –– and perhaps soon. Maybe you need to clutch a short handful of $2 bills (get em’ at a Bank) to give you a little surprise ammo for when you climb out of that dark water, looking for the morning’s sunrise, sure as day follows night that it WILL INDEED happen. My favorite George Harrison tune is HERE COMES THE SUN…

        Good night. And again, Good Luck…!
        Make a bold personal decision amid the Cops and Robbers, Looters and Protestors all –– and everything which is UNFAIR, not right, not GOOD –– and grow yourself [and others] forward with such a bold move… You can do this. 🙂 We all reap what we ourselves sow. The only positive thing to do out there is treat your neighbor as you yourself would like to be treated. Amen…

  2. Appreciate your perspective on being black and autistic. It really means a lot.

    1. Author

      Thank you !

  3. Thank you so much Andrew. I posted this to my FB feed. I have family members on the spectrum and I think your particular situation is the scariest. I appreciate you writing this so that I can be an ally and spread your story to others.

    1. Author

      Thank you very much for your kind words and work as an ally.

  4. Thank you for sharing this very touching story. I thought I had it bad when back in 1985, my house was robbed. The police used my Asperger’s and the fact I had long hair at the time to twist it around to I wasn’t robbed and I went and bought drugs with the money. They even threatened to charge me with lying to the police. But nothing I went through compares to what you experienced. Aspies of all colours and creeds need to stick together.

    1. Author

      Thank you for sharing your story, what a dick move on their part.

  5. Thank you for sharing. It breaks my heart to see such cruelty normalized and institutionalized. I’m a white non-binary autist, so I can’t really understand what you’ve go through every day, but I’ve had my own experiences with shitty police and mental health institutions. It’s dehumanizing and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    You deserve so much better than that. I only know what you’ve written in this blog but you seem to be a very kind and thoughtful person. I am sorry that the world doesn’t see you that way. Thank you for sharing your perspective. The world needs more voices like yours to be heard 💜

  6. Oh … the good old “we’re all a little bit like that” argument! First, I don’t believe it’s true …. but second … if you’re only a “little bit like that” then it doesn’t control your life in the way that it does for those of us who are “a lot like that” … so don’t try to use it as an argument to suggest that we don’t got problems, because WE DO!

    I mean … take the issue of blackness versus whiteness. It I were to say “well … we’re all descended from people who lived in Africa many thousands of years ago … so we’re all a little bit black … so stop going on about the problems of being black because we all got them” I’d be shot down in flames as an incorrigible racist. And rightly so! Yet nobody who isn’t autistic seems to see the problem when somebody tricialises our situation by saying “well, we’re all a little bit autistic” or “we’re all on the spectrum somewhere” … as if that means we’re no different from the neorotypical majority (or the difference is only a difference of degree, not of kind). We ARE different … and the difference IS a difference of kind!

  7. Wow. I was literally thinking the other day about how scary it must be for autistic black people. Honestly I didn’t even imagine it could be so bad. And I’m a fairly morbid individual. I am so sorry that you endured all this pain (physical, emotional, mental), betrayal from people you should be able to trust, betrayal from cops that are supposed to protect you, and all the injustices you have and continue to face in everyday life. Thank you for sharing this. I am touched and I want to give you a hug. I wish nothing but the best for you going forward in life.

    1. Author

      Thank you very much, tonight is particularly lonely and your kind words mean alot.

  8. Practical move. All stories like this need to be labelled as being evidence establishing that police have specific automatic duties, in specific situations, instead of discretionary choices. Making them a collective body of evidence can start on this site, and by it, the Black Lives Matter movement have to conrinue the process.

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