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The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
Autism neurodiversity

An Open Letter to New Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate

Aubrey Japharii Jones of Black Lives Matter 757 in an open letter to Cheif Paul Neudigate of Virginia Beach

Chief Neudigate,

I have read as much about you as I can find, and what I have seen has been positive. You seem to be authentically dedicated to progress and fairness, and so this letter is written to you in good faith– with urgency and passion, but in good faith.

I have been heavily involved in a cluster of cases in Virginia Beach, all concerning individuals with neurodivergent disabilities (autism, ADHD, dyslexia). Most people believe that ADHD is simply difficulty remaining focused, or dyslexia is simply difficulty with reading or writing, and that autism is a spectrum from mild to severe (it’s not).

But, all three are complex ways people are wired that affect body language, values, perception, and behavior– the core of a person’s self. Neurodivergent means diverging from the neurology of people who are wired typically. Unfortunately, neurodivergent people often have negative encounters with police, often for reasons that are difficult to isolate.

Eye contact differences, fidgeting, reacting in ways that are not typical or expected– these things are a part of neurodivergence, and they’re also a major part of perceiving guilt from police officers. Further, people with neurodivergence do not fit into the status quo because the world is not designed to how they function; therefore, they are often the people who are fighting hardest to make change.

I’m sure you have heard of the case of Matthew Rushin, the Black, Autistic, ADHD college student with traumatic brain injury, auditory processing disorder, and mixed expressive and receptive language disorder who had a car accident and was subsequently sentenced to fifty years in prison for two counts of aggravated malicious wounding and one count of felony hit and run. It was alleged that it was a suicide attempt; however, the only evidence used to determine probably cause was a single use of echolalia. Echolalia is one of the most common traits of autism, where a person repeats things people have said to them.

You have possibly heard of Courtlon “Champ” Turner, a Black Autistic Virginia Beach barber who was attacked by his best friend, a 400 pound white man with an 8″ butcher knife. Champ defended himself in a life-threatening struggle that lasted approximately eight minutes, broke free, ran outside, called 911, then waited for VBPD. As soon as police arrived, though, they arrested Champ and took the other man to the hospital for emergency treatment. Mr. Turner, like Matthew Rushin, was charged with aggravated malicious wounding– a charge with a 20 year minimum sentence and on par with first degree, premeditated murder. He was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Undoubtedly, you do not want to see Black disabled people incarcerated for disability or for race. I have read enough about you to know that you do acknowledge the devastating impact of racism in policing and what that can do to Black communities and individuals.

You are in a position to make major change for Virginia’s largest city, and I hope that you do. Already, the new city manager, Patrick Duhaney, has called for a community review board to investigate allegations of police misconduct. It is our belief that accountability is far more effective in preventing instances like what happened to Mr. Turner and Mr. Rushin. Our organization would love to help support you in effective procedures to better guide your department in eliminating racism and ableism from policing.

But, this change will take time and will not happen without massive disruption to the system. This unfortunate reality is the nature of change, and our Constitution provides recourse for private citizens to challenge injustice and keep the government intended to represent them honest and accountable.

One does not need to be a legal scholar to know that even the Bill of Rights is more accessible to those in majority populations and those with social collateral and relationships within the system. It does not go far enough to prevent oppression, especially when there is complicity from the people who are elected or appointed to serve the people.

Mr. Aubrey Jones, the President of Black Lives Matter 757, is one such system disruptor. While I’m sure that his presence is a tremendous inconvenience to the police departments of 757, what he does provides accountability that has, historically and in no small way, been missing in most jurisdictions. That accountability is going to not look good on people who do wrong.

Mr. Jones has a court appearance on Wednesday, and the reason for this open letter is to ask you to intervene, to request of the prosecution that specious charges be dropped, and to work with him and other community organizers to help them meet their goals of a more equitable Virginia Beach that does not criminalize disability.

Mr. Jones, too, is neurodivergent.

The night he was arrested, and the days preceding that arrest, I was in constant communication with Mr. Jones. I am disabled and a high risk of death from COVID due to multiple chronic illnesses, so I was not able to attend any on-the-ground demonstrations. I watched, though, in horror as he was arrested. Here’s a clip from that incident:

That night, I didn’t sleep. In fact, I spent the night throwing up because I was sure I had witnessed a sexual assault. I saw an officer lift up Mr. Jones by his genitals.

Later, I would be told by an officer who, for obvious reasons shall remain anonymous, that Mr. Jones was placed in a painful keylock hold in order to make him appear to be resisting arrest. I watched the officer you see in the screenshot above waiting for Mr. Jones, staring between his legs, then taking the first opportunity to lift him up off the ground by driving his forearm into his genitals.

Wavy News would air that demonstrators were arrested. Among the charges was drunk in public. When Mr. Jones was released after being subjected to dehumanizing treatment in VB jail for 11 hours, he immediately contacted me. I told him that someone was arrested for being drunk. He had no idea who that could have been. Several days later, I looked it up. Mr. Jones was arrested for being drunk, despite having consumed no alcohol, not being breathalyzed, and having just presented to a press release where he was clearly and unequivocally not intoxicated.

After he was arrested, someone took Mr. Jones’s phone and continued the march. During this time, a white woman who was profoundly drunk and struggling to remain upright, who was belligerent to officers, continued to harass protestors and VBPD. They threatened her with arrest multiple times and ultimately let her go.

Mr. Jones had several arrests from that day. There was another humiliating and public arrest based on this date at his next Virginia Beach demonstration during which time Mr. Jones and others with him were following all laws and remaining peacefully on the sidewalk.

The next day, Mr. Jones was pulled over in Virginia Beach, into a gas station that was shut down. He was accused of having driven left of center, yet it was clear that he had been stalked. All of this can be live-streamed. Multiple cruisers, maybe six, pulled Mr. Jones over in a dark and abandoned location while he was alone. He was live streaming, and I watched with abject horror in fear that he would be murdered.

My fear was not unreasonable. I’ve seen what members of your force have done. So has Mr. Jones. I have thousands of pages of documentation if you’d like to see them.

He was subjected to the most absurdly complex sobriety test imaginable. It looked more like an athletic audition. Many stone sober neurodivergent people would not have been able to do even a standard sobriety test because of difficulty with motor coordination. It was clearly a brutal display of intimidation and abuse of power.

I felt an extreme urgency to ensure that Mr. Jones had a GoPro camera so that there was enough accountability to save his life and worked with someone else to purchase one for him. All of these videos are readily available on BLM757’s Facebook account and other social media.

As you plan, moving forward, to reform practices and push towards a safer Virginia Beach for marginalized people, I ask you to consider dropping the charges against Mr. Jones. Thank him, authentically, for having the courage and strength of character to stand up for the most vulnerable against abuses. If you don’t admit to the necessity of the work that Mr. Jones does, and to the abuse of power from VBPD, then it will be difficult to trust your commitment to equity.

Because, Mr. Neudigate, the Autistic community has very few allies. I have never before worked with anyone so intensely dedicated to understanding us, to getting it right, and to helping us. Mr. Jones sees us as equals, regardless of our race. He has helped me with cases from various states and even countries, and has invested his time, his resources, and even his safety to help the Autistic community and broader disability community.

Together, we worked on an international campaign for Suicide Prevention Week. Millions of people were reached through this effort, and I imagine multiple lives were saved. Mr. Jones is not the problem. The trouble he is making is because he is challenging the problem.

Aubrey Japharii Jones is not a perfect human. We do not agree on everything, and I wouldn’t do everything the same way he does them; however, he is heroic, brave, and selfless. He is fighting crime, the same as you. The difference is that the whole systemic underpinnings of this country are there to support you, and you are folded into a system that has supported people like you for centuries. You came into that power scaffold by being born white.

We have seen white armed traitors terrorize the US Capitol and attempt to overthrow our country’s democracy being treated with more respect, grace, and sympathy than Mr. Jones has been treated advocating for the end of the pointless loss of Black lives.

He was born at the bottom of that scaffold by being born Black.

I cannot abide tolerating a world where he is criminally liable and the people who arrested him are not.

Please affirm that his Black life matters, that Black Autistic lives matter, that Black disabled lives matter, that brave Black lives matter, and that you respect the amount of risk, stress, and harm that he must face every day he continues to fight for the inalienable rights to which he and other Black and disabled lives are entitled.

All the police need to do in order to stop tyranny against Black lives is to make it their authentic commitment to end that tyranny.

A good step in that direction is absolving Aubrey Jones of criminality for doing something heroic. From where I sit, he is the one who is fighting for our lives. I feel safer in this world knowing that he is here. I feel powerless knowing that he is not safe to continue to fight.

You have never felt the powerlessness that I feel right now, and if you did feel this for one moment of your life, you’d be marching beside Mr. Jones. You’d accompany him to court. You’d fight for him.

All lives can’t matter until Mr. Jones’s life matters.

Does his life matter to you?

Sincerely,

Terra Vance
CEO, NeuroClastic

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