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.
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?
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, 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:
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.
- A Letter to Black and Indigenous Autistic Teens - January 4, 2022
- Autism and Going to the Doctor: How it feels from the inside - December 7, 2021
- For the Survivors: Autistic people and our #MeToo memories - November 4, 2021