Something is very rotten in the state of Maryland.
This past January, Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26 year old man with Down Syndrome, was killed by three off-duty county sheriff’s deputies at a movie theater in Frederick County. And it seems that no one—the Frederick County Sheriff’s office, the US Department of Justice, even national Down Syndrome advocacy groups—are doing much more than batting an eye.
Six days ago, a grand jury decided not to bring criminal charges against the three deputies, even though the investigation was handled by the same sheriff’s office that employs them (a blatant conflict of interest, in case you haven’t figured this out).
Here’s a synopsis of the case: Mr. Saylor and his aide watched the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.” She went to get the car, leaving him alone for a few minutes. A theater employee went up to Saylor and asked him to leave. He refused. The employee then called the off-duty officers, who were moonlighting as mall security. Apparently Saylor resisted, and the deputies decided he was such a security threat that they handcuffed him with three sets of handcuffs on his stomach on the ground. He went into distress and died (but not before crying out for his mother beforehand.). The medical examiner ruled it a homicide by asphyxiation.
It’s one of those things you’d expect to hear happening 50 years ago, back when folks with Down Syndrome were shunted off to institutions. Saylor had no history of violence—family and friends recall him as a warm friendly person, although he reportedly had a history of anger issues when he was confronted or touched.
But please. Is a 26 year old with Down Syndrome such a menace to society that he requires three strapping police officers to physically tackle him and hold him down? Couldn’t they have, um, waited, oh, three minutes for the aide to come back and discussed with her the best way to handle the situation? Would it have been such a crime to let him sit through a few minutes of the second movie?
The whole thing is just outrageous. And it’s even more outrageous that some of these so-called national advocacy groups walked out of a two hour meeting with the US Justice Department with only a semi-lukewarm agreement to roll out a formal web-based training program in dealing with people with disabilities for law enforcement and first responders . (One of the press releases notes “there will be challenges in implementing a nationwide program to reach 18,000 plus law enforcement agencies across the country…funding issues could create hurdles…we will be competing for training time with many other worthy topics.”)
To which I say…
NO S—T, SHERLOCK. THAT IS WHY IT’S CALLED ADVOCACY. BECAUSE YOU NEED TO GET IN THE FACE OF PEOPLE AGAIN AND AGAIN SINCE IT’S HIGHLY LIKELY THEY WILL NOT HEAR—OR PRETEND NOT TO HEAR—YOU THE FIRST TIME. AND IF THEY TELL YOU THERE’S NOT ENOUGH TIME OR MONEY OR RESOURCES YOU DON’T TAKE THEIR BS EXCUSES BUT YOU COME BACK AT THEM AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT.
Jeez. You’d think these people never sat through an IEP meeting.
I was in Washington DC a few weeks ago for the Buddy Walk on Washington, where I met with congressional reps and Senators to advocate on behalf of Jo Jo and other people with Down Syndrome. I returned from that trip feeling pumped up, feeling like I had spent 36 hours really fighting for Jo Jo and making a difference in her future.
But now…now I feel sick, and nauseous, as if I’d just OD’d on a whole movie sized version of Sour Patch Kids.
There is something you can do. Follow the link below, and sign this petition demanding an outside investigation into the death of Saylor.
I don’t think Saylor died because three valiant police officers were trying to protect the community and themselves from an imminent threat. I think they saw an almost 300 pound man with Down Syndrome and were revolted. They didn’t want to touch him, they didn’t want to be near him, and they were angry. So they killed him. Probably not intentionally, but there’s no doubt in my mind they used way more force than intended because in their minds, his life wasn’t a life worth preserving. Kind of like how you squash a spider in your kitchen under your shoe. You could just safely deposit it outdoors, but that’s so inconvenient when just stomping down is so much faster.
And that could be Jo Jo one day. Now, she’s sylphlike and dainty, a little blonde doll and police officers and security guards everywhere smile at her when she walks by. I want to always keep her that way, to make sure the whole world views her in that same prism of perfection. But still…I could see my daughter 20 years from now in that exact same scenario. Not understanding why she can’t sit through some chick flick twice. Yelling and swatting at the security guard who comes to try to move her. And although my money is on Jo Jo when it comes to surviving a skirmish with three boneheaded police officers, I don’t want to take that chance. She means way too much for me.
So please, sign this petition. For me. For Jo Jo. For parents of kids with disabilities everywhere.
Thank you, all, for reading–and listening.