Charles Kinsey is a 47-year-old behavorial therapist; he works at the MacTown Panther Group Homes. On Monday, that work involved following a client, Rinaldo, who is autistic and as the group home manager describes as nonverbal, out into the street to try to convince him to return to the group home building. In the middle of doing so, armed police officers suddenly appeared; allegedly a 911 call had claimed that “someone was walking around with a gun threatening suicide.” It seems like the caller may have been referring to Rinaldo, who was carrying a toy truck, not a gun. There doesn’t seem to be any report substantiating the claim that Rinaldo was threatening suicide. Regardless, Kinsey says, officers were quickly pointing rifles at them.
Kinsey complied with officers’ demands that he lie down on the asphalt, and also had his hands raised in the air as he explained that Rinaldo only had a toy truck, not a weapon, and explained the context surrounding why the two of them were in the street. The Washington Post reports there were “police officers with assault rifles [hiding] behind telephone poles approximately 30 feet away.” Cell phone video of the incident depicts Kinsey explaining “All he has is a toy truck in his hand. A toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.” Seconds later, an officer fires three shots, one of which hit Kinsey in the leg. There isn’t any change in Kinsey or Rinaldo’s behavior in the moment before the shots are fired, and it’s not clear whether the intended target was Kinsey, Rinaldo, or both men.
In the seconds following the shots, Kinsey reports he asked the officer, in shock, why he had opened fire:
“When he hit me, I’m like—I still got my hands in the air. I said, you know, I just got shot. and I’m saying to him, I said, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ And his words to me, he said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Kinsey goes on to say that despite still not having done anything threatening or broken a law, he was cuffed and had to wait 20 minutes for medical aid:
“They flipped me over, and I’m faced down in the ground, with cuffs on, waiting on the rescue squad to come. I’d say about 20, about 20 minutes it took the rescue squad to get there. And I was like, bleeding — I mean bleeding, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ “
Although Charles Kinsey survived the police shooting and is expected to recover, unlike many instances of police violence against Black citizens, much of the rest of the story sounds extremely familiar: the North Miami police have not released the name of the officer who shot Kinsey, and he is currently on administrative leave; they have given a statement, carefully phrased in the passive voice — “At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon, striking the employee of the [assisted living facility].” — but have not responded to other media requests for comment or information. The police chief has said that the department is bringing in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate, and that they will “review all of the evidence to determine whether the actions of the shooting officer constitute a criminal act.”
Kinsey has reiterated that part of his shock at being shot at (aside, of course, from the fact that he was unarmed, laying on the ground, had his hands in the air, and posed no threat) was that he was primarily concerned with the safety of his autistic client, and worried that officers would harm him. He had good reason to be concerned; autistic people are victims of police violence at higher rates proportionally than non-autistic people, as well as disabled and/or mentally ill people, especially when autistic people also have intersecting identities that put them at risk for state violence, like being Black, or trans like Kayden Clarke, killed earlier this year in Arizona. Unfortunately statistics on this phenomenon are difficult to impossible to pin down, due to the fact that deaths at the hands of police aren’t officially tracked and that diagnoses of autism are inconsistently applied by medical professionals, and may not be possible to access for some autistic people. We do know, via NPR, that “According to the advocacy group Autism Unites, people with autism spectrum disorders are seven times more likely to interact with police over their lifetimes, compared with people without a cognitive disorder.”
Autistic people may not be verbal or respond to verbal commands, may be visibly upset if overstimulated by sensory input — in their piece on the death at the hands by police of autistic Black teen Stephon Watts, Chicago Reader notes that “visits from law enforcement officers can mean sensory overload for people with autism. Shiny badges, flashing lights, and loud voices can escalate the situation” — and these normal reactions may be interpreted as noncompliant or threatening by police. Training on interacting safely and effectively with people with disabilities, neuroatypical people, and/or mentally ill people is often limited in police departments, may not be accurate, and may not even be mandatory — Chicago Reader found that in Chicago, only 20% of police officers received Crisis Intervention Team training.
Charles Kinsey’s lawyer, Hilton Napoleon, says that he’ll seek at minimum the termination of the officer who shot Kinsey, and “trusted the State Attorney’s Office to determine if criminal charges should be filed against the officer.”
“You’re talking to someone whose dad was a police officer in the city of Detroit in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “I understand it. I had a fear when I was a child of whether or not my father was going to come home. “But at the end of the day, we can’t use that as an excuse to allow police officers to shoot unarmed individuals,” he said. “Just like the police ask the community to not judge them based on … however many bad apples that are out there. In the same sense, they have to be able to hold themselves to the same standard and not hold the entire [black] community responsible for the incidents that happened in Dallas and Baton Rouge.”