Police Shoot Unarmed Black Man Charles Kinsey for Advocating for His Autistic Client

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.”

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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  1. you know, deaths by police average around 1000 every year. we’re below 500 now and project that will be a little over the 1000 by the end of the year. ( takes deep, deep breath)

    if it wasnt for all the video footage coming out and having photographic evidence of the treatment of minorities by authorities, authorities would still be in control of the narrative.

    its not that police have all of a sudden started gunning minorities down, police are just doing what they’ve always done. Kinsey, Bland, Gray are the norm.

    i need a drink

    thank you for your write up by the way

  2. What… the… hell? Who? Who thinks assault rifles are an appropriate response to a potential suicide situation? That makes so little sense in an even remotely logical reality that I find it hard to believe that this isn’t an article from The Onion! Then you used those assault rifles to shoot an unarmed black man lying on the ground with his hands up? This is a level of insanity I wasn’t expecting this week (outside of Cleveland, anyway). No police officer, anywhere in the country, should get a badge or a gun (even a pistol) without both crisis intervention training and some effective training on proper escalation of force. Scheisse!

    • Oftentimes suicidal subjects threaten police with weapons for a ‘suicide by cop’, and I feel like that would be covered in their training, but maybe that’s why the guns were present? I was a little confused by that as well.

  3. If you are Black, you are not safe, no matter what you do, how quickly you comply, how “polite” you are, even when you are doing your job, even when you are doing everything you possible can to protect your safety and the safety of others.

    That’s what I hope white and non-POC people are taking away from the recent incidents. And why we all need to be outraged and paying attention.

    Thanks for this thoughtful write-up so that people know what’s happening and how it related to intersectional queer and trans justice.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful discussion of what this act of police violence means for both the Black and Autistic communities. I am glad that both men survived and appalled that they had to go through this in the first place.

  5. The police officer is now stating that he meant to shoot the autistic man with the toy in his hands, not the black person who was doing his job and caring for him.


    • Like THAT makes it better, somehow!

      From “I don’t know” to “I meant to shoot the OTHER vulnerable person who posed no threat”!

    • If officers are not trained in crisis intervention, what the hell are they trained in? Do they have special “how to shoot unarmed civilians for no reason” trainings? Or do they just issue guns and say: “go get ’em!” ??

      I know none of this is new, and it’s only the widespread presence of cell phones and “social media” that’s getting it into the mainstream media. That being the case makes it even more distressing, not less.

  6. This story hit me hard. I want to hug the poor guy who was shot so bad. He is a hero, as far as I’m concerned. I am utterly convinced that he saved the autistic fellow’s life. Were he not there, I believe the altercation would have ended in the death of the autistic guy in a hail of gunfire. Or maybe they would have just beaten him to death. The only reason that didn’t happen was because of this behavioral therapist.

    My little sis has autism. She isn’t nonverbal and she will (hopefully) never have to live in a group home, but nevertheless, I find myself hoping she never again has any kind of interaction with police. She communicates about as you’d expect, not even necessarily pinging as autistic at first. She’s also pretty deferential towards authority figures. But if she were to get agitated or upset, I can imagine so many things going horribly, horribly wrong. She might become unable to comply with police commands. If she had a public meltdown and they tried to remove her from wherever she was, she could lash out as soon as they put hands on her and then I know they’d hurt her. She has a problem with screaming in public places as it is, so both Mom and I are worried that someone will get the wrong idea and call the police, just as it happened in this particular story from FL.

    I can’t imagine being autistic and trans too, but actually, it seems to be the case that being on the spectrum makes you more likely to be gender variant or gender nonconforming in any number of ways. My sister’s good friend (who is also autistic) came out to her recently as trans, and my sister took it really badly, which embarrassed me. She said something to her friend like, “I want to be friends with a girl named (name), not a boy named (name).” I am amazed she kept her friend after that (so far at least), but they are still hanging out. I have tried to talk to her and explain to her that she needs to do better, but it’s not easy. Our mom is doing her best to be a positive influence in this regard, but our dad (who I don’t even speak to/deal with at this point for reasons) and his evil wife spew hateful nonsense that I’m sure my sister is parroting. It’s hard for me to tell how much of this mess is our dad’s malignant influence and how much of it is just her need for sharply defined categories. I really, REALLY hope my sister’s friend never has to deal with police, either.

    I’m always worried for my sister, and it doesn’t help when the people whose job it is to protect her can’t be trusted not to make everything worse.

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