Racism, ableism, and police brutality leading to brain injury

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I have some friends in the brain injury community who have mentioned how apolitical I am. I think those are folks who don’t read this blog! Cuz I’m pretty darn political. I consider it my duty to interrupt racism, classism, sexism, cisgenderism, homophobia, ableism, and other oppressions that threaten people’s freedoms. Sure, I don’t always post about it, but I do it a lot.

So now, a very real Trigger Warning. The remainder of this post contains a couple examples of our Black, disabled peers who have received disabling injuries to their head and/or neck from police brutality.

I am active in the local brain injury community. I’m part of the BIRRDsong’s Speakers Panel. We go into schools and tell young people the importance of preventing brain injury, recognizing when you might have one, and how to get support should one occur. We talk about skateboarding wrecks, bike wrecks, under-age drinking. But we don’t ever talk about how police brutality can lead to injury. So I’m talking about it here.

Below is a short news clip about Isaac Yearby, an autistic man who lives with his mother, Vicky, in College Park, Georgia. You can read about the incident on the CBS 46 news website. In a nutshell, Mr. Yearby stood by his favorite tree in front of his house when police approached him. Police were not responding to a call or a notification that a suspicious person was lurking. His mother says he stood by that tree daily, interfering with no one. Officers demanded he remove his hands from his pockets. He did, then proceeded to flap his hands. He was tasered and fell to the sidewalk, sustaining a head injury. Isaac is much less independent in his daily tasks like brushing his teeth, even now, three years after his fall to the ground. Hitting his head also led to seizures. I can’t even imagine how scary that surprise was to Mr. Yearby. I would hate to think that the sight of police officers might still elicit fear for him, but it might.

CBS46 News
Baxter Jones, a former phys ed teacher and track coach who currently lives in Detroit, sustained a severe traumatic brain injury and a spinal cord injury in a car wreck in 2005. He lost his job five years later. Three years after that, he was evicted from his home.

This year, Mr. Jones was arrested for protesting water shut-offs in Detroit. From the OccupyOurHomes website: “Mr Jones was arrested and placed in a dilapidated van that was not equipped to transport a person in a wheelchair. His wheelchair was not tied down to the van and a vehicle seat belt was not available for him to use. The police may have violated the [sic] their own policies and procedures and certainly violated common sense by not securing Mr. Jones in the van. Furthermore, he had to bend his spine at the neck during the trip to the detention center because of the low ceiling in the van, resulting in a re-injury that requires the use of a neck brace.”

That’s right. His already broken neck was bent, resulting in a re-injury. By police.

If you are inclined to write in with a comment in defense of all police officers or the specific officers involved in these two cases, that won’t be necessary. I’m not posting to debate whether police are a good thing or a bad thing or to talk about whether I should allow a couple “bad apples” to ruin the barrel. Those types of protests are called distractions or deflections. Distraction and deflection are techniques employed–whether deliberately or without realizing it–to avoid facing our own privilege and the reality that many people suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually when police take advantage of their privilege over some citizens.

My point here is to present these two cases to you. If they make you feel defensive, I would ask you to watch the videos and really read the articles hyperlinked above. Listen. Watch. Read. Quietly. Let Black, disabled people tell their stories. If you’re so moved, join me in amplifying the stories by posting, sharing, and finding ways to take action. Action against racism, ableism, and the horrific consequences when those two forms of oppression collide as they do on a daily basis.

If you are in support of traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury prevention, then please consider being opposed to police brutality against Black, disabled people that leads to head and neck injury.