Keith Lamont Scott's Disability May Have Gotten Him Killed, and He's Not The Only One

Last week in Charlotte, North Carolina, police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, a Black man with a disability. This happens with gut-wrenching frequency. It happened again this week in El Cajon, California, where police shot and killed Alfred Olango, a Black man with mental illness. Yet disability is often overlooked as a factor in police killings and use of force.

A recent widely cited report on the issue estimates that up to one half of all use of force incidents involve individuals with disabilities, noting that “[d]isability is the missing word in media coverage of police misuse of force.” People with mental disabilities, especially people of color, are particularly at risk of being shot or beaten by the police.

Mr. Scott’s horrific killing, captured on video, is far too typical. Just before police shot and killed Mr. Scott while he was sitting in his car, his wife shouted, “He has a TBI. He’s not going to do anything to you guys. He just took his medicine.”

A “TBI” is a traumatic brain injury, and it’s a term widely known within law enforcement and other emergency service providers. As with a number of disabilities in the U.S., African-Americans are more likely to have a TBI. People with brain injuries experience problems in cognitive skills and typically think, speak, and process information more slowly than other people. A person with a traumatic brain injury easily becomes confused with sudden changes in their environment and may not be able to immediately understand and comply with police commands.

The videos released so far do not show any attempt by the police to seek more information — or to take into account the information provided on the scene — regarding Mr. Scott’s disability. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department must release all footage and dispatch information associated with the shooting so that Mr. Scott’s family and the public can better understand whether Mr. Scott posed an immediate threat and whether de-escalation strategies such as patience, calm communication, and backing up could have prevented this latest fatal police shooting.

As in many similar incidents, police contend that Mr. Scott was shot because he failed to comply with their commands. But seeking immediate compliance from a person with a TBI, PTSD, or a similar disability and then shooting them dead for noncompliance is in effect killing someone based on their disability. Absent an immediate threat that cannot be safely contained, this type of lethal policing violates the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We know how to achieve safer outcomes.  Last year, San Francisco police shot Mario Woods more than twenty times after surrounding him and demanding that he drop his knife. But last week, police in San Francisco safely resolved a standoff with an armed suicidal man pacing with a gun outside of city hall. Officers responding to the scene saw the weapon. But rather than confronting him, they cordoned off the area and brought in crisis negotiators to talk to the man, calm him down, and wait him out. After several hours, the man surrendered, and the police arrested him and took him to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. And last year, police in Camden, N.J., safely deescalated a situation with a man brandishing a knife by keeping their distance and using calm communication. This type of safer policing should be available to everyone.

What will it take to end the epidemic of avoidable police killings? 

Police departments must change policies, practices, and procedures. Use of force policies must prioritize deescalation and the preservation of life over compliance. Law enforcement leadership and chain of command must be committed to eliminating the compounding effects of bias against people of color and disability discrimination. Police need to provide real accountability: transparency, community oversight, and direct consequences for officers and supervisors who fall short. And we need to strengthen our community mental health resources and outreach to prevent confrontations between armed officers and individuals with disabilities in the first place.

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Anonymous

Keith Scott unproven disability did not stop him from wearing a ankle holster with a loaded gun. Scott's unproven disability did not prevent him from rolling a joint, or cocking the gun, It also did not prevent him from quickly exiting the car on passenger side away from officer. Scott committed suicide by cop knowing that brandishing a firearm would draw fire when he refused to drop his gun

Cheryl

So you were there on the scene? Yet you are remaining "anonymous"? You sure do have a lot of comments and views on something that you were not up close and personal with. What a dog of you to insult a man that has lost his life and cannot defend himself. Shame on you and your mother for birthing you..!

Anonymous

Maybe all of the above items were planted with the lies to go with it. Pretty much listening to the audio of the police it appeared to overtly staged for cam...and yes, police do lie for each other...

Liz

What better way to practice free and open speech than by at least using a first name.

Anonymous

sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article103245987.html

Michelle

We as Americans still hold a few values higher than our fear of crime. "Better that 100 guilty go free than 1 innocent be convicted" is one. We need to add another: "Better that 100 cops get shot at than 1 innocent be shot by police." Many jobs come with risk of injury or death. That doesn't mean fear of that injury or death justifies causing the death of an innocent person. A lifeguard can't be so afraid of drowning that she pulls someone else under. A firefighter can't be so afraid of fire that he takes someone else's respirator. Jobs that involve saving lives can be especially dangerous, but that doesn't give you extra leeway on murder. It's a heroic job, sometimes a martyr's job, but nobody should be in that profession if they are willing to trade the life of the person they're there to protect for their own. Until the EXACT moment a cop is in mortal danger, the person they're there to protect is the suspect. Accept that or find another profession.

felina

Eloquently put, you have made an amazing point that so many other people have tried to say but with words that didn't flow so well. I am sharing your comment on Facebook.

David

I understand that Police Officers need to be held accountable for wrong doing. They should always strive to work better with the community and recognize citizens who may have mental health issues. I also believe that people should put themselves in the police officers position. I challenge all of you to join a police force or a citizens organization that works with police so you can truly understand. I pray for peace.

CHERYL R

Are you the judge, and the jury? Where you there first hand? Or are you one of those "anonymous" idiots that believes everything that is dangled in front of you?
I guess the questions are already answered...

ZodiacTiger

Yeah, you weren't there either. Why did his wife lie about him owning a gun? According to the restraining order filed SHE filed against him just a few months ago, she claimed he had a gun and had threatened her. His gun was stolen from a residential robbery as well. I agree the video does raise doubts about the need to use deadly force AT THAT MOMENT, but sacrificing your integrity to tell strategic lies is wrong too.

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