Robert Kim, Pearl Pearson, Jonathan Meister...

These are the most recent additions to the long list of deaf people who have been brutally assaulted by police officers for what has been described by officers as failure to respond to officers' verbal commands, aggressive hand signaling or resisting arrest.

Two years ago, Robert Kim pulled over to fix a flat tire just before slipping into a diabetic episode. He was seated on the grass when a police officer arrived. Kim tried to make the officer aware that he was deaf, that he had trouble speaking, and that he was in diabetic shock. Instead of contacting paramedics, this officer and others beat and tasered Kim for failing to respond to their verbal orders. Doctors at the hospital where Kim was subsequently taken assessed his condition as life-threatening.

This January, Pearl Pearson, a 64 year-old deaf man, was attempting to show patrolmen a placard saying "I am deaf" when they pulled him from his car, brutally assaulted him, dislocating his shoulder and swelling his eyes. Immediately following Pearson's assault, the officers' dashboard camera reveals officers cursing after they run a quick check of his license and find out that he is deaf. The district attorney announced that the patrolmen involved would not be charged for this brutal attack on the same day that he charged Pearson—who has two sons who are police officers—with resisting arrest.

And last February Jonathan Meister was carrying his belongings from his friend's home when officers mistook him for a burglar, determined that his attempts to use sign language were aggressive, and began beating, tasering and choking him to the point of unconsciousness.

These stories highlight the woeful lack of training about -- and awareness of -- Deaf culture and communication within police departments across the nation. They illustrate the urgent need for systemic change.

Perhaps as alarming as the frequency and severity of these assaults, is the infrequency and leniency of formal charges against the officers responsible. Deaf survivors of police brutality and family members of deaf homicide victims tend to prevail in lawsuits against police, costing taxpayers dearly, but officers are rarely formally charged or dismissed for their actions.

The Americans with Disabilities Act makes clear that officers must take appropriate steps to communicate effectively with deaf people. This obligation includes providing sign language interpreters and auxiliary aids. But beyond this, there is a clear need for police officers to understand how to communicate with members of the deaf community.

Many deaf people use their eyes and hands to communicate, as opposed to hearing people who more often rely on their ears and voice. Body language and facial expression are key components of sign language. As such, it is not uncommon for people who communicate through sign to create a bit of space between themselves and the other person to ensure that the receiver has full view of the hands, body and face. Officers who misunderstand these and other key components of Deaf culture and communication, may feel threatened and choose to retaliate against a deaf person. When police departments ensure that officers are aware of and sensitive to varied modes of communication used by deaf people, this will not only protect the deaf community, but also increase the safety of officers.

The ACLU, HEARD and Marlee Matlin have teamed up to create a forthcoming sign language video to ensure that deaf people know their rights when interacting with police officers (so stay tuned for details). But deaf people can only do so much. It is the responsibility of police departments to ensure that their officers are adequately trained.

Learn more about disability rights and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alerts,follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Add a comment (10)
Read the Terms of Use

Vicki B., Paramedic

Gimme a break. There's nothing subtle about diabetic shock in either direction: ketoacidosis or hypoglycemia. There's nothing subtle about ANY type of shock, not even psychogenic shock which is the least serious type.

And they think they can do our job. Based on how many times they actually TRY I get the feeling they think they ARE paramedics. Some of them have this attitude that knowing how to be a first responder means they also comprehend what they're doing. But if they can't even recognize what a deaf person looks and acts like, then they can be quiet about thinking they know my job.
Hypoglycemia can look like a drunken status even to healthcare professionals, but ketoacidosis has one identifying factor that if present never fails to look like anything else: the patient's breath has a fruity odor.
Unfortunately, most police officers refuse to listen to me. They heed what my partner, who's a man, says to them but way too many of them ignore me.
It's quite annoying too, when someone on the SWAT team tells me about a neck wound but when I tell him it isn't true he sits there like a damn stubborn mule unwilling to believe what I say. It's not like someone's LIFE is at stake if you do the wrong thing - their life IS at stake - and all HE cares about is that no woman ever tell him he made a mistake. It's absolutely disgusting.

One time, a police officer tasered a person who went into sudden cardiac arrest, and when we arrived he told me he has no idea why it happened. In fact, he tried to tell me it was UNrelated to tasering her, b/c the Taser Company tells them and anyone who'll listen that there's no danger associated with Taser use.
One of their representatives even refuted a cardiologist, who responded by saying "There's no more debate with this issue. It's been proven that a Taser can cause cardiac arrest and other heart abnormalities to occur, especially if applied to the chest."

I do wish police would stop doing our job for us. It took me over a year to learn it and it ISN'T that easy to do. If they think it is, I'd invite them to try reading and interpreting ECG's and performing Rapid Sequence Intubation, in which you have to anesthetize the patient for it to work and if you don't do it within a specific time frame, it'll cause major issues.

Anonymous

Really? More training? These sadistic, sociopathic thugs don't need more training, they belong in a cage.

Anonymous

I am surprised ACLU involved in Deaf. I am truly appreciate ACLU finally do something about this.

Stephen JK

I am surprised ACLU involved in Deaf. I am truly appreciate ACLU finally do something about this.

Anonymous

I don't know how to sighn that well but I have worked with the public. I am not a cop but I do know when a person is trying to communicate or pull out a gun. I have pulled out a pen and paper before. These cops are just stupid. Don't treat a person like that just because they have a disabilty! Put the shoe on the other foot! This type of action mekes me very angry!

Anonymous

This isn't rocket science. Teach every police officer basic signs and response for "are you deaf?" "I am deaf". How hard could that be????

Jared Allebest

I am a Deaf Lawyer here in Utah. This is a great article about the need for law enforcement to be better trained on how to interact with a Deaf individual when they are called to the scene. Police need to be sensitive to the needs and challenges of Deaf people and that sometimes Deaf people have additional illnesses (such as mental health issues, and other medical problems) that may require that the police handle a situation with even greater caution than with just a person who is merely Deaf.

Great article.

Anonymous

I think this is a symptom of a large issue where police officers are often hyper aggressive and are not held to high standards by there departments.

Vicki B.

For God's sake, all they would need to be trained to do is what they trained US to do on every scene we encounter, and that's to understand that NOT every scene is what it first appears to be - and they ARE trained in that. I know a police officer who SAID they're trained to know that. He just thinks "too many of the WRONG people want to be police (to carry a gun legally and be allowed to use it to get away with murder) and there's still no real foolproof way to get them the hell out of law enforcement."

Every police officer and firefighter/medic who's ever done the job for more than 6 months knows that almost NO scene turns out to be what it was called in as being.

Incidentally, I took EXTRA training b/c of my reason for entering EMS in the first place - which was undying gratitude that they saved my dying sister's life and I didn't have to live with the memory of her dying right in front of my face.
I think the experience DOES matter and HAS made me more sensitive no matter WHO disagrees with it.

Paul Bailey

Day by day police brutality increasing specially Frisco, Texas City. We are sharing a link please read and share it.

http://friscopaul.blogspot.com

Thanks
Paul

Stay Informed