Neither Had the Sense

Antonio Love lacked the sense of hearing.  Mobile, Alabama, police just lacked sense.  Guess what happened?

Via Turley, from the Alabama Press-Register :

Mobile police used pepper spray and a Taser on a deaf and mentally disabled man Friday after they were unable to get him to come out of a bathroom at a Dollar General store, authorities said.

After forcibly removing Antonio Love from the bathroom of the Azalea Road store, officers attempted to book the 37-year-old, on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer, but the magistrate on duty at the jail refused to accept any of those charges.

Love was both deaf and mentally disabled, with the intellectual capacity of a 10 year old.  After remaining in the rest room of the dollar store, it’s understandable that employees had some concern.  So where is the dividing line between reasonable cause for concern and the use of taser and pepper spray?  And then there’s always the resort to arrest and charges to cover up and justify their use of force.

Use of the Taser and the pepper spray appear to be justified according to the department’s policy, he [Christopher Levy, a Police Department spokesman] said.

This line, which almost invariably appears in every media account following the inappropriate use of force, often goes unnoticed, but is possibly the most troubling of all.  Why should the police department’s “policy” trump the law, the Constitution, the rights of citizens to exist without being harmed by police resort to force whenever it suits them?  The answer, it appears, is that its a necessary component of the public relations efforts of law enforcement to instill a belief in the public that they are entitled to do so.  It’s their policy.  And if it’s their policy, it must be proper.  After all, if it was improper, it couldn’t be their policy, could it?

The most dangerous sense to live without when confronted by police if the ability to hear.  When someone appears to ignore a command by a police officer, it tantamount to a facial challenge to their authority,   Nothing raises fear and ire more than the refusal to succumb to their authority.  Whether one prefers to all it deference, obedience, obsequiousness, it’s all the same to a cop.  You’ve been given an order. You’ve failed to comply (often, fast enough).  You deserve whatever follows.

It’s one thing to argue that someone of great intelligence, not to mention hubris, made the active choice to assert his rights, challenge conduct by an officer that was unlawful, or at least unjustified, and risk the consequences.  But there are many people in our society who make no such decision.  They simply can’t hear.  They cannot hear the command, and cannot obey what they cannot hear.  There is no moral wrong, even in the minds of the most blind adherent of police obedience, for a deaf person to be deaf.  Or is there?

To this end, I note some of the more challenging comments from Jonathon Turley’s post about Antonio Love.  First this :

If someone is disabled to that degree, then may be they should not be let out by themselves. How do the police know the individual in that bathroom is not dangerous? Newsfalsh: Police is not an expert in diagnosis on the spot.

Then these two :

I guess it is probably easy to judge others from comfort and safety of your place. I am not an LEO, I just hate people who feel entitled and are abusive towards the society. The handicapped man has been failed by his family and society, otherwise he would have been kept under supervision. Being drunk, drugged, or mentally ill, is not a carte blanche to inflict abuse on society or LEs. LEOs have to ensure their own safety first, when confronted with potentially dangerous situations. There is no way of telling what the “suspect” in the bathroom might have done beforehand. Monday morning quarterbacking anyone?


Freedom is not absolute and entails certain responsibilities, whether it is freedom of expression, moving around, etc. In this case, the guy disrupted a business establishment, and caused concern, if not fear in employees, and possibly the patrons in that establishment by his “freedom to move”. Freedom of moving about does not equal occupying the facilities of a restaurant for that length of time. Staying one hour in a public bathroom does raise legitimate concern about possible suspicious activity and public safety.

And finally this :

NPO, thank you for making a valid point. That man may have been engaged in any number of dangerous activities inside that restroom. It’s people like you who should be running things around here, and making the country a safer, and more hospitable place for true Americans.

God Bless You, friend …
As these comments demonstrate, the ability to rationalize the use of force by police, even at the expense of someone who is wholly blameless for his having refused to comply, seems utterly boundless.  This forces me to ask, what is a deaf person, or for that matter, a blind person, a mentally disabled person, to do?  It’s fine to assert that the police were merely wrong and this incident should never have happened, but unlike a Henry Gates who had a choice in how his interaction with Sgt. Jim Crowley came down, Antonio Love made no decision to take a chance. 

This is hardly the first time a cop used unnecessary and inappropriate force on a deaf person, and it surely won’t be the last.  As the case of Christopher Ferrell in Fort Worth showed, even the effort on the part of a deaf man to inform the police of his disability by taking a card out of his pocket that explained he was deaf can be the impetus for harm.  There doesn’t appear to be much of a viable way to address the conflict of demanding cop and disabled citizen that results in safety and sanity.

One of the most distressing aspects is that promoted by Turley’s commenter, that a disabled person has no business being out in public, enjoying as much of life as he is capable.  Others, in reaction to the Ferrell case, were ready to brand him with the scarlet letter, for his own good.  It would appear that too many people are willing to either limit the rights of others to enjoy the rights and privileges of citizens of this country, or stigmatize them for convenience.  And these include the well-intended folks, only trying to help.

This reaction stems from the belief that there is no stopping police from the knee-jerk resort to force at the slightest provocation, or the perception that force would relieve the officer of any potential risk or complete his mission with the least possible effort.  Shifting the onus to citizens to accommodate police “policy” is not merely enabling, a giant leap down a slippery slope, but the perpetuation of the problem for citizens generally, and the disabled in particular.  The solution is to stop the wrong, not blame the victim.

Don’t blame Antonio Love for being deaf and mentally disabled.  Don’t blame his family for letting him out in public.  Blame the men who employed force when they could have employed reason.  If only Love was a Harvard professor and friend of Obama, perhaps the many inquiring minds of this nation would put in the effort make this a teaching moment.  Antonio Love deserves no less than Henry Gates.

5 comments on “Neither Had the Sense

  1. John Neff

    The discouraging thing about this incident is that there was a unit in the police inservice training about how to deal with the hearing impaired. Obviously that training was not sufficient.

    I think peer review is the only way to get the police to realize they need to change their procedures. If they are reviewed by retired police officers with training experience or experience police chiefs from another state they are more likely to make changes than if they are reviewed by a citizen panel.

    The magistrate was able to prevent a wrongful incarceration but lacked the authority to fine the officers for the inappropriate use of force.

  2. Jdog

    Alas, our host nailed the problem — which isn’t the gimmick (there are legitimate uses for it, and I wish we were in a situation where it made sense to have that discussion), or human frailty (we won’t get perfect performance out of cops), but the invidious, insidious, and just plain awful notion — which is, in practice, supported by the courts* — that a PD’s policy trumps, well, everything.

    In a sane world, the fact that a PD’s policy supports, encourages, and demonstrably results in Bad Cop Stuff would result in penalties for the PD.

    We live in The Crazy Years; SLTF**.

    *Qui tacet consentire vidétur at best, and we’re not “at best.”

    ** Strong Language To Follow.

  3. Jack B.

    Mr. Greenfield,

    Thanks for this. Some of the comments you quoted were in response to a comment I left on Turley’s blog.

    It’s amazing, reading the mental gymnastics required to justify this crap. The guy wasn’t tased, pepper-sprayed and arrested because he did something illegal, he was tased, pepper-sprayed and arrested because he might have been doing something illegal.

  4. SHG

    Thank you Jack for prodding that bit of human nature out of the other commenters.  It’s critical to realize that there are people, and plenty of them, who would rather police use force in anticipation of justification, and really don’t find it problematic that nobody has done anything to justify it.

  5. Jerri Lynn Ward

    The comment that maybe Mr. Love should not be “let out” is so infuriating to me. Mr. Love is not an animal. He is a productive citizen who works at Lowes.

    We’ve come a long way in this country towards deinstitutionalizing special needs individuals. Are we now supposed to lock them up so that cops won’t endanger them?

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