When police harm someone with a disability that isn’t very easy to see or grasp, the comparison is often made to those who are blind or deaf. After all, it really doesn’t take a genius to appreciate that a blind person cannot see or a deaf person cannot hear, right? Sadly, no, as Jonathan Meister learned. Via Courthouse News:
Clueless Hawthorne police beat and Tasered a deaf man as he signaled to them that he was deaf and his friend had loaned him the snowboard he was carrying, the man claims in court.
When the police approached Meister, he attempted to alert them to the fact that he was deaf by using hand gestures. Cops hate hand gestures. They’re threatening. Of course, since Meister was deaf, it’s not as if he had a choice in the matter.
The cops were having none of it. They “shot Taser darts into Mr. Meister, administered a number of painful electric shocks, struck him with fists and feet, and forcibly took him to the ground,” he says in the complaint.
Officers kicked and punched him in the back and stomach, choked and Tasered him, delivering “punishing shocks” and intentionally “burning his flesh,” Meister claims.
After he was knocked unconscious and taken to a hospital, he [was] cited for assaulting the officers and released, but the charges were dropped.
While there is nothing to suggest this happened, I can imagine the conversation with the officers’ supervisor at the hospital:
“We told him to drop the snowboard and put his hands up, but he didn’t comply…”
“But he’s deaf.”
“Well, how were we supposed to know? He shoulda said something.”
“But he’s deaf.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Shit. Just charge him with assault. He’ll be happy enough when the charges are dropped and go away.”
There are people in our society, quite a few actually, who are incapable of hearing. It’s not because they are trying to make cops’ lives difficult, but because that’s just how they are. You would think that cops, even cops, would know this and be capable of dealing with it.
Ironically, the cops were there because a
nosy neighbor who was carefully watching out for anything amiss in the neighborhood called them.
Meister was removing boxes and bags he stored in the backyard of his friend’s home in the 3500 block of West 147th Street when a neighbor saw him, thought he looked suspicious and called out to him. Meister, who didn’t hear the calls, didn’t respond, so the neighbor phoned police.
The neighborhood had experienced a recent rash of burglaries, so when officers arrived they were concerned about encountering a burglar, according to police reports.
There is a reason Meister “didn’t hear the calls, didn’t respond.” He’s deaf. As for why the neighbor “thought he looked suspicious,” no reason for an explanation. After all, deaf people all have that “suspicious air” about them. You know, the air of people who can’t hear anything.
For those inclined to be more understanding toward the police than I might appear here, you might argue that the police didn’t know Meister was deaf, and what else could they do but beat and tase a man who failed to do as they commanded, who looked suspicious to a neighbor and failed to respond to her calls, in a neighborhood that had “experienced a recent rash of burglaries” (although nothing further is mentioned about this except the conclusory assertion). The only rational response to this is that you are sick.
Meister did nothing to pose a threat to anyone. What gives rise to the concern is ignorance; the cops knew only that he didn’t jump as ordered. That’s not a threat. He pulled his hands away from them when they physically accosted him. That’s not a threat. That’s the only means he has to communicate.
But they didn’t know this? Therein lies the rub. Ignorance by the police is not a justification to engage in violence and do harm to people. That they didn’t know that Jonathan Meister was deaf is an excellent reason to find out why the person they approached, who was doing nothing wrong in the first place, did not do as commanded or respond as would a hearing person.
Ignorance is not a reason to do harm. It’s not a crime to be deaf in America, and no one should be beaten and tased for being deaf. The First Rule of Policing does not justify beating deaf people because they cannot respond the way a cop wants them to. Had there been a threat, where the police could conceivably believe that Meister was about to do them harm, it would be one thing. But there wasn’t. There was merely noncompliance, and only under the First Rule could that conceivably be seen as threatening.
This can’t happen. Police cannot beat and tase deaf people for being deaf, for being physically incapable of responding the way police command. And if it’s very hard for police to figure out when someone is deaf. tough shit. They still can’t harm them because it’s the easier path for the cops.