The Deaf Shall Hear And The Blind Shall See

One of the recurring issues addressed here over the years has been how police and the disabled create a mix that ends with conflagration, and invariably the disabled person being the one who gets burned.  Or beaten. Or tased. Or worse.

For someone who is deaf, the problem is magnified for practical reasons. First, because they cannot hear a command, and therefore fail to comply, which appears to a cop as either a threat or disrespect, either of which is a good reason to inflict pain.

Second, they can’t explain their disability quickly and in a manner that cops won’t find threatening.  When cops are in “command presence” mode, they aren’t interested in learning about what the perp has to say. They want compliance, and they want it now. Everything else, like “hey, cop, I’m deaf,” can wait.

For these reasons, it’s critical that police receive training in dealing with the disabled, and particularly the deaf and hard of hearing. Of course, they can receive all the training in the world, but that doesn’t alter their interest in learning and ability to retain basic information.  But that’s a separate issue that applies across the board.

The flip side of protecting the deaf is teaching them “best practices” in dealing with the police.  Via Radley Balko, the ACLU hooked up with deaf actress and advocate Marlee Matlin to make a video to help the deaf and hard of hearing to handle such interactions.

Notably, Matlin is married to Burbank police officer Kevin Grandalski, which may add a curious influence to her view of dealing with police.

The video is at once informative and disturbing.  It’s not that the advice is wrong, or that there is a better way than recommended, but that the instructions appear relatively likely to get a deaf person beaten as not.  The attempt to communicate through means that contradict an officer’s commands, because a deaf person has no other option, and anticipation that a cop won’t react violently, strikes me as quite aspirational.

The video not only addresses the mechanics to communicate the problem to a police officer, but the exercise of constitutional rights in the process.  As Radley notes:

Of course, knowing your rights won’t do you much good if you’re in the process of getting beaten or shot with a stun gun.

And the tacit problem is that the very “best practices” are the ones that may well give rise to a cop taking an aggressive, if not violent, stance.  And, as history proves, the police will find this reaction justified, because they didn’t know the person was deaf, and found their actions, hand gestures, failure to comply with verbal commands, to fully justify whatever violent measures they take in furtherance of the First Rule of Policing.

It’s unclear that there is any better solution to offer from the position of a deaf person. They can only control their own behavior, not the cop’s.  They can’t force a police officer to not be violent, ignorant or intolerant.  They can’t make a cop think before engaging in violence.

The only thing I might add, had I written the script for the video, is that doing everything recommended may still result in being beaten or tased, and there isn’t a damn thing a deaf person can do about it because the problem isn’t on their side. They can’t “not be deaf” because it’s inconvenient for the cop who demands compliance first and an explanation far, far down the line.

The problem in a routine traffic stop is that none of this needs to happen at all if police weren’t in such a rush to invoke the First Rule, and didn’t approach every person behind the wheel as a potential killer.  That’s an attitude problem that shows little sign of improving, and no amount of training in the care of the deaf or other disabled is going to change it.  Until police culture allows for the possibility that a person who is non-compliant isn’t a likely killer but a person who, for benign reasons beyond their control, cannot comply, there is nothing deaf culture can do to safeguard people from violence.

But then, as long as cops are absolved from doing harm to innocent and harmless people because they have a disability, there is no reason why the First Rule of Policing won’t be invoked.

6 thoughts on “The Deaf Shall Hear And The Blind Shall See

  1. John Barleycorn

    I sincerely recommend other recreational accelerants. I sincerely take that back as well.

    What cloud, whose cloud, and lets make a video.

    Be it as it may this is not Fight Club and your emergency pamphlet is a GUIDE.

    Don’t get lost in the maze. Even though the maze is the ride.

    BTW; nice post but shouldn’t more “radical” reflections be the fruit of rest and relaxation?
    just fucking with ya, sort of…

  2. John Jenkins

    When I read Radley’s original story, I had a similar thought to yours: if the police in any interaction with job-police adopted a posture where this advice were useful, then this advice would not be necessary because the police would be treating the interlocutor as a reasonable individual with no intent to harm or disrespect the police officer. What is lamentable is that I don’t see a way to get there from here. The “First Rule” is so ingrained at every level now, individualized, reasonable interactions are almost impossible.

    A police officer in my hometown, conducting a “welfare check” on me came in my house, weapon at the ready and demanding I come into my living room, so I complied: staggering from my bed with catheter bag and wound pump in tow (hoping to God he did not think either of those was a weapon). Once he saw me, he was satisfied I wasn’t a threat and holstered the weapon, but before that he thought I was the threat in my own home (to which I had not invited him, but leave that aside). If your first reaction to a bed-riden invalid is to draw a weapon, something is wrong with your priorities. [i am largely recovered now, though chemo still leaves me weak as a kitten. I have had no more “welfare checks” since then.]

    1. SHG Post author

      I think you’ve hit on the conundrum: if they get it, then they get it. If they don’t, then there is little you can do to change it and protect yourself from harm.

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  4. Jim Majkowski

    Now that Ms. Maitlin has produced a video to educate others who share her challenges, dare we hope that hubby Officer Grandalski and his colleagues might make a complementary effort?

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