Can we talk about training?
A class, no matter how well done the PowerPoint, no matter how the rules of adult education are followed, no matter how many role plays or how many good evaluations you get, is not the appropriate solution to every human problem. We've come to a point in our society where 'training' is the automatic knee jerk solution whenever someone, in a position of power, mistreats someone in a position of vulnerability. It's like we truly want to believe that those in a position of trust are people imbued with a kind of special compassion and deep concern for others and therefore would never, ever have to deal with their own racism, sexism, homophobia or ableism. And because of that, when they do, we believe that these people simply need a few hours in a classroom, a few verses of Kumbaya, and some time in a sharing circle, and they are back to being shining examples of, in this case, Toronto's finest.
Let me clarify two things:
Of course I believe that the police, along with others of societies helpers, need training to deal with people in various minority groups. Of course. In their job of policing, for example, if they come upon a person with an intellectual disability who has been a victim of, or someone who has engaged in, crime they need to know what to do. They need to learn about plain language, and they need to know even how to introduce themselves to the person, at that point in crisis. I have trained police officers in several jurisdictions about responding to people with disabilities who have been victimized. Yes, I get it, there are specific skills that are needed for policing people with intellectual disabilities or people with mental health issues. Of course.
But, let me also clarify, that's not what we're talking about here. For those who didn't read yesterdays blog, we are talking about an incident when two police officers were speaking disrespectfully, from an place of ableist prejudice, about a woman with Down Syndrome. Referring to her as half a person and as disfigured, let's not go through the entire list. This isn't what I was speaking about when I was speaking about training. This isn't a 'policing situation of high stress dealing with either a victim or criminal with an intellectual disability'. This simply isn't that. This is police officers, thinking they couldn't be heard belittling another human being.
Almost every person I've spoken at any length about this incident has suggested that the officers, and it's usually said like this 'just need some training.'
Let's look at what they did, in a situation where there were no calls for specific skills in dealing with someone with a disability, skills that could be learned in training. They spoke of her in disparaging ways and thought it was funny. I do a lot of staff training, in supporting people with disabilities with problematic behaviours, or with people who need to develop self esteem, or with people who have a right to be sexual. All these topics are those which staff require extra skill. I have never been asked to do a training for people with disabilities on how not to belittle and disparage those in your care.
There is a danger in believing that training is necessary for civil and civilized behaviour to be given to someone in a minority group.
The message is that these people are so exceptionally different, so far from our understanding of what is human, that it's understandable that you would treat them with disrespect and speak of them in hurtful and harmful ways. The belief that speaking of someone as half human comes from a place of ignorance rather than prejudice, is really, really, dangerous.
"Why did you call her 'half a human'?
"Well, I haven't yet been trained."
"Oh, of course, well lets set that up shall we?"
I am a disabled, fat, gay man, I am different on many levels, I don't believe that clerks, who deal with me, need training to see me as human and therefore treat me with civility. I don't believe I AM THE PROBLEM that is solved by YOUR EDUCATION.
Children of 3 know that name calling is wrong. That's what happened here - not policing gone wrong.
What does the curriculum look like?
1) They are human.
Okay, sign here.
So we are speaking of two officers who spoke about a person with a disability using words parented by disgust and prejudice, and even referenced that they had now a code word for all disabled people they would work with thereafter. Even they saw this as an act in the present and an act that would happen in the future to others. This was, in my ears as a disabled person, a clear indication of how they would respond to any disabled citizen that crossed their path. This. Is. Bigotry.
So what needs to be done?
There needs to be consequences.
Consequences that show the disabled community that this kind of bigoted behaviour evidenced towards us is not acceptable and IS TAKEN SERIOUSLY.
It's not fixed by a chat between the Chief and the woman who had been targeted, though that was necessary. When the police do not make a public statement apologizing for and speaking out against ableist language, when they don't give an indication that they know what that is, we start to feel a uncomfortable and even fearful. When we don't see consequences for the officers who on a calm evening, in a situation where no extra skill was necessary, chose to mock and purposely use language intended to hurt, language that arises from a bigoted heart, we worry that we are next.
What do we need?