A man in a wheelchair protesting police terror against people with disabilities | Source: The New York Times (NYT)
A man in a wheelchair protesting police terror against people with disabilities | Source: The New York Times (NYT)

Police Brutality Against People with Disabilities



Since coerced people first arrived on the shores of stolen land, racism and ableism have been deeply embedded in the country. Many disabled Black slaves and their loved ones fought against slavery and capitalism’s ability-based valuation of the body and mind. Black parents protected their disabled children from abuse or sale, while others relied on disabled Black slaves to care for their children.

Throughout the nineteenth century, phrenology — the debunked science that claimed human nature could be traced to or understood by the shape of one’s skull — was used to justify slavery.

Around the same time, American society began to build a medical model that portrayed disabled people as broken and reliant on the so-called charity and expertise of nondisabled people.

The increase in the number of people incarcerated with disabilities is inextricably linked to race, as structural racism — and its effects on health care, poverty, and inequality, among other things — contribute to a higher percentage of disabled people in the Black community than in the general population. Likewise, racism and ableism remain strongly intertwined in ongoing discussions about police violence.

Initiating and demanding adherence has always made it difficult for law enforcement to recognize a person’s disability during an engagement. Officers may misinterpret a person’s ability or willingness to comply based on the type of disability they have, leading them to use inappropriate tactics in many cases. Miscommunication between a person who police are not trained to recognize as disabled can lead to escalation.

“33 to 50 percent of all use-of-force incident involve a person who is disabled”

According to Disability Rights Ohio, it states, “People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of police brutality and use of force, and to be harmed more violently. Despite representing only 20% of the population, people with disabilities make up 30–50% of individuals subject to police use of force.”

As activists and protestors fought against police violence that disproportionately affected Black people, disability justice activists raised awareness about the intersections of ableism and state violence. According to the American Psychological Association, people with low vision have unemployment rates that exceed 70%, and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have rates that exceed 80%.

The following are just some of the individuals with disabilities who have unjustly lost their lives at the hands of the police: (via Disability Rights Ohio)

  • Marcus-David Peters was shot and killed by police while experiencing a psychiatric episode while he was unclothed and unarmed.
  • Sandra Bland, a Black woman with epilepsy and depression, died in police custody after being arrested for a traffic violation.
  • Eric Garner, a Black man with asthma, diabetes, and a heart condition died subsequent to being put in a chokehold by law enforcement following an accusation of a misdemeanour offence. Tanisha Anderson, a Black woman, was killed by police while being restrained face-down while she was experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Deborah Danner, a Black woman, was shot and killed by police in her own home after neighbours reported she was behaving erratically.

We must work towards a society where marginalized communities and groups can live in peace, without the fear of facing brutality and discrimination.

Author: Samantha Donato (volunteer with AblifyNow)




Dismantling ableism and advancing disability equity through education, conversation, and grassroots activism.