Regarding Neli Latson


(For those who don’t know, he’s a guy who was arrested for sitting outside a library while autistic and black.)

Before I even heard much more of the story than those details in the last sentence, I wrote the following:

And the guy’s both autistic and black. In America that’s two counts against you and cops have been known to make up stories in either case and outright kill both disabled and black people who have not assaulted anyone and then make up some “well he was violent/he LOOKED violent” thing to cover their own asses. And as an autistic person who has been in similar situations (had the cops called on me multiple times for sitting and waiting outside for people, walking down the street, and other major crimes) the cops don’t even always approach you from the front. And if someone grabs me from behind without warning I am going to fight back because who knows it’s not a rapist and my reflexes work like that.  Because I’m female and white and a crappy fighter (at least that’s my guess) I’ve been either detained in the police station or institutionalized as a “danger to others” at that point (after fairly nasty but not life-threatening treatment by the cops) rather than jailed or shot.  So far. But I can completely imagine that being me, and when it’s the cop’s word against yours weird things happen. (And don’t get me started about the “psycho” and “retard” jokes I hear cops swapping at times like that — including the time I was picked up as a missing person for something as benign as running away from a day program after a fistfight broke out, which I still see as a reasonable response.  They do not value us highly.  Not enough of them anyway. Dennis Debbaudt is the exception.) 

And, surprise, when more details came out, he was grabbed from behind and threatened with racist language. How did I know this? From spending my life since adolescence in situations where cops have been called on me. In all but a couple instances all I was doing was sitting down outside, or walking down the street (the exceptions involved a few times when I screamed and one time I was trespassing, but mostly it was just sitting or walking).

As for how he remembers these things so vividly, first off lots of autistic people have good memories (or good memories when the right thing triggers them, as in my case). Second off, these sorts of events are pretty effing memorable. I can still remember details of similar instances over half my lifetime ago.

If you want to know more then google it. I don’t have any links handy and I’m posting from my iPod. Comments on this entry will be heavily moderated, people wanting to express the idea that this didn’t happen or that this doesn’t happen can go to any of the huge number of websites out there that welcome that sort of thing. And such people deserve a wakeup call about what life is like for those of us who have any (or all) of a number of differences that are obvious enough and devalued enough to get this kind of crap. But if that’s you, this incident has me utterly furious and I’m writing to a deadline which already makes me crabby so just go away.

Edited to add: makoto/pome has commented with several links:

Here’s some links for people:
Audio interview of Latson’s mother:
A web page she has set up:

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

13 responses »

  1. I feel numb with frustration. When will people learn to behave decently towards innocent people? I hope Mr. Latson is ok.

  2. Pingback: More on Reginald Latson « Sanabitur Anima Mea

  3. Don’t post if this is too personal….

    I remember the day program incident and this is from my viewpoint as a parent. According to the day staff the violence was sudden and unexpected and did not personally involve you but witnessing it triggered your PTSD and you ran right out of your shoes. I remember they called your father and said you were just suddenly gone. Your shoes were there and a shawl but not you. They had looked for 15 minutes and couldn’t find you anywhere. By the time your father arrived it had been 45 minutes. He immediately had them call the police for help in finding you fearing that running scared like that in a city you might run right into something horrific or someone who might harm you. Two hours later we got a phone call that you were at the police station and had been “found” miles away. We rushed down and I have to admit the picture you see on television of a found child with ice cream cone in hand was the image I anticipated. I will never forget being led back to a back room where two very large armed policeman were sitting outside a locked room. You were inside that locked room, cold and hungry and thirsty and barefoot shivering without a blanket or water or a kind word. I was shocked.

  4. Yeah that’s basically it. I don’t remember everything about how I got to the police station but I vividly remember one of them coming to the door and being concerned that I was sitting on the floor under the table. He asked the other guy what to do and the other guy laughed and said “Don’t worry about her. If you come in and see her feet are level with the [observation] window? THEN you should call me.” (i.e. a suicide joke). They both laughed and proceeded to discuss other “loonies” and the like, including one they recognized from descriptions on the police radio they were listening to.

  5. I remember sending a letter to the police department after this suggesting they get some awareness of PTSD and disabilities in general for their officers as well as sensitivity training.

  6. Well only two assholes so far. One trying to argue with me and the other saying I’m faking the posts from my mother. I’m sure that’s a surprise both to my mother and the commenters who met her at Autreat last year.

  7. Well, regarding both Neli Larson and your own experience, I’m outraged, disgusted and shocked.

    Sadly, and most worryingly of all, I’m not at all surprised at the prejudice, willfull ignorance and bigotry.

    Interestingly, when I deliver autism awareness training to the local police they are incredibly resistant and argumentative – no one else I’ve ever trained behaves in that way.

    And ‘mom’ I very much believe you are real!

  8. Yeah. Among many other things, there’s no way on earth I would have ever thought up a phrase like “ran right out of your shoes”. :-) Plus there’s the matter of her IP address being different (but consistently in the range of her local vicinity, which is over 3000 miles from me).

  9. ACK! I just got an “It wasn’t the police, people in power always tell the truth, research the facts before you post, and by facts I mean only what people in power said and not what anybody else said” type comment on my blog, which I decided to let through moderation and argue with. It’s so frustrating that people will always believe the police, however implausible their story is, but they will always jump to conclusions against their victims. I reckon it’s because people just don’t want to admit to themselves how much bad stuff happens, because it’s so depressing to realise what a dark and sinful place the world is.

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