Shannon Des Roches Rosa

Senior Editor

Behaviorist Charles Kinsey trying to comply with police
while protecting and reassuring his autistic charge Arnaldo Rios

photo via The Advocate

[image: Black man lying on his back with his hands in the air,

in the middle of the street, next to a seated Latino man.]

Here is what we are hearing right now, in the wake of Black autistic caregiver Charles Kinsey being shot by a North Miami police officer while trying to protect and support Arnaldo Rios, a Latino autistic man who had wandered from the group home where Kinsey worked:

Black people are not safe. Latino people are not safe. People of color are not safe. Autistic people are not safe. People with Disabilities are not safe. And heaven help you if you fall into more than one of those categories, or are also LGBTQ+ or otherwise a member of a marginalized group.

What can we do? What can you do? 

You can read. And listen. And learn, and then share what you’ve learned with people who have the ability to change things. To that end, we’re compiling the thoughts, writings, and actions of people who share the experiences of Mr. Kinsey and Mr. Rios, Mr. Rios’s family members, and other community activists — including solutions for law enforcement officials who support autistic and disabled people in crisis.

Charles Kinsey was trying to be entirely compliant with the police, while also trying to calm and support Arnaldo. That he got shot anyway is an indication, as per his statements in The Advocate, that Black men don’t have the option to de-escalate.:

“I was really worried, more worried about [Arnaldo] than myself,” Kinsey told
the station. “I’m looking at, as long as I got my hands up, they’re not
gonna shoot me. This is what I’m thinking. They’re not gonna shoot me.
Wow, was I wrong.”

Morénike Onaiwu, Black autistic activist and mother of autistic children, writes about the collective reaction to Mr. Kinsey being injured rather than killed, and Mr. Rios not being shot:

It sickens me that many of us are relieved, even “grateful” in this
situation. Rinaldo*, a brown autistic individual who was unable to comply
with the shouted demands of the rude officer, could easily be dead
right now; his autistic mannerisms and movements could have easily been
misinterpreted as a threat – just as his toy truck was mistaken for a
“gun.” (Because you know how much trucks resemble guns.) As a mother of
black children with disabilities, including processing delays, who can’t
always comprehend nor comply with instructions – especially in the midst
of a chaotic situation and when someone is shouting loudly at you – I
am frightened as well as angry. Rinaldo could easily, easily be a
hashtag right now.

It turns out it was only luck that kept Mr. Rios from being shot, and, as his sister Miriam Rivers reports on a public Facebook status, that doesn’t means he wasn’t traumatized by the police encounter:

“All I hear from the news is how my brother was holding a gun; He wasn’t.
How my brother was blocking traffic; He wasn’t. How my brother ran
away from the group home; he didn’t. How my brother was suicidal; how
ignorant! He wasn’t.

“He was walking with his caregiver. With his toy truck.

“Now I hear the police saying how they wanted to shoot my brother and not Mr. Charles. As if THAT makes the whole situation better. And if that
was the case, how come they handcuffed Mr. Charles while he was bleeding
from the bullet wound? Also handcuffed my brother. Leaving my brother
inside the police car for 4 hours despite all the staff members from the
group home informing the police that Arnaldo was Autistic. Instead they
just read the “rights” to him.

“Now Arnaldo is in Aventura Hospital in the Behavioral Unit. He keeps having frequent episodes of
screaming, intense fear and flailing while still asleep. Asking for
Charles, crying.”

(At this point, we all need to pause, and those of us who aren’t autistic need to consider how our autistic community members feel when they are traumatized, scared, and then removed from all familiar supports and reliable people. And it is making my soul ache to think about how my own autistic son would react in Arnaldo’s place.)

How are our community members responding to this incident? I don’t agree with parent Marie Myung-Ok Lee about everything, particularly when it comes to not revealing intimate details about our sons, but I identify wholeheartedly with her heartbreak and fear in the wake of Mr. Kinsey’s shooting:

heart has been sinking at each incident of black men and women dying at
the hands of police, and this latest video has combined a national
nightmare of an epidemic of unaccounted-for black deaths with my
personal one as a parent of a disabled soon-to-be adult. I can hear in
Charles Kinsey’s voice how worried he is about keeping Rinaldo* safe. So
why did the police see something so different?”

A’Driane Nieves is the mother of “Black. Latino. Boys. Wild, dynamic, hilarious, clever, wicked smart, Black and Brown boys.” Two of her boys are autistic, one has ADHD. A’Driane writes,

“[Going to IHOP with my family] might not seem like anything significant, and perhaps if the
current climate around race and policing in this country were different,
it wouldn’t be. Yet on a morning when I’ve read the news about behavior
therapist Charles Kinsey being shot by Miami police while helping a
Latino autistic youth who was playing with a toy truck, it is — at least
for me. It’s significant because the fear that grips me when I read that
a man with his hands up while laying on the ground was shot anyway
tells me to just stay home. It triggers my anxiety and panic and
attempts to sell me the lie that just staying inside the house or
telling my boys they can live in our home forever, where it’s safe, will
keep us alive … and some days I just allow myself to believe it and
exist in that delusion to safeguard my mental health until I feel
bearing the weight of reality is doable again. It’s a gravity well there
is no climbing out of, only existing in, and being at the mercy of,
while also fighting to thrive in spite of dwelling there.”

I asked my own autistic son’s longtime home aide, Victor Cabrera — a kind, dapper Mexican man with a linebacker’s build — for his thoughts on the incident. He told me,

“It baffles me to know
that the people we trust to protect us are still not fully prepared to
handle every situation presented in front of them accordingly. This is
just one of many incidents where law enforcement isn’t properly trained
to deal with the special needs community.  I myself have encountered
glances and awkward looks while out in the community with my client by law enforcement not knowing why he made a vocal noise which is a
way of communicating. It’s always in the back of my mind that one day a
bystander or an officer might act upon this not knowing why my client
is doing this.

“To learn of this shooting incident of a man being shot
while being out with his client does hit close to home. To hear that the
police officer was actually aiming for his client makes me fear for my
clients while being while out in the community. I’ve been doing this
for fourteen years, and it saddens me to know that there is still little
progress with regard to people of authority, specifically those with
lethal weapons readily accessible, that fear due to lack of knowledge or
understanding towards certain populations are still reactive versus

We were relieved to see that The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network issued a formal statement on the incident, and agree that:

Racial justice advocates and communities
of color have long called for better police accountability and urged
reforms in crisis response practices. We urge the disability community
to bring the full weight of our support behind them. The time to act is
long past.”

And we need to reiterate that the shape of that accountability and reform must take into account the actual needs of autistic people and people with disabilities, if it is to be successful. As Kerima Çevik writes at The Autism Wars,

“You can’t train away racism or ableism. Understand that. What we need to look for are paths to reduce creating situations where these encounters take place meaning exploring solutions like a crisis team response group of medical, mental health, and autism professionals which would only include law enforcement (armed with a taser NOT a gun) if abuse of the disabled person or the threat of harm is truly imminent. All strategies need to be inclusive of autistic disability rights activists because they are both directly impacted by whatever training strategies, policies, or actions happen in their name, and they know what training and delivery methods will work best for their peers.”

We also urge law enforcement officials to observe the approach of officer Tim Purdy, who was dispatched to support a young Black autistic man who had left his campus, had a reported history of violence, and was possibly suicidal: Officer Purdy took the time to build a connection with the young man, sat on the ground with him on his level, and treated him like a human being. That last part is essential if we are to make progress in this area.

We sincerely hope Arnaldo Rios gets to leave the hospital soon, and that Charles Kinsey makes a full recovery. Arnaldo’s mother Gladys Soto has asked publicly that the community pray for her son, as the family needs lots of strength. We will be certainly keeping Arnaldo, the Rios Soto family and Charles Kinsey in our thoughts.


*Early news reports identified Arnaldo Rios as “Rinaldo.”