Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dying at the hands of the police: Robert Ethan Saylor

Those of us, my self included, in the Down syndrome community spend much time advocating that "we [those with Ds] are more alike than different" and "treat her like any other kid".  We fight for equality.  We fight for our children to be included in the classroom and to be considered for employment.  We fight for awareness.  That Ds isn't a condition that one suffers from.  That having a child with Ds is amazing, not something to be pitied for.

Then, something happens that reminds me "she is different".  The fact remains that my daughter has a disability.  No, it does not define her, but she does have Down syndrome.  With that comes differences in her anatomy.  With that comes an intellectual disability.  Ellie does not understand things that most 3 year-olds understand.  She will most likely as an adult have difficulty with abstract thought.   She may not understand rules, including societal rules.  She may need help to navigate the world.

I read a news story in the Washington Post that startled me.  It made me take a step back and rethink everything that I have been writing about.  Maybe it is not the story, but the comments to the news story.  The comments made by people who think they know everything when in fact, it shows just how much they do not understand about intellectual disabilities or Down syndrome.  Comments that are crude and assume to know how the parents raised their young adult child or how this man behaved during the incident.  Over eight hundred comments and so many that are negative towards the victim, the young man who died.  These people are clearly ignorant and these are the types of people that my daughter will encounter throughout her life.

Robert Ethan Saylor, 26 yo


A 26 year-old man with Down syndrome died in the hands of police custody.  Robert Ethan Saylor was watching a movie at a theater when he refused to leave because he wanted to watch Zero-Dark-Thirty again.  He had an aide.  An eighteen year-old.  She had left him alone for a brief period of time to go get the car.  A theater called for help --this help constituted 3 off-duty police officers working as security at a nearby shopping complex.  I don't know if they identified themselves as cops to Ethan.  I do not even know if Ethan even understood that they were indeed the police. We may never know because he is gone from this world.  The cops stated that Ethan cursed at and hit and kicked at them.  They applied 3 sets of handcuffs to Ethan to restrain him.  While Robert Ethan Saylor was down on his stomach, he started to asphyxiate.  As in be smoothered to death.  The cops did flip him over and tried to administer CPR.  Ethan died.  Ethan had Down syndrome.

I am not arguing that Robert Ethan Saylor should have been allowed to stay at the theater to watch the movie again. I am not stating that the theater should not have asked for help.  I am however, stating that Ethan Saylor should not have died.  How did this happen?  Three sets of handcuffs?  Three?!?  Three officers for one guy.    Did they let him up as soon as they saw him struggled to breathe?  How did this happen?  How did he ended up without oxygen for so long that he died?  Just how long was his face mashed into the ground?  The news report says 1-2 minutes.

Also shocking is that Ethan's death was ruled as "Death By Down Syndrome".  Seriously? He died from Down syndrome?  I highly doubt it.  The coroner stated that his obesity contributed to this.  I would like to see an official list of all obese people who died during their arrests.

Should Ethan have been treated differently?  Maybe. Should he have been allowed to stay in the theater? No.  Like I said, this is not about allowing the man to watch the movie again for free.  This is not about the theater calling for help.

This is not about what many comments have stated (commenters who do not even know this family or how he was raised!)

So Saylor 'had no history of violence?" Maybe that's true. It probably is. I suspect he had no history of violence because he was used to having his whims catered to. I think he did pretty much whatever he wanted to do and got away with it because he was "special." His parents didn't keep him in line; he was allowed to call 911 and the police so often that his mother brought cookies to the Sheriff's department in gratitude for indulging him and not arresting him. I think when he was told to leave that theater it may have been the first time in his life he was not allowed to do something he wanted to do. And it ENRAGED him. I think that's where the violence came from. For the first time in his life he was thwarted and he would not accept it. And that's why he fought and cursed and had to be subdued. I guess his family and friends found his unrestrained behaviors cute and charming. But in the end it proved fatal.--commenter on Washington Post Story













This is about how the police handled the situation.  The officers should have recognized that he had Down syndrome and as such realized that perhaps they needed to take a different approach.   Maybe they could have waited for his aide? Maybe they could have called his family.  I guarantee you his mama bear could have gotten him out of that theater. This is about a man with an intellectual disability dying at the hands of off-duty officers.  It is about his death.

I imagine that Robert Ethan Saylor was scared.  I imagine he didn't understand that those out-of-uniformed men were officers.  I imagine that he believed he was defending himself. I imagine that he was petrified as he struggled to breath.  I also imagine that his death will torment those police officers for life.

I don't want my daughter to be treated different and yet, I do.  I would want her to learn the consequences of her actions, but not at the expense of her life.  In an ideal world, I would like people to be educated that my daughter and others with Ds have an intellectual disability.  That it is okay to ask for help if there is a situation requiring police intervention or any other type of behavioral intervention.  That I want the police to receive more training on working with those who are disabled. Most of all, I want her treated with RESPECT.  Respect--Just. Like. Everyone. Else.

This new story has shaken me.  It makes me me scared to ever let Ellie, as an adult venture off alone. I want her to do things on her own and yet, I want to be there, right by her side.  Protecting her.  My heart goes out to the Saylor family.  


Petition for Robert Ethan Saylor at Change.org

More on Call-To-Action: Down Syndrome Uprising


21 comments:

  1. I'd like to say something constructive and hopeful but I'm really just thinking about an island. Not joking at all. This makes me ill.

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    1. I know. I truly do. I was so thoroughly upset thatI shot this post out without even proofing it! Like I just had to get it out or I would explode. Between this and the recent abuse cases in the special ed classes, I fear for my daughter and for others with disabilities.

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    2. "he was allowed to call 911 and the police so often that his mother brought cookies to the Sheriff's department"...

      Do you think it's a good idea to "allow" your child to repeatedly call 911 and make cookies for the Sheriff to just blow it off?

      Don't you think Ethan's mom was sending him the wrong message by permitting him to do this???

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  2. I having been outraged for weeks over this senseless death,but now to hear instead of homicide he's been labeled unfairly again.I want to be sick.I did not celebrate the whacky socks awareness this year,I spread Roberts story and will continue to do so..This could be my son someday.This is the awareness we need,we need outrage over something so very uncalled for.

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    1. Robin, you are not alone. Never got the whacky socks campaign and it is much more important to spread Robert Saylor's story . This could happen to any of our children. I am still shaking over this.

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  3. gosh it makes me feel staggered...our local cinema has just made a mother leave mid-film because her daughter with down syndrome was laughing too loud! it has angered me so much and like you it was the comments! this is awful just awful! the world does of course need to to make allowances for our children and open a bigger heart but only in order to treat our kids with respect as you say ...the same as everybody else. The path to that respect will of course be different...we as parents are used to walking that different path....the rest of the world needs to get a little more acquainted with it also! My heart and love and prayers go out to this family xxxx

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    1. Wow. Just wow! I would be kicked out of the movies for sure for laughing then. Goodness, it wasn't like she was talking through the movie! My heart is so heavy for his family. Many of us are petitioning for a change--a change in law enforcement training. Education is so important. The comments on the news story infuriated me--blaming the parents, blaming the young man. For every defense, 3 or 4 people would jump down their throats. All I could think is--a man died. An accident, yes, but all because he stayed in a movie theater. He died.

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  4. I have been in tears for weeks over this. WE - those of us in the club need to do everything possible to advocate with action! Please do not accept another form letter or pay off of our paid advocates. We have to unite and demand . Thank you for writing from your heart.

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    1. Rachel, you have always been one of my favorite advocates. Passionate and honest! You are correct--we must unite and maybe then, we will finally be heard. Maybe then, changes will be made.

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  5. Reading those comments on WP I wanted to reach through the computer screen and shake some of those commenters. Infuriating ignorance.

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    1. Mariah, I hear you. Believe me, I do and so do so many others.

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  6. I've been collecting and categorizing the comments on these articles and I'm so disgusted. The one you posted was one of the worst. And that wasn't her only post. She feels the need to repeat her vile words every few hours it seems. I just keep saying to myself - they really believe that, or people STILL think like this... SMH Thanks for posting about it. I know the feeling of having to get it out before you explode. Didn't think I could do it in a constructive manner but I'm glad somebody did!

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    1. I finally had to stop reading the comments--the anger and the tears. It just. . . I cannot even explain my feelings. I tried to in this post, but this never, ever should have happened and yet, it did.

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  7. I am Ethan's Aunt, and to you and everyone else who we will never meet; thank you for caring about Ethan and spreading the word. You would have loved him! Thank you!

    Terri

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    1. Terri, my heart goes out to you and your family. I just cannot imagine. Please know that so many people are rallying for Ethan. This never should have happened.

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  8. My son is 27 years old, has Down Syndrome and loves the movies just like Robert. He goes to the moves alone, no staff or care giver. We meet him afterwards. The people at the theatre know him and he is the last one to leave the theatre. Yes, he sometimes wants to stay and watch it again and he even tries to go from one movie to the next. Yes, he gets upset when he is told he can't do that because he doesn't understand why he can't do that. But they have never ever felt that they had to call police or security to get him out. This is so tragic and sad. My deepest sympathy to the family of Robert. I pray for justice.

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    1. I imagine that your son and Robert are not the only people who have tried to stay at the theater. Goodness, I had friends when I was a teenager who would spend days trying to hop from one movie to the next. The thing is, why did this require 3 officers? Why 3 sets of cuffs? Why an arrest? Why off-duty officers? Why are we blaming Robert???? Oh he had a heart problem. Oh he was obese. Give me a break! I just do not understand and I am not sure I ever will. This is a tragedy and I hope that with all of us unified together and speaking out, maybe there will be JUSTICE and maybe there will be a change in training of the police.

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  9. This situation horrifies me. Not only the aspects of what Anna has posted, but the whole idea that the police would still use the "hog-tie" hold. Most police forces banned it decades ago...Down Syndrome or not, it is linked to so many deaths that nobody with any training uses it anymore.

    I'm trying, slowly but surely, to find a way to develop Down Syndrome specific training for law enforcement around the country. Read my post "The Sound of Terror" to find out a couple things EVERYONE can do to help.

    Your post moved me. Thank you for sharing./

    Peace,
    Little Bird's Dad
    www.littlebirdsdad.com

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    1. i agree. The hog-tie hold is scary and no one should still be using that. Your post is great, btw!

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  10. I have to say, I do in fact agree with the Washington poster who stated that "Ethan pretty much did what ever he wanted and go t away with it." Now before I go on, let me make something extremely clear to you. I am morally against abortion and would never abort my unborn child if it had Down Syndrome. Kids with DS need to valued like everyone else and treated like everyoene else. Treated like everyone else: that means we cannot spoil them and make them think that they're disability is a "license" to "do whatever they want." I don't know exactly how Ethan was brought up. However, One poster who knew his mother from church, has verified that she would often let Ethan do whatever he wanted, including stay in church long after the service has finished. Furthermore, I have experience working with children who come from extremely spoiled families. You know how people who are spoiled act: they think they have a sense to entitlement to them and when they don't get what they want they have tantrum. If Ethan wasn't brought up with this sense of entitlement, how then do we explain his violent actions that night? How then do we explain why he had this idea in his head that he was entitled to see movie again. And why did his mother allow him to become 300 ILBS?? Didn't she teach him about nutrition and how to eat properly? I know other people who had Down Syndrome and were brought up just like the "normal" kids in the family. Guess what? They don't act like spoiled brats as Ethan did. They act like likeable human beings and even have jobs. In fact, my nurse friend who does dialysis says that one of her most compliant, easiest patients (dialysis people usually give her alot of problems) was a patient with Down Syndrome.

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    1. I am sorry that I cannot find the original post from the person who knew Ethan's mom. However, she CLEARLY stated that the way he was raised (brought up to get whatever he wanted) had alot to do with the reason he died that day. It was a post on one of the news sites that had reported the story about Ethan.

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