Donnell Thompson’s Murder Highlights Police Aggression Against Disabled People

The L.A. County Sheriff’s office, who fatally shot Compton resident Donnell Thompson, admitted that they misidentified him as a car jacking suspect, according to The Washington Post.

Prior to the shooting, police deputies exchanged gunfire with an unidentified carjacker, who then disappeared on foot into the back of houses in the neighborhood.

Instead of finding the suspect, they found 27-year-old Donnell, who was reported to be “asleep in a stranger’s yard.” According to the Post, Donnell was an adult, but “possessed the mental faculties of a much younger man.” Donnell was unarmed, possessed a clean record, and was said to be “gentle and shy.”

Up to half of people killed by the US police are disabled, a fact that is most often not mentioned in mainstream American media, in a report by the Ruderman Family Foundation. Almost all well-known and reported cases of police shootings involved someone who was disabled. The end result? Police aggression in regards to how systematic racism intersects with ableism is rarely discussed, leading to the separation of issues by the public.

It was reported that Thompson failed to respond to commands when discovered by the police, “instead remaining motionless with one hand under his head and another concealed under his waist,” which may have sealed his fate. “If a person’s ability to communicate is significantly impaired, be it by psychosis, autism or dementia, and responding officers are ill-equipped to identify or adequately engage with and protect those individuals, the outcomes can be disastrous,” writes Maya O’Hara for the Guardian. When in encounters with police, many disabled people can fail to comply or make sudden movements that police officers deem to be “dangerous.”

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The rampant targeting of disabled folks, and particularly, disabled people of color, have led people to push for justice beyond systematic reforms, imagining a world made safer without the police by the community valuing accountability, handling conflict with love and respect, and struggling against other harmful systems. The Let Us Breathe Collective, an artistic group, has managed to envision this world that would eradicate ableism, racism, and other modes of oppressive state violence. “We stumble and sometimes hurt each other on our journey toward braver relationships and visions of liberation,” she says. “We stay committed to healing together. We don’t call the police.”

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