Disability Right Ohio Examines the Impact of Police Use of Force on People with Disabilities

November 12, 2020

As a civil rights advocacy group, Disability Rights Ohio (DRO) is committed to the dismantling of racist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, and transphobic systems of oppression that often lead to discriminatory policies that specifically target oppressed and disenfranchised individuals. DRO’s policy paper, “Policing and Racial Injustice: A Disability Rights Perspective,” discusses the ways police use of force has disproportionately impacted people with disabilities. It addresses specifically how police use-of-force has disproportionately impacted people with disabilities, often leading to death, and how law enforcement in schools unfairly target students with disabilities, often leading to exclusion and referral to the juvenile justice system.

“DRO unequivocally supports the Black Lives Matter movement which has pushed for change at the local, state, and national levels, including how large police budgets can be reinvested into community-based services,” said Kerstin Sjoberg, Disability Rights Ohio executive director. “In order to build more inclusive, safer, and truly integrated communities, we must restructure budgets to increase historically underfunded community supports, including mental health and other disability services. “

The policy paper cites examples and discusses research indicating that people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of police brutality. Despite representing only 20 percent of the population, those with disabilities make up 30 to 50 percent of individuals subject to police use of force. It is estimated that one-third to one-half of people killed by police are people with disabilities. Additionally, the risk of being subjected to police violence increases as disability intersects with race, class, gender, and LGBTQ+ status.

DRO offers solutions to the problem of systemic discrimination against people with disabilities, and recommends that policymakers reinvest in the community by:

• Making meaningful reinvestments into community services: State and local governments should restructure budgets to increase historically underfunded community supports, including mental health and other disability services.

• Changing crisis response: Law enforcement agencies should not be responding to every active issue in the community. Budgets should be restructured to fund professionally trained staff in responding to personal crises that do not pose a safety risk to other members of the community.

• Eliminating school resource officers: Schools should stop relying on police officers to do the work of behavior specialists, and instead invest in professional staff who treat students with disabilities with compassion and understanding.

“Although civil rights laws and deinstitutionalization have given many people with disabilities access to their communities, new barriers have been created,” concluded Sjoberg. “The same individuals who are unable to access services in their communities are being impacted by police brutality and killed at a disproportionate rate. As we move forward to address these issues, it is important that policymakers include the voices of people with disabilities.”

To access the full text of the policy statement, “Policing and Racial Injustices: A Disability Rights Perspective,” go to: https://www.disabilityrightsohio.org/assets/documents/policing-and-racial-injustice-a-disability-rights-perspective_11.13.2020.pdf

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