by Chris Juhn
Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin will be sentenced June 16 for the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. The scenes of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck are familiar, as are images of the protests that followed. Many people in the community showed up in protest like they have many times before. But unlike before, the rage that had normally turned into protests on the streets, highways, and occupying spaces for an amount of time turned into rioting and civil unrest.
Protests immediately followed Floyd’s death and went on for days, with parts of Minneapolis feeling like a war zone. For a moment, the global community stood with Minneapolis against what they witnessed in the video of Chauvin ending Floyd’s life.
People from all walks of life took to the street in protest, throughout the next year and especially during Chauvin’s trial. What was visually different this time was over time, many people with disabilities showed up. The numbers increased over time, giving the disability community a notable visual presence.
Interpreters were provided at almost every protest for people with hearing disabilities, something I’ve never seen before in my work as a journalist. The disability community started to have a noticeable visual presence.
For many people with disabilities, having to deal with law enforcement might end up being a fatal encounter
In July of 2018, the mother of 16-year-old Archer Amorosi called police. Her son was having a mental health crisis. She feared that he was suicidal. After the police arrived they used a taser, but ended up shooting and killing him.
In September 2019, 21-year-old Kobe Heisler, who is on the autism spectrum, was in a similar situation in Brooklyn Center. He was also shot and killed by police. Those are just two of the many examples of law enforcement using force to kill individuals with disabilities in Minnesota. Across the country there are many similar stories.
A report in 2016 by the Ruderman Foundation found that up to 50 percent of all those killed in such high-profile killings were people with disabilities.
Awareness is being raised about the intersectionality between law enforcement-related brutality cases and having a disability. Many are becoming vocal to draw attention to the issue. What we’re seeing in Minneapolis is the coming together of different groups to stand together to try to achieve the goal of ending such brutality and killings.
Disability community members will continue to show up to these protests. There still exists the very real fear that if someone with a disability has a number of things happen they might end up in the same situation as George Floyd. To many, “complying with orders,” is an impossible thing to achieve for one reason or another.
Awareness continues to be raised about law enforcement brutality issues and the need for change. Many states and cities are looking at ways to reform longstanding practices, which will directly affect many people with disabilities.
The future is still uncertain if these issues of law enforcement brutality will at all be affected by the verdict around the Chauvin trial. As things move forward, people with disabilities are likely to have a continued presence on the front lines of these issues.
Chris Juhn is a photojournalist and found of ABLE Press. He has documented many protests and movements in Minnesota. He write about his life’s journey with disabilities and his work at https://turtleroad.org/2021/01/15/chris-juhn
Read more about the Ruderman Foundation study at https://rudermanfoundation.org/media-missing-the-story-half-of-all-recent-high-profile-police-related-killings-are-people-with-disabilities/