Guest Contributor: Emily Iland, Educational Consultant, Writer and Producer, BE SAFE The Movie
When my son Tom was learning to drive, I was terrified. I wasn’t worried about the rules of the road, I knew he’d memorize those. I was worried that if he was stopped by the police, the first thing that would come of his mouth would be “video-talk” from a favorite Jim Carrey movie, like Liar, Liar or Dumb & Dumber! No matter which movie it was, it wouldn’t be good! Tom has autism, and while he usually manages things very well, he is at-risk in a police encounter for multiple reasons related to his disability, like others with I/DD.
As a parent and a parent leader, I know that other parents and leaders (like you) have fears about safety. Our children (including adults) may wander, have little sense of danger, or have limited communication skills. We are all disturbed by disastrous incidents between police and individuals with disabilities, even those who are accompanied by a caretaker. None of us will ever forget the tragic death of Ethan Saylor.
My response to this fear-inducing situation was to DO SOMETHING! My first step was organizing with other parents to train local sheriff’s deputies about developmental disabilities. In 2006, I authored the autism training for the Los Angeles Police Department which has been presented to well over 7,000 officers to date. I thought that training the police about disabilities would be the answer to the problem, but I was wrong. It’s essential, but it’s not enough.
One day a trained deputy said to me, “Emily, even when I know that someone has a disability, if they run from me I still have to chase them. If they fight with me I have to fight back and win.” This was the scariest thing anyone ever said to me. I was stunned, but it was true. Particular actions can trigger tactical responses from the police, disability or not. My question to him was, “Who is training our population not to run and not to fight?” and the answer was, “Nobody.”
More fear, more action! I decided to make a movie to show individuals with I/DD and related conditions what to do to in everyday encounters with the police! Joey Travolta of Inclusion Films co-produced BE SAFE the Movie, starring differently-abled individuals interacting with real police officers. We re-framed the Don’ts (Don’t run, Don’t fight) into Do’s: Stay where you are, Follow instructions, and five other life-saving skills. I created a differentiated curriculum to go along with the Movie to reach learners of all abilities.
It’s our responsibility as parents and leaders to ensure that we explicitly teach everyone these skills. Whatever tools you want to use, resolve to DO SOMETHING about safety! The alternative to being proactive is leaving safety to chance, and we know how that’s working.
I hope you’ll want to learn more about BE SAFE and how you can help the people in your life on a personal and a community level! Please join Tom and me for our 3-hour workshop, BE SAFE: How to Interact Safely with the Police on Friday March 1 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. See you there!