By Ron Sandison
The killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers sparked riots and public debate on the conduct of law enforcement, even having some suggest disbanding the police force.
What if the law enforcement is not the main problem but how it operates for profit and lack of training? What if the community model can make violent encounters with police officers decrease by 15% to 25%?
For answers to these questions I interviewed Golda Barton whose 13 year-old son with autism, Linden, was shot repeatedly by a Utah officer during a meltdown in Glendale.
Linden was diagnosed with autism at age 9. As a child he hated to be touched and experienced severe meltdowns with change in his routines. Linden is a gifted mechanic and loves to take apart and put things back together.
After his injury from the bullets, he still enjoyed constructing 138 lightbulb outlets with only one hand.
Golda understands firsthand violent police encounters. A year before Linden almost died from gunshot wounds; her father a disabled Vietnam veteran, Owen Barton, was fatally shot by three officers in Yerington, Nevada. The officers were responding to a 911 call of an arm man threating his neighbor. The officers’ claimed that 66-year-old Owen who was unarmed, ran towards them forcing them to fire shots. Footage from the deadly incident was not released, nor were the results of the investigations.
Owen’s obituary states: “He brought meals to the elderly without families in the area and spent his last few years providing clean drinking water for his neighbors and the residents of Poverty Flats.”
Owen was a man who served his country and community. This incident caused Linden to be terrified of law enforcement and afraid to go outside.
On September 4th, 2020, when Golda went back to work after 9 months (the first time since her dad was killed), Linden experienced separation anxiety and had a violent outburst. Golda had missed two calls from Linden and returned home to find him destroying the house. She immediately called 911 and requested a crisis intervention team. She informed dispatch that her son had autism and was unarmed.
Instead of a crisis intervention team, she got two inexperienced officers with no training in autism.
When the officer approached Linden and demanded he drop to the ground, he was terrified and began to run away from the officers. One of the officers took aim and repeatedly shot Linden in the back and arm. Four shots connected sending him to the ground. Shocked by the sound of gunshots, Golda dashed to her son who laid bleeding on the ground. The two officers pushed her away from Linden and refused to let her go with him in the ambulance to the hospital.
The gunshot wounds resulted in Linden having ten surgeries. Now he has permanent nerve and tissue damage in his arm and leg. He cannot use his left arm. Since the violent police encounter Linden experiences PTSD and mental health issues. He wears a bulletproof vest in his house and is terrified to leave. Golda shares:
Linden is a fighter. Only by a miracle from God, he survived the eleven gunshots, thank God not one bullet hit a major organ.
Golda’s advice for law enforcement, “Slow down, don’t be quick to use force but realize people with autism may not understand your instructions or respond like typical people. During a meltdown a person with autism does not understand what is happening and loses control of their body. Listen to the family to learn the best way to approach the individual with autism and help him or her calm down. Meet people in the community who have a child with autism and individuals with autism so you understand the condition.”
Sadly, the U.S law enforcement model is for profit by receiving revenue by traffic tickets and fines. This lucrative model overflows into our prison system. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show that, as of 2019, there were 116,000 state and federal prisoners housed in privately owned prisons in the U.S., constituting 8.1% of the overall US prison population. This for profit model often leads to violent police encounters like: Linden Barton, Owens Barton and George Floyd.
What caused the United States to adopt a corrupt profit model of law enforcement in the late 90’s?
In 1998, the federal and local government began a new policy to give substantial tax breaks to large corporations and businesses while defunding law enforcement and the country’s infrastructure.
This defunding forced states and counties to develop new methods of revenue through fines and tickets like, minor in attendance (a ticket for minors under 18 at a party where alcohol is served) and open container (having an open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle). In the state of Michigan, if you’re convicted of an open container violation, you could face penalties including a $500 fine and up to 93 days in jail. These minor violations lead to more young people in our criminal justice system and more revenue from probation.
Fines and tickets provide a steady revenue for local cities and courts while infuriating those who receive the violation and creating an anti-trust of law enforcement. In the US 15 billion a year is collect in local police tickets. Some of these revenue tactics conflicted with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and put minorities at risks for police brutality.
The majority of Americans agree that you should not drive while using a cellphone and if you received a ticket for this act the fine is warranted. Policing for profits takes the distractive driver ticket to the next level, not only can you receive the ticket for driving using your cellphone (a good law) but also for only one hand on the sterling wheel, swatting at a fly, or eating and drinking while operating your vehicle.
I contacted my local police department concerning their distractive driver ordinance and asked, “Would you ticket a person missing an arm for driving with only one arm?” The cop replied, “No, that’s ridiculous!”
“What about an autistic person like me with an invisible disability, driving with only one hand on the wheel while stimming with the other?”
“That we would judge by a case by case situation. But I can tell you the exact amount the city makes in revenue from these tickets,” the officer exclaimed.
These type of city’s ordinances make it easy for police officers to pull drivers over for revenue but hard for the driver to prove his or her innocence since these laws are arbitrary.
The profit police model can cause violent encounters. In 2006, I was driving my Saturn Ion, when I came to a complete stop at a red light, I noticed behind me bright flashing sirens. I pulled to the side of the road and unrolled my window and asked the officer, “I was not speeding so why are you pulling me over?”
The officer replied, “You did nothing wrong. I have to reach my quota for the month so I am ticketing everyone who turns on this street. I can give you a ticket for five miles over the speed limit with a 1-point violation or impeding traffic which is a $120 fine with no points and is not reported to your insurance. This is how we maintain our budget.”
I was furious and having autism and not understanding social norms or the proper response to corruption, I decided to watch how other drivers respond to this model of law enforcement. I parked my car on the opposite side of the road and observed as this officer continually pulled drivers over for impeding traffic.
The fifth driver the officer pulled over was African-American. Enraged this driver jumped from his vehicle and began screaming, “I’ve done nothing wrong, why are you ticketing me so you can reach your dam quota?”
Quickly, a second patrol car rolled up and the three officers handcuffed and arrested this man for disorderly conduct.
The motive for the community model is not revenue but decreasing crime by public participation and establishing a trust with law enforcement. The community model gives traffic offenders a choice to pay the ticket or do community service hours with law enforcement. The community service can include building houses for lower income families or serving food at a homeless shelter. Think of it this way, Bill Gates has billions of dollars but little free time. While many young adults and people with disabilities have extra time but less finances. When you are given a choice of time or money to reimburse your traffic violations it makes the punitive punishment equal. This model causes police officers to be perceived as your neighborhood friend and not a corrupt foe.
The community model enables the public to develop a relationship with the officer who wrote the ticket by working together to support and serve the community. A second encounter, I had with a police officer beautifully illustrates the benefits of community in policing which provides support and care.
In the winter of 2008, I was driving my Saturn Ion and got stuck in a snowbank. Again, I saw in my rearview mirror flashing sirens. Only this time, a female cop approached my vehicle and said, “Let me help you get unstuck.” She called backup and her and two other cops pushed my car free. I learned that day the community model which empowers law enforcement to achieve their aim to serve and protect society.
My neighbor from India who is on H-1B visa informed me, “I’ve been driving my whole life in India and never received a ticket. But I received tickets twice on Dorset Road for failing to stop at a stop sign. Both times I came to a complete stop and the officers involved wrote me a ticket for impeding traffic. These officers hide and wait on Dorset Road for foreigners to ticket. In our community we refer to Dorset Road as ticket highway.”
As we have seen, the profit model of law enforcement produces division and hostility by exploiting the people who live in the community and minorities while companies like Amazon build large warehouses and pay no taxes but receive the benefits of protection from the local law enforcement. We have it backwards, the people of the community who are not for profit pay while profit corporations get a tax-free ride.
The community model creates trust, safety, and promotes diversity as officers’ work with the people in the community they serve. Officers will encounter during community service people with autism and minorities—this will help them to have a better understanding and connection with them. Not every violent police encounter can be diverted but the community model can make the US a safer and more enjoyable place to live.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.