Alright everyone, listen up. I know this is long, but we need to be talking about this, and with so much attention focused on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement right now, I’m surprised we’re not.
This is Reginald “Neli” Latson, a young black autistic man from Virginia who was harassed, arrested, and convicted on the basis of his race and disability.
Neli’s ordeal began in 2010 when he was sitting outside of a library he visited frequently, waiting for it to open. Someone called the police on Neli, who was wearing a hoodie, and reported him as a suspicious individual who he or she believed was in possession of a gun. There was no evidence whatsoever for that claim. The police ended up locking down all of the schools in the area while they searched for Neli.
Neli was eventually located by a “school resources officer” and sheriff deputy. According to the police, Neli attacked the officer for no apparent reason. According to Neli and his family, Neli complied with a search (no gun was found) and then was threatened by the officer. Extremely scared, Neli tried to flee the scene, but the officer grabbed him from behind. A struggle then ensued, and the officer was able to use pepper spray on Neli before the young man fled the scene.
Neli was eventually found again and was arrested. Although there was still no gun to be found and it was revealed that the original complainant had not seen a gun, Neli was taken in for questioning. While Neli was held in jail for 11 days, his mother attempted to tell the police that her son was autistic. She reported the police as being unresponsive and uncaring, and was then blocked from visiting him. Neli’s mother also reported her son as being in “a catatonic state” during her single visit.
After the 11 days Neli spent in jail, he was transferred to a mental institution two and a half hours away from his home for 30 days because the police found the autistic man to be unresponsive to interrogation. The police stated that if things did not get resolved within that 30 day period, he would be put back in jail.
Since then, Neli has been put through a number of traumatic experiences, only to have news sources vilify him. Although he did so well in treatment that he was transferred to a group home, Neli eventually became agitated by the staff who were unfamiliar with his routines, so the police were called once again. Neli asked an officer to shoot him and attempted to grab his gun. Instead of treating this as a mental health crisis, Frederick County, where the incident took place, filed felony charges.
Eric Olsen, the prosecutor of Neli’s home county, seized this as an opportunity to revoke his probation, and Neli ended back up in jail, even though a judge did not recommend it. Neli became increasingly suicidal and clashed again with the officers there.
Neli has spent much of the last year in solitary confinement and is awaiting his trial in January. Eric Olsen is pushing to sentence him to ten years in jail. Ten years. Olsen has made extremely inappropriate comments about this case and has proven his lack of understanding, and his lack of sympathy, over and over again. He characterized Neli as being “racist against police” and has said he believes Neli being autistic “is an aspect of convenience … when his advocates want him to be retarded, he is”.
It is clear that Neli Latson has experienced an incredible amount of trauma because the officers who interacted with him did not know how to deal with an autistic individual. However, this situation could have been avoided entirely had Neli not been black and wearing a hoodie. Ableism and racism interact and are heavily woven into our criminal justice system, but we do not have to wait until January to do something about it. The best outcome would be for Olsen to drop the charges and for Neli to return home, since nothing would have happened had he not been wrongly identified as someone suspicious. Neli’s lawyers want him to be transferred- on probation- by order of a judge to a treatment facility in Florida and believe that is the most likely outcome if Olsen does not get his way.
I’m sure we can all band together and get this young man’s story heard. His voice needs to be heard loud and clear in the movement against police brutality. Neli’s situation is not unique- police around the country do not know how to deal with autistic folks, and many receive little to no training. Other cops, like the one’s in this story, simply do not care. That is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that right now, Neli Latson is being locked in a segregation cell for 24 hours a day with minimal human interaction. Here is how you can help:
The Justice For Reginald Latson Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Justice-for-Reginald-Latson/135944716422975
Eric Olsen’s Public Facebook Page (read about him, this guy has won awards): https://www.facebook.com/olsenforca
Eric Olsen’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Participate in the #FreeNeli twitter campaign that’s being started this week. Here’s a list of suggested tweets from a great blog: http://autisticadvocacy.tumblr.com/post/103045720072/sample-tweets-to-help-freeneli
You can tweet at the Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe @VAGovernor. He has stated that he is an involuntary obstacle to Neli receiving justice, as his hands are “tied”.
You can also reach the Governor and leave a message by phone at 804-786-2211, or you can email him through this link: http://autisticadvocacy.tumblr.com/post/103045720072/sample-tweets-to-help-freeneli
More information on Reginald Latson’s case can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ruth-marcus-why-is-reginald-latson-being-denied-the-help-he-needs/2014/11/28/a6c5e2c0-771f-11e4-bd1b-03009bd3e984_story.html and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ken-reibel/teen-with-aspergers-arres_b_610530.html?ref=twitter
If you cannot do any of the things listed above, please help out by reblogging this and getting the story out. I’m an allistic individual and am trying to help out by spreading the word, so please make sure to also check out public posts written by people who are actually autistic to educate yourselves further about Neli’s cause and about the discrimination autistic folks face. We need need neeeeeed to be talking about this, but we also need to make sure that the voices of people who are actually autistic, especially autistic poc, are at the forefront of this conversation.
As a note, if you do spread the word about this issue, please be sure to use appropriate language. For example, every autistic individual I’ve interacted with prefers to be called an autistic person rather than a person with autism, as the latter implies autism is a disease, which it is not. Be mindful, please. (If anyone actually autistic feels that claim is not true or would like for me to change/add any language in this post, please let me know and I will gladly change it and apologize!)
tl;dr: a young black autistic boy from Virginia has gone through severe mental trauma for years because of his race, disability, police brutality, and a lack of awareness about how to interact with autistic folks. There are many ways listed in this post detailing how you can help. Please reblog to spread the word and add resources and updates as they show up.