Yesterday morning seemed typical of that, when I saw on a local facebook group
- Someone asking if anyone else had seen the man tasered on the steps of the train station yesterday evening
- A picture of a burnt-out car
- The news that a gourmet grilled-cheese and burger joint that also does mocktails is going to open
Later in the day, after I'd utterly forgotten about all of these things, Andrew was trying to sort out his travel to and from London for a gig he's going to. I was listening even though I was idly scrolling through twitter when I came upon a tweet with a link and "I bet blind man was a PoC - I hope he is OK & remains anonymous if he wants to." I noticed the link was to the Manchester Evening News, so I clicked on it and...
...interrupted Andrew in the middle of saying "National Express" with "HOLY SHIT!" So of course he was worried, asked me what was wrong, and it took me a while to get the sentence out in the right order.
The man who was tasered at Levenshulme station is blind.
And of course he only got tasered because he was blind. He wasn't dangerous, threatening, hadn't done anything. Two people called the cops saying they thought he had a gun. All he had was his folded-up white cane.
This is my train station. It's like two minutes' walk from here. I'm in and around the area all the time. And I often have my white cane folded up.
Now, I think my friend whose tweet I originally saw had a good point about the likelihood of the man being a person of color. (Andrew said "yeah, he'll be Asian" matter-of-factly when we were talking about this. We don't know, of course, as is only right.) As a white person and a woman, I know I am not in the same danger of having the cops called on me first of all and them overreacting if they are.
But I was pretty shaken up at first, all the same.
And then I started thinking what can I do?
I just had a meeting of the Visually Impaired Steering Group on Wednesday. Had an e-mail from the manager of the council's sensory team who's helping facilitate it for us, so I'm going to ask him. And I'll try to get in touch with the RNIB and see if they're aware of what sort of training the police get on stuff like this -- it's probably them that do it, if anyone does -- and of course there are mad-keen Levenshulme community groups to try to get involved too, maybe do some kind of education event locally. I'm happy to field questions people are usually too embarrassed to ask blind people, let them see my cane, dispense information or resources or whatever.
One of my friends asked if I'd like people to walk with me to/around the station, which I was really touched but and think it's a nice idea, some kind of little march.
The ongoing conversations in my facebook and twitter feeds after I posted this link have been really thought-provoking. As has a BBC article about it which I read this morning, saying that the man doesn't intend to make a complaint and that he "acknowledged that his behaviour could have led to people being concerned."
What really disturbs me is the guy agreed his behavior might've concerned people. Let me be clear: I 100% support whatever reaction he has in the apparent immediate aftermath of being tasered and still surrounded by police. I am not blaming him here at all, I am raging at the systemic ableism in society that made this possible or necessary for him to say.
I know my behavior seems agitated/weird if people don't know I'm blind. I also get anxious a lot (especially when I'm doing something like waiting for a train! I was at a different train station around this same time, waiting for a train that ended up being delayed by 45 minutes, and in freezing awful weather it was so miserable I probably would've looked weird to anyone scrutinizing me too carefully). I do things and I get around in weird ways, and so do a lot of people with a wide range of disabilities: it affects our posture, movements, expressions, body language, all sorts of things.
And it's weird only because people have such a narrow, and an ableist, idea of what "normal" behavior is. It's weird because they're not used to us, because it's not easy for us to get out or because it's expected that we wouldn't do so on our own. That shouldn't get anyone tasered.
I don't blame the guy for saying he could understand why his behavior would be concerning (if he did as the BBC have reported, I think we're just getting the cops' side of the story here) because I can imagine just wanting to get out of this situation.
I can also understand apologizing for the stuff your disability makes you "bad" at, because I do that all the time in a social-lubrication kind of way. I will say sorry for not seeing things and sometimes even as I'm doing it I know it's something I'd object to but it's so ingrained.
That's why it disturbs me. I could see myself doing the same. Even though that is the last thing I want. But the cops have a lot of power over you, especially when they've just tasered you, and when you were just going about your day.
Things I've learned:
- SpecSavers' advertising has worked really well because I'm already sick of the jokes about it.Not only are variations on "maybe it's the policeman who's the real blind one!" not actually funny, but they're ableist. Remember how I'm always banging on about the uses of "blindness" to indicate ignorance of something? This is that. If you're equating stupidity or ineffectualness with blindness, you're also implying blind people are stupid and unable to do things. This is something that hurts blind people every day, and unlike getting the police to stop tasering people, it's really easy to fix so please do consider it or mention it to your friends.
- The police-defenders on the local fb group are really concerning me. They don't seem to understand that once someone tells the police you have a gun, it's almost impossible to prove to them you don't without getting yourself hurt in the process. (I know this is something my friends of color know very well and I'm sorry I'm only realizing it recently.) It's enraging.
- And sometimes even the people on the "right" side are so fucking ableist. There's been lots of "this man had to be so courageous for using public transport by himself!" that edges into cripspiration which just makes my brain itch.