Thursday, August 15, 2013

#JusticeForEthan - Who is the Villain?

Every story needs a villain or two. One reason the Trayvon Martin story caught on so powerfully is that the dramatic cast was set from the start, with the rogue vigilante versus the innocent teenager on a snack run. One reason that Zimmerman was set free is that his lawyers successfully convinced the jury of 6 white women that Martin might have been the actual villain here, the thug, and Zimmerman was a law-abiding protector of the community. As humans, we interpret our lives in part based on the stories we consume, and every story needs a villain.

Ethan Saylor's story has no clear villain. The deputies who broke the cartilage in his neck have been identified, but so far no specific pattern of violent behavior has been ascribed to any one of them. They were just doing what cops do - when someone is non-compliant, you get physical (more on this later if I can find someone to take an essay on the topic).  The theater manager might make a good scapegoat - he made a terrible decision to call the cops, one not justified by Maryland law (where the aide didn't have to buy a ticket, but did anyway, so the theater had its extra 12$). Saylor attended this movie theater often, so he was known, and probably the manager had seen stubborn behavior before. So I'd be happy to see if the press can get a better read on this guy and see what words he uses to describe people with Down syndrome. But in the end, he didn't touch Saylor.

The sheriff isn't my favorite kind of guy - tea partier, anti-immigrant, believes that the problem is the "redistribution of wealth" - and was my candidate for villain. His whining that the press is only telling one side of the story while refusing to talk to the press (on camera) is classic, and there's plenty of room for bad actors here, but he's recently been eclipsed by the president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners Blaine Young.

Saylor isn't the only person killed by deputies in Frederick County lately - another man was killed after they set off a flash-bang in his apartment and shot him 18 times. He allegedly had a shotgun and I do not know the details of the case, but there is a lawsuit involved. In response to both killings, Blaine Young said the following:
 “If people get in trouble and would just do what the officers say, we wouldn’t have any incidents.”
This is blaming the victim. It's classic. And when it applies to Saylor, we can immediately wipe it away as nonsense. Yes, it's true, if Saylor had just done what he was ordered to do, then he'd still be alive today. But the reasons he did not are complex, involve both context and his disability, and we know he is not to blame for what happened. But here's the point I keep trying and trying to make:

No one, disabled or abled, male or female, black or white, gay or straight, no one ... needs to be handcuffed and dragged out of a movie theater. Write them a ticket. Take their ID. Call their mother. Talk to them. Be patient.

And just in case you aren't convinced, last week Young got the five commissioners together to write a letter thank the deputies for all their hard work in light of the "recent controversies." In the minutes, he claimed he wanted to "separate the men from the boys," referring to the one commissioner who declined to sign the letter. So this is using Saylor's death as an internal political stunt to isolate Commissioner Gray (though Young claimed, innocently, that this wasn't the case).

Blaine Young - Right now, you are my official villain.

But stay tuned, there's lots of room at the bottom.

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