Earlier this month, Somerville Police Officers Alan Monaco and Timothy Sullivan responded to a call about a fight between two young men. They found one of them, Mike, in an agitated state.
“He started flipping out — get your effing hands off me, don’t touch me!” Monaco recalled. “He was up and down, he would be screaming and yelling one minute, nice and talking and smoking cigarettes the next. We talked about what the issue is; he said the other kid said something detrimental about his mother, and his mother’s sick, and he spit in his face.”
Coincidentally, the two Somerville officers had just been in a training session on mental disorders — including Asperger’s, one of Mike’s diagnoses. So they knew people with Asperger’s can be hyper-sensitive about being touched and insensitive about how close to get to other people. Like Mike, who got far too close to the officers when he talked to them, right up into their faces.
“Normally for a police officer, if you invade our space, we have a safety zone where we don’t want people close to us,” Monaco said. “I would have pushed him away. I would have physically pushed him off me.”Instead of getting physical, the officers just let Mike talk, and rant, and spit, and de-escalate. No one went to jail. No one got beaten. This is the opposite of the cult of compliance. I'm genuinely optimistic about this training as a pathway forward for us, not just in terms of disability, but in general what it looks like when you have a police force trained to empathize, to guard, not to be warriors.
We'll keep watching.