This 12-Year-Old's Experience With Police Is, Unfortunately, Common For Black Autistic Youth

tennis racket on court
Zain Murdock
August 24, 2023

12-year-old Curtis Hayes was in his second year in the Richmond Police Athletic League’s tennis program. His mother had signed him up to help him be more comfortable around police officers, something other Black autistic children struggle with, too. 

But on November 2, 2021, that’s not what happened.

After Curtis grew frustrated during the lesson, cops grabbed and handcuffed him on the ground. One held his head while others pinned down his shoulders and legs. 

Curtis’ experience isn’t singular; 20% of autistic youth are stopped and questioned by police before age 21. Why?

Autistic children are often skeptical of authority figures and their demands. Many are sensitive to touch. Some cannot read social cues. Others value following a routine. 

So, many autistic children learn techniques to help understand, de-escalate, and manage their own emotions and behaviors and, like Curtis who tried walking away, end up getting punished for it.

Black autistic people are constantly criminalized and dehumanized even by civilians, when police aren’t present. In combating police violence, we must also dismantle the ableism rooted in our society.

Bottom line: it shouldn’t be the responsibility of Black autistic people or their loved ones to get police to humanize them. Let’s build a world where Curtis could have walked off that tennis court with a laugh, not a concussion.

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