Diane Gill Morris first joined us last year to talk about raising her two boys, Kenny and Theo. Both of her children are autistic, and Diane told us about the challenges that have come with their diagnoses and the overwhelming responsibility she feels to protect and nurture them, particularly as they become adults.
Diane said she was particularly worried about her older son, Kenny, who was then 16. "I am still trying to figure out how I make sure that he is safe in the world," Diane said, "when I can’t explain to him all the intricacies involved in what it means to be young and black in America."
There have been several recent stories about police interactions with autistic people of color—and their caregivers—that have ended violently, in places like Miami, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, as a guest host on Death, Sex & Money, Diane talks with police officer Robert Zink, who founded the St. Paul CARE (Cops Autism Response Education) Project and has two autistic boys of his own. "Officers may not read the cues of what the person is presenting," Officer Zink says. "Officers may view them as cues of, is it drug interaction? Is it a mental health issue? And read those cues wrong....And we go down one path and it gets worse and worse." He adds, "I never want to see something like that happen to my sons just because something they did was misinterpreted."
Diane also talks with Officer Zink about her worry that officers might make incorrect assumptions about her sons because they're black. "In the media most of the people that we see with autism are white. I don't think a lot of people are aware that there's a really large population of minority children and adults with autism," Diane says. "My fear is always that an officer sees a black man and they will immediately go to the idea of this being a person on drugs versus this being a person with disability."
Diane also talks with Maria Caldwell, whose son, Marcus Abrams, was injured during an confrontation with Metro Transit officers in St. Paul last year. Marcus is black and autistic, and was 17 at the time of the incident. Maria talks with Diane about how Officer Zink reached out to her family after Marcus landed in the hospital—and Officer Zink and Maria talk together about working to rebuild trust after it's been lost. "There's no expectation that trust is going to be gained in six weeks, six months, six years, or sixty years," Officer Zink says. "Even though you may not have it back right away, you still have to work to get that trust back."