A young man with autism and schizophrenia, yet able to live in his own apartment, had a harrowing trip to a Whole Foods Market in Dallas.
After customers complained that he was “behaving oddly,” police were called to the store. Apparently, the young man was running in the aisles and not staying in the store proper. Confronted in an “Employee Only” area and told to leave or he’ll be arrested, 28-year-old Blake Wimberly refused, stating that he needed to call his mother. He also told the officers he was autistic, displaying his medical alert bracelet. Officers nonetheless arrested him for criminal trespass and took him to jail, an action that was totally at their discretion. His mother was in the shower when the police station called and no one answered when she returned their call. Blake was in custody for twelve hours.
Even before this episode Blake suffered from a paranoid fear of the police, which was at times crippling. Now one wonders if it wasn’t a premonition.
What, pray tell, is the use of a medical alert bracelet if it’s only going to be ignored? Why instruct people with disabilities to disclose their condition to officers if the information is treated with indifference? Clearly, the officers should’ve let the docile young man call his mother, who would’ve come to the store and taken him home. Oddly, Blakely is a former employee of that store. Was there no one working who knew and remembered him who could speak on his behalf?
Blakely’s mom is planning to sue the police over the incident and rightfully so. Her son’s fragile mental health was seriously eroded by the trauma of his arrest. He maintains he was treated badly at the station and there’s every reason to believe him.
It seems as if nary a day goes by without some fresh news of the colliding worlds of law enforcement and autism. It’s regrettable when the officers don’t know the person they’re dealing with has autism.
It’s inexcusable when they do.