June 20, 2013

I have been closely following the tragic case of Robert Ethan Saylor and was moved by his sister’s June 16 Local Opinions commentary, “We need answers in my brother’s death.” I am an educator with more than 30 years of experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. I came into this field almost by accident, at a time when most people with such disabilities lived in institutions that too often engaged in abusive and neglectful practices. I was appalled to discover that, in the 1980s, human beings could be treated in such a manner.

We have come so far in the ensuing decades. People with intellectual disabilities attend neighborhood schools, work and play alongside non-disabled peers and often have a voice in managing their own lives. Rather than being shut away, they are recognized as cherished members of their communities.

Mr. Saylor’s case, however, is a sad reminder that we still have far to go. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, and yet it appears that the official response was to connect it to a heart condition that Mr. Saylor’s family disputes.

Why were police summoned in the first place? Why was Mr. Saylor restrained in a face-down position? What training, if any, were the police given on non-confrontational strategies when dealing with people with cognitive disabilities?

This case should be reopened. To do less is to deny justice not only to Mr. Saylor and his family but to all individuals with intellectual disabilities.

W. Luther Jett, Washington Grove

After reading Emma Saylor’s commentary regarding the senseless death of her brother, my reaction was the same as when I first heard of the incident: Where is the outrage? How can anyone not recognize the injustice committed against this family? A young man whose disability was evident did not want to exit a movie theater, so he was forcibly restrained in such a manner that he suffocated.

I am disgusted that this incident has not gotten more attention. As the sister of a sibling with Down syndrome, I know exactly what Ms. Saylor meant when she lamented that she would never again experience the type of exceptional, loving hug that only a very special sibling can provide.

Kate Splendore, Reston