I cried as I read the story of Reginald Latson in Ruth Marcus’s Nov. 16 op-ed column, “Cruel and unusual punishment for the autistic.” This tragedy began with a call to the police by a neighbor who deemed suspicious the sight of a black male wearing a hoodie waiting outside a library. What about this sight raised suspicion?
Was he wandering around the building in an apparent attempt to break in? Was he trying windows and doors? Was he trying to break a window? No. Apparently, a black male standing in front of a building in a hoodie is cause for suspicion.
Mr. Latson’s autism is characterized by rigid thinking and exaggerated fight or flight instincts. He attempted to flee when questioned by the police. He was placed in a choke hold and began to fight. Four years later, he’s incarcerated in solitary confinement — cruel and unusual punishment merely for being autistic.
As a black woman whose son, stepsons, nephews and friends’ children also wear hoodies and who wait in front of buildings, I also feel compelled to point out that one’s physical appearance should not be adequate cause for suspicion. We need to become a society ready to look beyond appearances to specific behavior.
What if the neighbor who made the ill-advised call had learned to look beyond a hoodie and a man’s skin color? The call might never have been made, and this person would instead have seen Mr. Latson peaceably enter the library when it opened. What if the dispatcher who responded to the call had asked more questions to determine whether Mr. Latson’s behavior or actions seemed suspicious? Perhaps the officers might never have been sent — and Mr. Latson would be spending his days at home.
Andrea Ewart, Lanham