The Ruderman White Paper on Media Coverage of Law Enforcement Use of Force and Disability

by David M. Perry; Lawrence Carter-Long

Mar 1, 2016

Disability intersects with other factors such as race, class, gender, and sexuality, to magnify degrees of marginalization and increase the risk of violence. When the media ignores or mishandles a major factor, as we contend they generally do with disability, it becomes harder to effect change.

This white paper focuses on the three years of media coverage of police violence and disability since the death of a young man with Down syndrome, named Ethan Saylor, in January 2013. After reviewing media coverage of eight selected cases of police violence against individuals with disabilities, the paper reveals the following patterns in the overall data:

● Disability goes unmentioned or is listed as an attribute without context.

● An impairment is used to evoke pity or sympathy for the victim.

● A medical condition or "mental illness" is used to blame victims for their deaths.

● In rare instances, we have identified thoughtful examinations of disability from within its social context that reveal the intersecting forces that lead to dangerous use-of-force incidents. Such stories point the way to better models for policing in the future. We conclude by proposing best practices for reporting on disability and police violence.

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