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About five years ago I worked in a group home with ten developmentally disabled adults. That kind of human services field requires some training, because without meaning to, people, human beings, who often can’t care for themselves, can be accidentally killed by the staff.
The folks I worked with all had, and this is the technical term, profound mental retardation. It took different forms in different people, and some of the people I worked with had behaviors. So each resident had an individualized behavioral support plan. Something along the lines of “If they do this behavior X, you should do Y.” And the responses to a behavior always started with the least invasive and worked towards the most invasive.
We went through a training called SCIP, Strategies in Crisis Intervention and Prevention, which was mandated by the State of New York. It was a week long training, some of it in a classroom, and some of it in a room with mats on the floor. Put simply, SCIP teaches you how to take somebody down, when necessary, without killing them. It’s very easy to accidentally kill a person with developmental disabilities without meaning to. (In fact, the SCIP that I took was SCIP-R, R for revised, because it was modified based on the potential for accidental strangulation.)
The most simple thing was the one-person escort, where you guide someone out of a room. The final and most invasive thing was a full body wrap when you end up with your arms around a person, basically spooning them on the floor (thus, the mats). This is necessary because sometimes a resident could potentially be a danger to themselves or others.
In my personal experience, other than training, I never had to do anything like that. I never went further than the one-person escort. Why? Because most of SCIP was focused on the non-physical aspects. We were taught how to de-escalate a situation. Every situation is different, but I would have considered it a failure on my part if I ever had to SCIP (we used it as a verb) any of my guys. I wouldn’t have let it get that far.
And so we come to the killing of Eric Garner. I watched the video of this and it really bothered me. I realize that a police situation is different from a group home, but I also realize that not every police situation is the North Hollywood Shootout. That situation didn’t need to get physical.
If I done that in the group home to a resident, taken a person down like that, and put them in a choke hold, I would be in jail right now. Rightly so. The difference is that I was working in a culture where getting physical was the last resort. The NYPD is clearly a culture where non-compliance seems to be immediately met with physical violence. A week or two later, NYPD cops put a pregnant lady in a choke hold for cooking on the sidewalk. And the cops know that even when there’s video that they can get away with it. The incentive structure favors the cops getting physical right away, because as any child knows (until someone tells them not to) it’s a lot quicker and easier to hit someone to get your message across than to talk to them.
Maybe they couldn’t have talked Eric Garner down, but he was pleading with the cops before they wrestled him to the ground and choked him to death. He didn’t have a gun. He didn’t have a knife. He was just talking. It didn’t have to go down that way.