Autistic Lives Matter: The Inexcusable Erasure Of Arnaldo Rios

On July 18, 2016, there was a shooting in North Miami. At the scene, there was a behavioral therapist and an Autistic man a few blocks away from a group home. The behavioral therapist was shot by a police officer. The Autistic man was playing with a toy truck.

The behavioral therapist's name is Charles Kinsey. He was an unarmed black man who was shot. There was an uproar. We knew his name, his employer, his story. We know who Charles Kinsey is.

The police said they wanted to protect Charles Kinsey from the Autistic man. They meant to "shoot the autistic guy."

I wonder what "the Autistic man" is feeling and thinking. The media would not name him. They did not tell his story. They told us how courageous and special and heroic Charles Kinsey is for caring for this man. I definitely agree that it takes a very kind and patient heart to care for people on the autism spectrum, but they still didn't even tell us anything about the Autistic man. He wasn't human.

Five full days later, and we just found out the Autistic man's name.

The statements and stories over the past five days incorrectly stated his name, his age, his race, and who he was. We erased him. He is not 23-year-old Rinaldo. He is not the white boy my friends on Facebook said might have been a danger to Charles Kinsey. He wasn't human. He was portrayed as a prop to show us Charles Kinsey's innocence.

He is 26-year-old Arnaldo Rios. He is Autistic. He is Hispanic. He has passions and interests and hobbies just like everybody else. He is not a boy; he is a man. We falsely infantilize when we refer to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities - a man in his mid-twenties is not a "kid" or a "boy."

Arnaldo Rios may not have gotten shot on July 18, but he was a victim. Someone thought he was violent. Holding a gun. A threat to someone he had a relationship with.

Too often is it that Autistic people are targets of violence. May we not forget Kayden Clarke, or many other victims of police brutality that are Autistic, and were targeted because of their Autistic behaviors, such as having a meltdown or playing with a favorite toy truck in adulthood.

I carry around a card in my wallet that states I am Autistic and that I might be nervous or scared in an interaction with police. People with disabilities are far more likely to encounter police brutality than nondisabled peers. Police forces are being trained to cooperate with people with developmental disabilities. We need more of efforts like the wallet card to train police forces and people with disabilities side-by-side as equal partners in interactions.

But in this day and age, what if my voice is ignored? What if I reach for my wallet card to further explain? Will they deem me a threat to others for trying to protect myself, or for minding my own business? Will they hurt me? Or at least, intend to?

Would they erase my voice and my name like they did for Arnaldo Rios?

Would they forget that #IAmHuman? Would they forget all of my Autistic brothers and sisters, young and old, of different races and backgrounds? Would they forget their humanities, too?

I despise that I have to scream that #IAmHuman and #ActuallyAutistic. I hope Arnaldo Rios knows that he is human, and he deserves justice, and to be treated as a human with rights. His name is Arnaldo Rios, he was a victim, he was a person just as much as Charles Kinsey is a person, and he is Autistic. I could be Arnaldo Rios. So could any of the 1 in 68 Autistic people in this country. And that is terrifying.

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