Public lacks disabilities awareness

Rich Robinson

Most people have probably never heard the name Ethan Saylor. That’s not surprising. He was just another 26-year-old guy from Maryland. But here’s why we should all never forget the name of Ethan Saylor. You see, Ethan was killed by police officers for no reason back in January. And nobody has been held accountable for his death.

Ethan loved going to the movies like most 20-somethings. So obviously he wanted to watch the flavor of the month – Zero Dark Thirty – and seemed to enjoy it. He liked it so much that he refused to leave the theater because he wanted to watch the movie again. Obviously, he did not buy another ticket. Should he have done this? No, but it does not even come close to excusing what comes next.

Pause for a second. So far, Ethan’s actions don’t sound like something to defend or protect. You’d be right in most cases. Except, here’s the rub that makes life complicated: Ethan had Down syndrome, which the Mayo clinic describes as, “a genetic disorder that causes lifelong mental retardation, developmental delays and other problems.” He was also a big guy, some 294 pounds, but was one of the sweetest people around according to family and friends. He also loved police officers and was fascinated with cop shows, so much so that he once called 911 innocently just to ask them about their work.

Play. The Washington Post reported that when Ethan refused to leave the theater, an employee called three off-duty cops working a security job at a nearby mall.

What happened next is a little murky. But at its worst, Ethan allegedly cursed at and kicked the plain clothed men. This was enough to sign Ethan’s death warrant. He had three handcuffs placed on him and was moved out of the theater. At some point, again not clear how or when, Ethan ended up on the ground, in serious pain.

He cried out for his mother as his life was ripped from him.

“Ouch Mom, that hurts, don’t touch me, get off!” he said.

Then he died of asphyxiation. The cartilage in his throat was fractured, and he had bruises and abrasions all over his face and body. The cause of death was homicide. Fractured cartilage is not a normal injury in a case like this.

“It can be seen in a manual strangulation,” said John Hunsaker, a forensic pathologist, in an interview with another media outlet. “But in and of itself, one would be difficult to diagnose without more information. And it can occur as a result of a direct blow.”

All for $12.

This story hit way too close to home for me. My brother Heath is autistic and is also a big guy. I have been in movie theaters with him when he starts to laugh a little too loud or asks me to leave. I’ve seen him dart towards his favorite exhibit in museums and held my breath as he barely missed smashing into an elderly woman. Those are rare moments and can usually be avoided with proper preparation, much as it was probably true with Ethan.

But no matter how prepared a family member or caretaker is, something bad can always happen. That is the nature of disability. It is a challenge that frays every aspect of life and requires great patience and forbearance from all members of society. While people with disabilities can be a challenge to deal with in a heightened environment, the burden should be on the police to make sure they know how to address the situation. Ethan thought highly of police officers and deserved better from them.

Rich Robinson is a junior majoring in telecommunication and film. His column runs on Tuesdays.