by Amy Sequenzia
Reginald “Neli” Latson was an 18 year-old Autistic high school student, a good student, a wrestler, when he was arrested while waiting for the library he often visited to open.
Neli was, as teen fashion dictates, wearing a hoodie.
He is black, and as bigotry, discrimination and ignorance dictate, he was profiled and reported as a criminal, “possibly carrying a gun”.
He did not “comply” with the officer who approached him, already with baseless suspicion, since there was no gun. An altercation sent Neli to jail, trial and prison. He served his time, and was released.
Before I continue, think about this:
A student excelling in school goes to the library.
He is wearing the preferred teen outfit.
The library is closed, which might have caused his Autistic brain to get a little overwhelmed with the unexpected change.
Because he is black, he is approached with suspicion by an officer.
He knows he did not do anything wrong, so he walks away.
Approached again by a possibly impatient officer might have increased the sense of overwhelm.
In the end, Neli served time in prison for being profiled (black young man wearing a hoodie), and for being Autistic (his reactions not understood).
But he did go to prison, and was punished for not being who others wanted him to be: compliant and silent when facing injustice.
Neli was sent to a group home but the damage was done. He was now a “troubled youth” and probably regarded as someone who should not ever again stand up for his rights.
He “got into trouble” again and had a hard time in jail. He fought with a guard and has been in solitary confinement for one year (solitary confinement is torture, according to laws and according to common sense).
All because Neli is Autistic, without supports to cope with a very stressful situation.
Neli’s family says he also has an intellectual disability, and low IQ. The Virginia Attorney General says “he is ‘retarded’ when convenient”. The Virginia governor refuses to apply Virginia’s agreement with the US DOJ:
In the settlement, VA agree to:
Provide case management services, including having behavior management plans in place.
Providing access to necessary “medical, social, education, transportation, housing, nutritional, therapeutic, behavioral, psychiatric, nursing, personal care, respite, and other services”.
Provide crisis teams “adequately trained to address the crisis “.
Provide crisis intervention responders trained to respond to law enforcement “if the individual with DD/ID comes into contact with law enforcement,”.
Provide crisis services focused on “preventing the removal of the individual from his or her current placement whenever practicable.”
Neli was, before his first unjust arrest, exercising self-determination. His right to expression, wearing the clothes he wanted, was questioned; his right to sit in front of a public library was questioned; his right to not be searched without cause might have been violated; his right to not answer questions was violated. These are his rights, they were violated, and whatever happened after that was because he did not fit the expectations of a majority.
I don’t know if Neli was wrongful arrested the second time, violating his parole. I am not trying to paint him as perfect and flawless. But it is more than likely that his whole prospect of a future changed once he was erroneously arrested the first time. It is likely that his view of the law and the justice system was shattered and mistrust guided his reactions. He should have received services and supports, whether Mr. Attorney General Mark Herring believes his disability is simply a “convenience” or not.
If the jail cannot deal with his needs in a regular cell, therefore throwing him in solitary, a room with a hole on the ground as a toilet, he shouldn’t be there. If he fought the guard, he was either provoked or he was in greater distress – caused by solitary confinement (he was also, for some time, deprived of his medication)
Governor McAuliffe is refusing to take action, hiding behind “procedure”, while the AG seems to be in a vendetta mode, unwavering and unmoved.
Organizations like Autism Speaks are using Neli for its own agenda, blaming him for his troubles, since he was not compliant as ABA requires.
The NAACP and ACLU don’t really care about a disabled young man and have not said a word.
That leaves us, his community of Autistics and the ones who fight for social just alongside us, to demand a better treatment for Neli. A humane treatment. A just treatment.
Neli was a good student with a future.
He is also black and Autistic.
The second statement makes all the difference and if you have a child who is Neurodivergent, if you are Neurodivergent, if you have friends or loves someone who is Neurodivergent, if you believe racial profiling is wrong, you should be outraged and very worried.
At least half of this country is angry about our practice of torturing alleged terrorists (I wonder why the other half isn’t). Why isn’t the whole country screaming against the despicable practice of putting disabled youth – mostly black – in solitary confinement? This torturous situation will not help Neli, it will not “teach” him or reform him. Being deprived of human contact, except for his punishers, will increase the mental stress he already experiences (Neli is also being denied radio or TV, so he does not even hear human voices)
Neli needs supports, which are nowhere near a solitary small room with a whole on the ground – and nothing else.
Please, join us.
Follow the link and in 5 minutes or less you will take action to end the 4 years of suffering Neli has endured.
Then join us on Twitter, search the hashtag #FreeNeli