On Monday morning’s episode of UpFront, our hosts Cat Brooks and Brian Edwards Tiekert speak with Jacob Leibenluft, Senior Advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who informs us of the detail of the proposed GOP tax plan. Congressmember Jerry McNerney represents California’s 9th District, which includes parts of San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Sacramento Counties and Stockton, and speaks with us about the specifics of how the tax plan might shake out in his district.
During the second half of the show, local activist Leroy F. Moore, co-founder of Sins Invalid and creator of Krip Hop, speaks on the intersections between blackness and disability as a point of multiple marginalization and empowerment. Attorney Melvin Hall speak with us about the killing of Magdiel Sanchez, a deaf man in Oklahoma who was shot by the police. Talila Lewis, is an attorney-activist whose advocacy and research primarily focus on creating equal access to the justice system for individuals who are deaf. Talila speaks with Cat Brooks about the experience of disabled folks inside carceral facilties and the violence they encounter as a result of their specific position.
- Jacob Leibenluft, Senior Advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Representative Jerry McNerney is a Congressmember who represents California’s 9th District, which includes parts of San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Sacramento Counties and Stockton
- Leroy F. Moore, co-founder of Sins Invalid and creator of Krip Hop, speaks on the intersections between blackness and disability as a point of multiple marginalization and empowerment.
- Melvin Hall is an attorney in Oklahoma City
- Talila Lewis is the founder of HEARD, Helping to Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf, and an attorney who works with wrongly convicted deaf folks
Below is a transcription of the second hour of the show, featuring conversations with Leroy Moore and Talila Lewis.
Cat Brooks: I am Cat Brooks, and we are in another segment of Police, Prisons, and Power.
[Break for Music]
Cat Brooks: That is Building Steam by Jeanna Madrid. Almost half of all people killed by police are people with disabilities. Those are low estimates as we still do not accurately track the numbers of officer involved deaths. September was a particularly deadly month for Black and Brown disabled bodies, with six being killed in just one month; Antwon Spinger of Milwaukee, Miguel Richards of New York, Eric Alvarez of California, Magdiel Sanchez of Oklahoma, Eddie Russell Jr. of Illinois, Horatio Rice of Alabama. We took a deep dive into this issue. We first spoke with Leroy Moore. Leroy Moore is the founder of Krip-Hop Nation and co-founder of Sins Invalid. He is an activist, writer, poet, feminist and radio programmer.
Cat Brooks: What is the criminalization of folks with disabled bodies look like now?
Leroy Moore: Oh my God, with, with gentrification, you know you have the high policy of gentrification and you’re all you have in Berkeley, under Tom Bates, hes trying to pass the uhm no standing on sidewalks so people with disabilities you know would get stopped, you know if they are on the sidewalk. You know I get I get profiled a lot by Berkeley police on my bike just going to work or going to or anything. So uhm people with disabilities have a history of being pushed from the city. Under the ugly laws back in the 1920s. Under the ugly laws that started here in the Bay Area, man its like police and city have the power to uhm to just eliminate people with disabilities on the streets and could not be on the street if you had a disability.
Cat Brooks: And historically, like, families would hide folks with disabilities right, in Basements or attics. What about from the disability rights community itself. I’m guessing primarily white led… organizations?
Leroy Moore: You know at the time and they all they don’t talk about police brutality. Race, you know, you know racism is everywhere. You know, I think the disability community we haven’t really sat down and really look at their own racism. So I think that’s one reason why organizations like Sins Invalid is here, that’s why being involved the National Black Disability Coalition and that’s why there’s a national teenage disabled organization in action because the issue of race, racism is everywhere. And you know in the women’s movement, in the disability rights movement, gay lesbian transgender movement.
Cat Brooks: A lot of times when we hear about folks, and it’s primarily at least the stories that come to the surface right when they make the news as folks they deal with mental health issues that there’s this conversation about all we just need more training for law enforcement they just need better training and then stop doing this. Your thoughts on that.
Leroy Moore: Oh my god, this issue has gone back to at least ’89 when I first got involved with police brutality. In 89, 1989, the Memphis Model for people with mental health disabilities was uhm, set and since that time. were words you said you know and since that time you know we went over and over and over again. And so now today it’s even bigger. You know we see time and time again that this is not the answer.
Cat Brooks: What is the answer?
Leroy Moore: I think the answer is really taking this back to our community. I think really it is switching the question of what police need to what the community needs. You know, I mean can you imagine if we spent that money towards community training around people with disabilities. So a neighbor can call her neighbor and say OK my son is having you know a mental health crisis can come over and assist you know that’s a whole different way of thinking about how we provide response without calling the number of 911.
Cat Brooks: It seems to me that the conversation around intersectional-ness between race disability and police violence gets subdued some, unless we’re talking about mental health in particular. And I’ll bring this up even with you know so I do a lot of work around police violence and live it day in day out. But, were it not for your Facebook post, I would have had no idea that these black and brown disabled men were murdered in September. Why? Why is why is that phenomenon?
Leroy Moore: I think to be blunt it’s not sexy. You know I’ve been involved with Mothers Against Police Brutality back in New York I’ve been involved in October 22nd. I was involved with Van Jones when Van Jones was here in the Bay Area. So I’ve been involved with so many organizations around police brutality against people, and it’s time and time again they just don’t see the intersections of disability because, in the black and brown community, I have to say I don’t know the education is not there because of racism. Because those Institutions are controlled by white disabled people. And also because of our thinking about disabilities, you like you know it’s about overcoming. So
Cat Brooks: What do you mean by that, overcoming?
Leroy Moore: Overcoming, well it is what has been planted on us since late. You know it’s like OK you get healed from it. You gotta overcome it. You gotta do something to get that away. So with that mindset you’re never looking at disability as a social justice issue you’re looking at OK and it’s going to be over soon. So we can go past it.
Cat Brooks:There was an incident, I think it was last year, it might be two years ago outside the Twitter building. Yeah. Talk about that.
Leroy Moore: So Mousseau was paraplegic, he has one leg. What they, what mainstream media said, that Mousseau’s outside the Twitter building and he walked with crutches and his crutches were up in the air. And somebody from the Twitter building or a cafe called the police because they thought that Mousseau was going to be in danger of himself. He was trying to cross the street too. So 14 cops came..
Cat Brooks: 14!?
Leroy Moore: 14 cops 14 came and tried to catch. No they did a tackle on the ground. His pants was coming off. This journalist, caught it on video, so you can see the whole video of it. Its interesting, because it did not get the activists eye. You know, people. uhm activists go to know go to St. Louis, Ferguson, you know people went to Ferguson for uprising and that’s great and you know all party you are right here in San Francisco you know nobody really came out to action. We did actually plan something, an action. I think it like a month later we only have a handful of people show up.
Cat Brooks: Let’s talk about some of the men who were recently murdered that you brought my and you know your many Facebook followers attention to Antwon Springer, in Milwaukee.
Leroy Moore: Yeah, Yeah Antwon Springer was uhm blind. Yeah, yeah blind and he was coming to his front yard cause there was a fight in the community. So you know he he they said he had his car and he pointed the gun upward for just to stop the fighting. The police came, did not warn Antwon that they were there, you know hes blind, he cant see and people in the crowd were shouting he can’t see can’t see and three or four seconds later boom boom, dead.
Cat Brooks: He will stand on his porch trying to protect the community. And he went by the name Blind Mac. Moving on to Magdiel Sanchez who was deaf and this story broke my heart.
Leroy Moore: Yeah. if I get this right, he was deaf, and same thing it happened in his front yard. And uhm I don’t know the details but it happened in his front yard, and almost the same story a group of people were saying he’s deaf, hes deaf he can’t hear you. And the police are screaming orders, and then two seconds later, boom.
Cat Brooks: And he was dead. And that was particularly heartbreaking because it took place, it was a family. His neighbors were a family that came to rush to his aid. And so was a 12 year old girl watched her neighbor gunned down. In addition to outright murder by police what does it look like for a disabled person to be incarcerated?
Leroy Moore: Oh, God… It looks terrible. And you know prisons do not follow the ADA’s, cops do not follow the ADA,
Cat Brooks: and the ADA is the American Disabilities Act…
Leroy Moore: There is there’s this organization called AHEAD, and Talila Lewis, Talila Lewis, she deals with people that are deaf and in prison. She’s doing really kick-butt work. And in prison, you know in prison there has been a lot of prison death, with people that have health issues. You know people that need medicine. I was involved years ago with this Chicago case, this Puerto Rican police brutality activist died in prison, in that case, she had had asthma and other mental health disabilities and the prison refused to give her her medicine. And she died in prison the end because of that case the case was strong. And you know we said no we don’t want and so we want policy changes. So because in that case the whole Chicago prison system is going through quote un-quote reform and how they deal with disabilities.
Cat Brooks: You said quote unquote. Why you say quote unquote?
Leroy Moore: Because you can’t re-, you can’t reform an institution that’s out to get you, you know. It’s ridiculous. That’s why since ’89, that I’ve been involved with police brutality where I just laugh when I hear activists talking about reforming the police. Cause you can’t reform the people that are out to murder you.
Cat Brooks: So what does the movement need to do differently specifically?
Leroy Moore: Stop and listen and really take on disability justice, you know, go to Sins Invalid. Sins Invalid I have to tell you Sins Invalid outreached out to Black Lives Matter years ago and offered them a Disability Justice workshop and we haven’t seen anything that has come from it. Especially police brutality, just realize that the police will tell that 70 percent of the cases are people with disabilities. You’re not making that front and center. You have to really think about what you’re doing. Beyond the Ford Foundation grant you know beyond that hashtagging really say what are we doing here, You know if we’re not in solidarity in making it front and center around disability, disability justice, police brutality against people with disabilities, quote unquote reform policy. And finally there’s more and more black and brown disabled people that are saying you know training is not the issue. I’m so glad that finally people are saying that you know.
Cat Brooks: Leroy Moore, thank you so much for joining me this morning.
Leroy Moore: Thank you for having me.
Cat Brooks: It is 8:34 in the morning, you are listening to UpFront, I am Cat Brooks with another segment of Police, Prisons and Power.
[Break for Music]
Cat Brooks: Almost half of all people killed by police are people with disabilities and those are low estimates as we do not accurately track the number of officer involved deaths. September was a particularly deadly month for black and brown disabled folks, with six being killed in just one month. We wanted to take a look at this intersection and up next we speak with Talila Lewis. Talila Lewis is one of the only activist in the world working with deaf bodies and their engagement with Law Enforcement.
Cat Brooks: So I want to start with just a general conversation about the criminalization of people with disabilities in this country.
Talila Lewis: Goodness where do I begin. I think we have to start with an understanding of the criminal legal system as one that is particularly about the maintenance of control of bodies that are seen as other. And so often we understand that right now we’re living in an era of where, you know, blackness always has been weaponized. But what we have not necessarily uplifted and addressed in our struggles against carceral systems and institutionalization is not only are we living in an era where blackness has been weaponized but disability has been criminalized and poverty has also been demonized. Right, and we also have to understand that racism, ableism, and classism are now and always have been inextricably linked. And if we understand that, we come to our work– anti-violence work, prison abolition work, anti-poverty work, economic justice–from a lens of anti-racism anti-ableism anti classism that’s when we start to see the ground shaking beneath these systems that have perpetually oppressed all marginalized communities, and in particular multiply marginalized communities.
Cat Brooks: We’ll talk specifically about the ways in which the criminalization of disabled bodies plays out when we look at it through an intersectional lens of race and class and disability.
Talila Lewis: So, if you understand disability as a neuro-divergence which means you know our brains our bodies process information and understand information differently that our bodies move through the world differently. You understand and that difference and quote unquote other is what has been criminalized and so this is what makes it OK for our legislators to create laws and policies that make it OK to pick up whatever color bodies, that could be white bodies with disabilities maybe folks are talking to themselves. Maybe folks are being quote unquote atypical. Those are the bodies that are picked up and we have laws that allow the carceral state the police state to actually engage in this behavior it is legal. So it’s legal criminalization of disability and kind of with this idea of what I call racism ableism isn’t actually can never to separate the two words because they are so linked. What is interesting about it is that in the same way that race inspires fear. And folks who are the the power majority of folks who are you know in the minority disability inspires fear. So police officers actually you know have convinced themselves that because a person hasn’t complied and you know point zero seconds that they must be a threat of some sort. It can’t be that they might be deaf. It can’t be that they might process information differently. It can’t be that they might be in fear for their lives because of PTSD related to police violence that they’ve experienced in the past. Right. And so disability for me I use a much broader definition and I understand disability to be much more expansive than a lot of people. And if we understand disability as divergence from the quote unquote typical or the quote unquote norm don’t we understand that many people who are in marginalized communities whether it’s LGBTQIA communities whether it’s black and indigenous communities Latino communities due to trauma actually do experience the world differently and trauma is a cause and consequence of disability. And so the way we react to police officers is not going to be the way that a wealthy upper class individual might react to police officers. Right. And so these are some of the things that we’re seeing across the nation almost without exception.
Cat Brooks: A lot of times when we’re talking about police violence let’s say against black women or against black men against like bodies in general there’s a conversation about how the combination of fear based on stereotype. Right. And then this idea that law enforcement is about forcing compliance is part of what escalates the situation to way too often deaf. When I look at these numbers you know that roughly half of all people killed by police or those with disabilities and that’s probably a low number. Right. Because of the ways in which we don’t accurately track. Deaf by law enforcement. Would you call that a causality is what I’m saying that that is particularly if you’re talking about race so you walk into a situation where there’s a black or brown body in particular. Plus the disability factor and then the length of time that it would take them to become compliant with that be causation for these increased numbers do you think.
Talila Lewis: So I have to begin with affirming your intuition about the numbers. What we have found is that not only is the government not tracking these incidences of violence or murder of all folks whether they’re disabled not disabled white black or other. We found that volunteers across the nation and across the globe have had to take on taking on the accountability for tracking police violence right. So that’s problem number one. You know we’ve got you here in the United States we have all sorts of statistics statistics of numbers of you know chests that have fallen on small children and you know all of that is mandated by the government but somehow it’s not too important to track how many people are police officers murdering. Right. So that’s the first thing you’re right. And that that number is particularly low because a lot of disability and black and brown and indigenous communities and even in lower class low income cash poor white communities is not reported, is not diagnosed. And so that’s another issue. So I want to pin that, but going back to your question I think for me the causality is of in terms of the disability and race factor that we’re seeing the disproportionate numbers of black and indigenous and brown folks with disabilities who are being killed by police officers. I think the causality for me is is the history and the current climate of violence and militarization of our police departments. And it’s this idea of you know the cult of compliance comply comply comply or die. That’s the causality right and I find it so funny that people are often saying things like oh the police officer should have learned how to de-escalate the situation. And to me I say no. You know the situation was not escalated until the police arrived on the scene. Right. The police are the escalators and as such you know all of us need to really evaluate our language de-escalation training and critical interventions. Yes. All of that is something that was handed to us by the state to make us believe that these bodies that are lying in the street are somehow responsible for their own deaf. And so we really have to question that. And so yeah it’s fear of disabled folks doubled down by fear of different bodies color religious or even perceived religious bent or non-religious right all of the all of these things go hand in hand in terms of policing and power and authority and violence. But they’ve all always been a part of policing and the police state here in this stolen land.
Cat Brooks: You work specifically with deaf people and deaf people who aren’t incarcerated in what different ways are deaf people funneled in to incarceration systems. And then we’ll talk about what happens when they get there.
Talila Lewis: I so appreciate this question. So I’ve been working for about 10 years on wrongful conviction cases involving deaf, deaf, blind deaf, disabled and hard of hearing individuals in particular deaf individuals who use sign language and in any version of sign language are thousands of different languages. But for the sake of conversation we’ll say American Sign Language which is chiefly used here in the United States. There is cross-cultural miscommunication between police officers who will arrest a deaf person simply for signing simply for using their native language. It is perceived as belligerent as you know violent or as you know there’s all sorts of miscommunications that begin there. The next step of the process is once the dust individual has been carted into an interrogation room no interpreters are provided the vast majority of the time I don’t even have the statistics and I can comfortably say that vast majority of the time there are no accommodations provided to deaf or deaf blind or deaf disabled individuals who are brought into the police precincts or who are being interrogated anywhere else. That obviously leads to miscommunication in language and culture. For instance a deaf person who is who writes on a piece of paper “girl I hit didn’t I” is literally saying I didn’t get the girl sign that is me saying that to yourself. And again you say girl hit not me, right, in English. Obviously if a police officer already believes that you are a guilty party that is easily interpreted into a confession right. Now of course that paper gets passed to the defense attorney defense attorney says, Gosh why do my clients always confess, now you’ve got to take this guilty plea. Doesn’t bother also hiring an interpreter which is federal disability rights law it requires that police officers attorneys courts all hire whatever accommodation is required. That’s not happening across the board. Criminal defense attorneys are not even meeting with deaf clients in jail deaf folks don’t have video phones to communicate with counsel anyway. So whereas you and I because we are hearing privileged even if we had other disabilities we’d be able to pick up that phone and talk to our attorney say hey come meet me or learn I have one yes loved ones nothing and then that brings me to prison. Which was your next question you said what. In what ways does the prison setting affect deaf community members in ways that it might not affect hearing community members. And of course at the outset you and I both know that prison is horrific for anyone and I think we need to start with that as a baseline not just for anyone but anyone and their loved ones because the loved ones are incarcerated with their incarcerated community members. Contrary to popular belief. But what we’re finding across the nation is deaf people being in what I call virtual solitary confinement. There is no communication access for deaf incarcerated people and this has been going on since forever. This is not new. There is no there are no phones. There are no video phones. There is no there are no signing people when they’re signing people in prison. Our prisons try to separate them for fear of quote unquote they might escape or they might be able to talk and we won’t understand them.
Cat Brooks: Wait a minute. So they separate them from other deaf folks.
Talila Lewis: Correct.
Cat Brooks: I mean community building community is such an important part of survival tactics and techniques for people that are incarcerated.
Talila Lewis: That’s correct.
Cat Brooks: And the state intentionally implodes that.
Talila Lewis: That’s correct. So for instance in the federal prison system there are tens of deaf people and that’s the federal prison system and the D.C. prison system. And I have yet to see any deaf people who are actually housed together in the hundred twenty plus prisons in the federal prison system and there are more than enough deaf people there that they could be house together, right. The federal system has rules in terms of where folks could be housed but even our deaf incarcerated folks we have D.C. incarcerated folks who are as far as Arizona and the federal prison system. So if you’re not familiar with how the D.C. prison system works the DC no longer has their own prison. So as a result they’ve you know given all of their incarcerated folks to the federal prison system. These are the sorts of things we see deaf people being abused by prison officials and by other incarcerated folks we see them folks being sent to solitary without any sort of mental health evaluation. And allegedly they’re being sent to solitary quote unquote for their own protection. But of course if you know anything about solitary confinement you know that that is not healthy and it is quite the opposite of what you’d want to do with everyone. No one should be in solitary confinement. And yet in this nation we have between eighty thousand two hundred thousand people in solitary confinement daily most of whom are people with disabilities. And so the answer is that the carceral system actually holds disproportionately holds my community members, deaf and disabled people, disproportionately so than non-disabled people. So despite the fact that we disabled and deaf folks represent just 20 percent of the general population of the quote unquote United States, in carceral spaces we can represent anywhere between 40 to 100 percent of those represented in jails and prisons across this nation. And that’s what’s going on.
Cat Brooks: The next piece of this cycle is around recidivism rates and folks being funneled back into carceral systems. In what ways does that play out for deaf and disabled bodies that may be different for you know…
Talila Lewis: So what I’ve seen across the nation again a pattern and practice of denyin, outright denial, of pretrial services so intervention or diversion programming to deaf individuals in particular and disabled folks in general. So for instance what that looks like is a hearing person might be able to go immediately to rehabilitation services as opposed to going to jail or prison because these services tend not to be accessible. And no one wants to take accountability everyone point fingers or we don’t provide the interpreter. Bring your own interpreter which is obviously against federal disability rights laws or Oh well if you can’t bring your own interpreter you’re just going to have to come see us in court and we’ll figure out an appropriate quote unquote punishment for your addiction and we should be clear that addiction is a disability and it should be addressed as a public health issue and not criminalized. So and then in terms of probation parole I’ve been working for 10 years trying to support deaf individuals who come out of prison and are not provided interpreters for any of their meetings where they’re supposed to be learning about what rules they are to follow. Right. So you want folks to follow rules that they have no idea exist. I mean and this is as recent as I don’t know last week I’ve been working with a person in Georgia trying to just scramble and find any support that I can transition. Housing is not acceptable that particular individual I’m referencing was held over almost a whole year over their release time simply because no quote unquote transition housing was assessable not available. There was stuff available nothing was accessible. Right. All of my deaf folks who I believe were wrongfully convicted and those who were convicted of a crime that they say that they may have committed they can’t get out of prison because mandatory classes are not accessible.
Cat Brooks: So what do you mean by that, mandatory class?
Talila Lewis: So oftentimes prison system states will require that all folks who are convicted of X type of crime by quote unquote violent crime have to take anger management while rated or has to complete. If someone had maybe a manslaughter charge has to complete some sort of alcohol related support course in the prison system or immediately coming out or something to that nature because the prisons are not providing interpreters for any programming that means deaf folks can never complete that programming. And every time they come up for parole hearings they’re denied outright. And the justification for denial is that they haven’t taken classes that the state never made accessible to them for usually decades of them sitting in these prisons. Right. And so that’s what we’re looking at in terms of this cycle. And then of course because they haven’t had any programming any support any community contact they’re less able to thrive upon release. Because what we all know is that you know maintaining contact with community and loved ones while you’re incarcerated is how you succeed once you’re you know released from from the clutch of the system. But it’s impossible for our community members and that’s what’s going on.
Cat Brooks: Your bio says that you train law enforcement as an abolitionist when you walk into that space. What are you telling them needs to change?
Talila Lewis: I think 10 years ago as a young 20 year old I thought to myself gosh like if I just talked to these people about you know about about how horrible their being and about federal disability rights laws then about you know all of the things that we know shouldn’t be happening that maybe it’ll change and so I think at the outset I was having those kinds of conversations with these law enforcement and TSA and all these other folks and I feel like when I was having those conversations with these folks they were relatively receptive right. Those are the easy conversations for them. But more recently I’ve been investing more of my time in my community because I understand that the change happens within us. And when I do talk to law enforcement it’s folks who are ready to hear about and address white supremacy. And unfortunately they’re few and far between.
Cat Brooks: Right. So you’re talking to like two people.
Talila Lewis: And so those conversations are not often anymore. My conversations are more so decentralized within community organizations within universities. I talk to our youth I go to school for the deaf and spend time with our youth. And when I do find myself in spaces with law enforcement I have much more real conversations that aren’t necessarily received as well as those 10 years ago conversations that I would have with them right but that need to be stated and they need to be stated by people like myself in positions of power. But more so than people like myself who need to be stated by white people abled people and wealthy people in positions of power and those are the folks who should be on the ground working to dismantle the carceral system.
Cat Brooks: The question is often asked in these conversations you mentioned abolition earlier. The question is is often asked well if it’s not training then what is it?
Talila Lewis: Yeah people you know I always feel like I’m I’m the terrible messenger with them. I’m a lawyer right. So people naturally look to me and think you know there must be a law like let’s pass some more legislation. I have this conversation probably almost daily with folks who really believe that if we just pass another law, right? And if we just create a new policy if we just develop the training a bit more that we’ve we’ve tried all of that and it hasn’t worked unfortunately. And this is why we’re still losing our community members at alarming rate abolition. Even those who haven’t quite gotten their minds around it. It’s something that we have to dream of, right? Because abolition is is where our liberation lies. And that’s not just abolition of the police state and of course all spaces institutions and prisons but it’s abolition of education that seeks compliance only, right? We have to understand that our education systems are leading straight to our carceral systems the foster system lead directly into the prison system. And so we have to really dream beyond anything that we’ve ever seen. And I think that’s kind of part and parcel of abolition. How can we decrease violence in all of these settings such that we no longer need prisons, right? People often say well if we don’t have police and we don’t have prisons what happens when the person kills but violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum, right? Poverty forced poverty is violence and that leads to a lot of the behaviors that we now see are criminalized and we asked also have to understand crime as a social construct. And so all of this is much more complicated and nuanced and we do we need to complicate these conversations. Too often we see folks especially in positions of power who aren’t willing to dive into the gray area that we haven’t quite yet touched or seen. And that’s what I dream of us creating together.
Cat Brooks: That was the voice of Talila Lewis, one of the only advocates in the world for deaf people who are incarcerated. They are also the co-founder and volunteer director of Helping Educated to Advanced the Rights of Deaf Communities.