Sister shares story about police profiling and beating her autistic brother

by Leroy Moore

Since the ‘80s, I’ve been protesting police brutality and advocating for the victims with disabilities; however, today is totally different. I’m used to reading about and advocating for adults with disabilities, but today our Black and Brown youth with disabilities are increasingly targeted for police brutality and incarceration.

Everybody cares about kids, so when will disabled and Black community activists focus more on stopping state violence against youth with disabilities and providing programs after the tragedy? As we come up to 2016, there are more and more headlines about Black and Brown youth and young adults with disabilities brutalized by police and school resource officers:

Marcus Abrams, 17, was attacked when police found him and a couple of friends on the Metro Transit tracks. Abrams, who has autism, says police slammed him to the ground, causing him to suffer a seizure. He was not charged with a crime. – Photo: Adrienne Broaddus, KARE
Marcus Abrams, 17, was attacked when police found him and a couple of friends on the Metro Transit tracks. Abrams, who has autism, says police slammed him to the ground, causing him to suffer a seizure. He was not charged with a crime. – Photo: Adrienne Broaddus, KARE

We see little or no reaction from mainstream movements. And as we look back to the Million Man March, we must call for our Black and Brown community media, movements, political leaders and organizations to do the right thing in our names and fight for justice for disabled youth.

My new poem deals with two Black autistic young men in the Bronx who were abused by cops recently and my upcoming book, “Black Kripple Delivers Poetry and Lyrics,” will have a chapter about police brutality against people with disabilities. It will be published by Poetic Matrix Press and should be out in December 2015.

I interviewed Neenah Gemini Caldwell of St. Paul, Minn., about her autistic brother being profiled and beaten by cops. She put up a crowdfunding page at https://www.gofundme.com/justicemarcusA, where she wrote:

“On Aug. 31, 2015, my brother, Marcus Abrams, was brutally attacked by the Metro Transit police. He suffered two seizures, a busted lip and blacked out for 15 minutes. First I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support and things you have done for my family. Secondly, we have been told that the video is ‘still under investigation, due to civil legal pending actions.’ The cost of the video is $500, so with that being said my family and I would like to ask if you can donate anything so that we could get this video.’”

The appeal was successful, raising $615.

Leroy Moore: Neenah, tell us first about your brother, Marcus Abrams, a Black teen with a visual impairment and autism. Then we will get into what happened on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015.

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: My brother is just like any other teen except he just needs an extra push. He is very outgoing, loves video games, his family and especially his nephew.

Leroy Moore: I’m also Black and have a physical disability and have been profiled by cops. Reading what happened to your brother, it looks like he was profiled by police at first and that led to another situation. Can you tell us what happened to your brother on that day?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: He was stopped I guess because he was playing on the Metro Transit tracks and because he didn’t have any identification. That’s when things went downhill. My mother, Maria Caldwell, spoke to KARE TV and this is how they reported what happened:

“Caldwell said her 17-year-old son, Marcus Abrams, was standing on the train tracks moments before police approached him. When they approached, the teen said he was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear everything police said. The teen said he and two other friends were traveling home after working at the Minnesota State Fair.

“The teen said officers accused him of being intoxicated or using drugs.

Marcus was left with a cut lip and swollen jaw after what his family says was unjustifiably rough treatment by Metro Transit police Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, after Abrams was spotted on the light-rail tracks near Lexington Parkway Station in St. Paul. – Photo: Neenah Caldwell
Marcus was left with a cut lip and swollen jaw after what his family says was unjustifiably rough treatment by Metro Transit police Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, after Abrams was spotted on the light-rail tracks near Lexington Parkway Station in St. Paul. – Photo: Neenah Caldwell

“’One grabbed my arm and the other one grabbed my wrist and I told them to get off me – I did nothing wrong,’ Abrams said. ‘They just slammed me right on the ground. I tried to get them off me and (one officer had his) whole body on my whole face and I couldn’t breathe.’”

That may have triggered his seizure.

Leroy Moore: I’ve heard over and over from advocates that police need more training. Do you think that what happened to your brother goes deeper than training? If so, what do you want to see come out of this?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: I want the police who did this to my brother to have their badges removed. They could have taken different routes to resolve this matter.

Leroy Moore: This has been the third case that I know of where abuse by cops of a Black disabled teen led to having seizures. Beyond training, what can the community request – some kind of medical component when police are called or something?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: They can get actual physical training on handling disabled adults. If they’d had the proper training, none of this would’ve occurred. Why couldn’t they have simply asked his two friends questions?

Leroy Moore: Have you gotten support from the disabled Black community and activists and groups fighting police brutality?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: Yes, and my family and I thank everyone for their support.

Leroy Moore: In one article, Maria Caldwell, Marcus’ mother, was quoted saying, “Autism is not a crime!” Do you think it is up to our Black and disabled communities to not only focus on how the police must change but how our communities and movements need to change and support the work of Black disabled activists on police brutality and other issues?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: I feel that police officers just need to understand not everyone is perfect. There are people out here who have disabilities and can’t do everything the normal person does. They need an extra boost.

Leroy Moore: Do you think that there need to be more programs for Black disabled youth and teens like mentor programs so they can see themselves, their culture – i.e., Black and disability culture in the community? Do you think that would help the hush hush around disability and build a sense of pride in Black disabled youth and young adults?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: Yes, I feel they should have more activities for the disabled to do.

Leroy Moore: How are Marcus’ two friends who were with him holding up after what happened?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: His two friends are still kinda depressed about the situation. They stuck by my brother’s side through this hard time.

Leroy Moore: After all of this, what do you see as justice for your brother and for other Black disabled young adults?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: I just want things like this to stop happening, not only to my brother but everyone. There should be no reason that a police officer should brutally attack anyone.

Leroy Moore: Have you gotten support from Black Lives Matter and other police brutality groups? If so, do you think they would benefit from disability training or more Black disability activists?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: Yes, I think they would benefit from both. If we had more disability training, then we can have others out here helping and directing people to learn what they need to know to be helpful.

Leroy Moore: How can other activists help to get justice for your brother?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: Just continue doing what they have been, which is reaching out to us, sharing the pictures and connecting us to people.

Leroy Moore: Any more that you’d like to add?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: I want to thank each and every person who’s been inboxing, calling and texting us.

Leroy Moore: How can the public stay in contract with you and your brother?

Neenah Gemini Caldwell: Facebook – look for my name.

Krip-Hop Nation founder Leroy F. Moore Jr. can be reached at Kriphopnation@gmail.com.