We’ve opened up a new front on the war on terror. It’s an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it’s a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested — even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.
As the parent of a soon-to-be-adult son with autism, the words I’ve highlighted in Schneier’s quote above seemed to jump out at me. All of them apply to my son, and I’m sure to many – if not all – autistic children and adults. This article came back to my mind as I read Kristina’s post Arrested: The Charge? Bad Behavior, in which she describes the arrest of a 13 year old autistic boy and a 19 year old man with fetal alcohol syndrome. This is, of course, not the first such incident to have happened, only the most recent that I’ve become aware of.
There is a legitimate issue concerning what consideration, if any, should be given to a person’s autism diagnosis with respect to criminal activity. (See, for example, the case of Gary McKinnon.) But all too often people with autism are approached, and often apprehended, by law enforcement personnel simply because they are “acting weird” and making bystanders “uncomfortable”.
In his article, Schneier has two recommendations to stop this war on the unexpected.
We need to do two things. The first is to stop urging people to report their fears. People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they’re spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.
Equally important, politicians need to stop praising and promoting the officers who get it wrong. And everyone needs to stop castigating, and prosecuting, the victims just because they embarrassed the police by their innocence.
More awareness by the public at large, and law enforcement specifically, about autism and autistics is key to at least remove autism and autistics from the category of “unexpected”.