Meet another group of police officers who need to learn the difference between a white cane and a weapon. This happened last year in Winnipeg, but I finally got around to writing it down.
It seems that Steven Stairs was walking from a bar to a payphone, and he had the misfortune of being in the same area where they were looking for a man with a concealed weapon. He had an ID cane on his hip, and they thought it was a weapon. They asked him to stop, but being legally blind, he didn’t know they were talking to him, so kept moving, and that’s when they tackled him. They say he was drunk and disorderly. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know, but I would at least be disorderly if I was suddenly tackled by a bunch of unknown folks for doing absolutely nothing. Come on, wouldn’t you?
The “dangerous weapon” in question, if his ID cane looks like any other ID cane I’ve ever seen, was one of these. You can’t even use these things as a proper cane to tap obstacles, because you’ll probably break it. I’m sure if you really tried you might be able to bruise someone with one of these, but that’s if you’re really trying, and if they stood there long enough to let you.
In my googling to figure out if Stairs has followed up on his legal action he wanted to take against the police, I found out that this happened to another guy way back in 1989. This time, some police officers in California mistook the guy’s folded cane for a set of nunchakus. Ok, cops, let’s sit down and do a little comparison.
The officers thought because his eyes were open and he seemed to be looking at them, he wasn’t blind, even though his eyes were milky in colour. Ok, while we’re at it, watch this here video.
I wish I could find the old CNIB “not everyone who looks blind is totally blind” commercial, but it has been lost to history. Anyway, are we good now?
I know that sometimes police have to make split-second decisions and they think they see something that turns out to be not what they thought it was, but some of this stuff feels completely unnecessary. In all of these cases, people were walking, using a payphone and standing at a bus stop. None of them were running, lunging aggressively, or doing anything that would make the officer feel threatened, judging from the descriptions. In the case of the bus stop guy, why assume he can see your uniform. Identify yourself as police, and ask a couple of questions to make him realize you’re talking to him, and you’d soon find out that’s a cane, feel foolish and walk away, without needing to clonk the guy with your baton. In the case of the pay phone guy, say something specific like “Sir, this is the police, put down the phone.” to make him realize “gees, that’s for me and I should listen up,” and you could have likely been able to have a conversation. If I hear someone yelling “Stop!”, I’m not going to assume that’s for me unless you’re super close to me, and heck, I might want to get out of there faster in case some shit’s going to go down that I don’t want to witness in an up close and personal way. But I’m not running away because I’m evading you, I didn’t realize you were yelling for me.
I’m pretty sure police get some kind of awareness training to do with disabilities, but I’m starting to think it should be refreshed like CPR training so maybe a few less of us get our heads caved in unnecessarily.