To the Police, From the Dad of a Child With Autism (and a Cop)

Brothers and sisters, we are losing. We can argue about the reasons why; we can argue about the biased media, unreasonable expectations, poor self-promotion. But the brutal truth I’ve seen is many individuals with special needs and their families are afraid to call us when they need help. They are afraid we will hurt them. They are afraid we will judge them. They are afraid we will take their children away. That is both tragic and unacceptable to me, and I hope it is unacceptable to you, too.

This is difficult for me to say, but in all honesty I’m afraid, too. I am a high-ranking officer in my police department. I am in charge of training. I teach this stuff. And as a dad, I’m afraid, too. You — we — are granted immense power to affect the trajectory of people’s lives. That scares them — us.

We are family. I would bleed for you. I am calling in my chips and begging you to hear me out. You will meet our families at our lowest points. Understand the courage and sheer desperation that is required, given their utter fear, to pick up the phone and dial 911 during a crisis. You will be tempted to judge us — to “otherize” us. Please don’t. I am a good father. My wife is a wonderful mother. We enjoy the luxury of an incredible support structure. And if you were to judge me based on any of the four (yes, four) times I have lost my son, you could make a case that I am unfit.

Families like mine operate on high alert 24 hours per day. I have not sat and relaxed during a meal with my wife at a family picnic in 11 years. We take turns keeping watch over my son. We sleep in shifts. We sleep with one ear open for the sound of the chain latch on our back door — not because we are afraid of burglars coming in, but because we are afraid of our son breaking out. We are constantly aware of the ignorant stares and judgment of strangers. We have to carefully plan and coordinate even the shortest trips to the supermarket.

I’m not asking for your sympathy. This is not a tragedy. This is a challenge. And sometimes, our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need you.

I am your biggest fan. I am your loudest advocate. I am screaming from the rooftops that you are, without equivocation, the Good Guys. But it’s so fragile. One negative headline spreads like wildfire and can become the accepted perception. Open your hearts and minds, and learn about our families. Approach us with genuine curiosity and empathy. You have no idea how much we need you.

by Jerry Turning

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