Thursday, December 2, 2010

Excuse me, Mr. Officer.......

Good evening everyone,

I have to admit that I am becoming really addicted to Facebook. For the longest time, me and technology might as well have been the equivalent of oil and water. Yet these days, social media has not only become a godsend to many of us, but an essential. When I was in high school, to have access to American Online made you stand out in a good way. To have a beeper was considered more of a fashion statement than anything else, but imagine going out today and not having a cell phone or a Bluetooth. Or even an Ipod, for that matter. Yes, I know I still need to get one. For the longest time I drove a 2000 Ford Focus that still had a tape deck, for crying out loud. But there were some good perks-I got some pretty good mileage out of my "Footloose" soundtrack. And hey, I did make a killing at used record stores buying a great deal of cassettes for $4 each.

But more than anything, Facebook has given us a chance to connect with each other. I won't say it is a substitute for a phone call or a handwritten letter, but for members of the National Stuttering Association like myself, it's invaluable for us to share information and keep in touch throughout the year instead of sending 400+ emails in a month. I also look forward to seeing what people are up to. But sometimes you log on to Facebook and there is something that just catches your eye, and forces you to do a double-take. That happened a few days ago involving one of my good friends. This story is about a young woman named "Jasmime." Please note Jasmine is not her real name, it is used to protect her identity. Jasmine hails from West Virginia.

I met Jasmine at an NSA conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2009, and she is a person who stutters. Jasmine is very outgoing and enjoys a good time. She posted a conversation that took place with a police officer, and it really made me think about how the police officer conducted himself. Jasmine was apparently stopped by this officer very late on a Saturday morning. As most people would be, she began get a little apprehensive as the policeman approached. Jasmine started to stutter moderately and the officer assertively asked "Have you been drinking?" As she was getting flustered, and trying to explain that she had not been drinking, but she was stuttering, she turned to show the officer her "Stutter Like A Rock Star" bracelet, which was sold at the Cleveland conference. These pieces of apparel are the brainchild of a fellow NSA member who also has a well-followed blog, and who does a great deal of public speaking and advocates for people with disabilities. As Jasmine kept explaining, the officer had a look of suspicion, questioning whether she was being truthful or just trying to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. After a long while, the police officer let her go.

There are a couple of interesting angles to look at this situation from a person who stutters. Jasmine had every right to be angry, and most would be in that situation. The officer probably felt he was justified in doing this, because here is a young woman driving alone late at night. To have a sworn representative of the community, someone who is asked to uphold the laws act like this really could raise a few eyebrows. After all, isn't a police officer supposed to be respectful and tolerant of other people's disabilities?Many police departments when new recruits are getting ready to start their jobs, require "sensitivity training" to be aware of potential problems that might come across. Dealing with people of different faiths, or those who have life-threatening medical conditions, can be demanding at the very least. Which brings the question, why isn't stuttering in there? After all, stuttering is a very unique thing for many people. It isn't something that is dealt with on an everyday basis, unless you are one of the many who do.

Now for the record, I need to say that I am not anti-law enforcement in any way. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, we need to always remember when others ran away, police ran toward. I wear my New York Yankees hat not because I am a fan, but also because the "interlocking NY" represents the police and other agencies who answered the call when the Twin Towers fell that day. It only takes one negative experience to be remembered.In retrospect, the officer may have very well come across rude and insensitive. I believe he did. If anything, those who protect our community should be held to a higher standard in terms of their behavior. As a chapter leader for the National Stuttering Association, I always am visible and I have to hold myself accountable for what I say and do. If I don't, then maybe no one else will. There is nothing I enjoy most in the world, and I don't want to be some elected official who is caught doing something he or she shouldn't have, and then have to be red-faced and apologize.

Regardless of what happens, I am sure Jasmine learned a valuable lesson that I remember every day: There are no off days when it comes to advocating for yourself, and educating others. There is more work to be done. My name is Steven Kaufman and I am a person who stutters. Until next time, stand up and be counted. Make your voice heard.


Manohar said...

with the risk of sounding ignorant, that's relatively a trivial incident which would have happened umpteen number of times in the oriental countries. however, it is very heartening to see people stand up for themselves, and for the right reasons. "there's work to be done".

Anonymous said...

I can feel for your friend 'Jasmine'. An incident that came to mind when reading your post was of a friend of mine who was injured in a hunting accident. Jeff lost functioning in his left arm from the elbow down, although he retained the limb itself. While at a local restaurant and pub a local police officer asked Jeff to step outside because he felt Jeff was being "too rowdy". Jeff stepped outside with the officer and was discussing why he felt the incident was unfair. The officer demanded that Jeff "put his hands behind his back" in order to arrest him. Jeff tried explaining to the officer that it was impossible due to his disability, but the officer ignored his protests. The officer than proceeded to use his Taser against Jeff. The video of the incident was posted by one of Jeff's friends on YouTube, and thankfully eventually led to the suspension of the officer.

We must all Fight against Injustice in this world. No matter the severity.