Two years ago today Ethan Saylor went to a movie. He went to see “Zero Dark Thirty.” Ethan didn’t make it home. Ethan died that night at the hands of local off-duty Sheriff’s deputies working as security officers. Ethan was 26. Ethan had Down syndrome. Unless you are part of the Down syndrome community, you probably missed this story. Unlike some recent events, the national press really didn’t pick up this story. Led by Ethan’s sister, the primary outcry for justice has been the Down syndrome community. You can read a summary of Ethan’s Story here. In a nutshell, Ethan wanted to see the movie a second time. He didn’t have the money. His support person was trying to diffuse the situation and even warned officials not to touch him as he would become agitated. He was taken to the ground and had a “medical emergency.” He was pronounced dead at the emergency room. The medical examiner ruled this a “homicide”, a grand jury did not indict.
I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with Ethan’s mom Patti Saylor. Patti never planned to become the face of training police personnel. Patti Saylor has been a picture of courage, strength and dignity through this entire ordeal. She has managed to be kind even when the Sheriff’s brother wrote an editorial stating that perhaps she should have kept him home. He also stated that she had no idea how hard this had been on the off-duty deputies. Think about that statement for about a minute before you move on.
I asked Patti what message she would have me give. She said:“The call to action at this time is to never forget what happened to Ethan! Keeping his story alive and in the minds of people local and everywhere. We will be introducing legislation in a few weeks calling for mandatory training for current law enforcement and establishment of the Ethan Saylor Self Advocacy Institute.“
In spite of this appalling situation and some of what we see in the media, I believe that most law enforcement officials are good people. They are public servants who are underpaid and overworked. I HAVE to believe that what we are seeing in the media are the exceptions and not the rule. I also believe we have peaceful ways of protesting and hopefully making change but sometimes people don’t believe that and employ unfortunate methods to protest. I applaud Patti Saylor and her family because they have committed themselves to helping establish training for law enforcement officials. Nationwide it is my hope that we will see law enforcement officials, first responders, educators and other such individuals receive appropriate training. It will not solve all problems but it will help. I threw in educators because we in the disability community know that we are still working to rid our schools of outdated seclusion and restraint tactics that create abuse, humiliation and even the death of students in the public school.
So today I join many, many other people in praying for Patti and the Saylor family. Let us not forget Ethan. May we in this United States of America show the Saylor family and millions with disabilities that we do respect individuals with disabilities and implement appropriate training and instruction so there will never be another Ethan.
My Rachel loves to go to movies. She wants to go to movies with her friends – “without any parents.” As we discuss this option, I have to tell you I often think of Ethan. It is extremely difficult for me to imagine this happening to Rachel in our community. But Patti Saylor never imagined that her son would not come home from the movies either. #JusticeForEthan