Thursday, October 2, 2008

Parkinson's and the Police



Periodically, stories surface about Parkinson's symptoms arousing the suspicions of police, leading to harassment and humiliation for someone whose sole offense is being unable to be still or walk a straight line.

Such an incident occurred recently in Ashland, OH, where Bob Kendall went out for a late night walk. Officers stopped him, believing he was intoxicated, and then took issue with his constant moving. The episode ended with Mr. Kendall on the ground and handcuffed. He was released only when another officer recognized him and explained that he has Parkinson’s.

People with Parkinson’s (and everyone else) deserve to be treated with understanding and respect. Realistically, though, there will always be ignorant people and bullies in the world, and some of them will wear badges. So, what to do?

A Google search led me to Flex Your Rights, a not-for-profit whose mission is "teaching people to understand, appreciate, and assert their constitutional rights during police encounters." I asked Associate Director Scott Morgan if he had any advice for those of us whose movement disorders make us noticeable and vulnerable to police. He wrote:

There's nothing worse than being hassled due to a medical condition. I would hope that informing police of one's condition would usually diffuse most situations.

The gentleman was walking around late at night, which is fine, but may have contributed to the perception that he was intoxicated. Folks that are out and about after dark should be mindful of the potential for misunderstandings and be prepared to explain their situation if necessary in as calm a manner as possible.

It's easy to become frustrated with officers, but it doesn't help, even when it's totally justified. Police approach you with the assumption that you're a troublemaker and, unfortunately, it's up to the suspect to demonstrate otherwise.

If anyone is treated disrespectfully, I would recommend filing a complaint and publicizing any mistreatment that occurs. These types of incidents may help to educate police about dealing professionally with Parkinson's sufferers.


Given Scott's advice and Bob Kendall's experience, I plan to make up a Parkinson’s ID—a simple card that states my name, says I have Parkinson’s, and lists my contact person, physician, meds, and allergies. (I've found vistaprint.com to be a good source for cards.)

I'll keep a card or two in my wallet with my license and stash some by the driver's seat in my car. Then I can just hand an officer a card without speaking, a good thing because a) I might be too nervous to speak, and b) the less said the better, as you will see if you spend some time at Flex Your Rights. Check out their Street Stop Scenarios, as well as their video, which I found to be eye-opening. The examples in the video are mainly geared for young people, but the principles apply to all. Everyone should spend some time with these resources. Pass them on.

If I do have the misfortune to be mistreated by police, I'll turn to the internet to get the letters, calls, and e-mails flowing. Bob Kendall did, and police, city officials, and the local paper were flooded with letters and emails protesting his treatment. He performed a valuable public service and got a bit of his own back, too.

photo from dwightsghost on flickr.com

3 comments:

Kathleen said...

Here is where the comments go. This one is a placeholder.

Kay Mixson Jenkins said...

Bravo Bravo Kathleen. I have watched this story unfold and have been pushed to the point of no return.

All though I agree we need to let people know we have Parkinson's there is not much we can do if we are not allowed to show it. Such as it was for Bob, he carries the NPF I AM NOT INTOXICATED I HAVE PARKINSON'S card.

We have also been slander by someone who has PD, laying all the blame on Bob and claims to have contacted the chief of Police and the newspaper saying we needed to get our facts straight about what happen. How can someone who has this terrible disease attack another person that also has it.

I want everyone to know that I spoke to Bob shortly after this incident, taking notes his story has not changed.

I contacted their newspaper and was told they would need to get the police side before they could write the story. It was a month before the story ran and that was after Jodie (Bob's wife) and Rae Brown started this awesome email campaign.

It proves we may have a disabilty but we have a lot of fight left in us.

Thank You

Kathleen said...

To Kay:

Thanks for your comment! Yes, a card is only useful if it can be shown, and also it's important to be careful about reaching for it, lest someone should think you are going for a weapon.

Reading Matter

  • David Howes, editor. Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader. NY: Berg, 2005.