Chase Coleman is a 15 year old that runs cross country track for Corcoran High School in Syracuse, New York. In addition to his athletic talents, Coleman also has autism and is non-verbal.
On October 14th, 2016 while running in track meet, Coleman unintentionally ran off course and got lost. He was found standing in the middle of the road where Martin MacDonald and his wife approached Coleman in their vehicle. MacDonald was under the impression that Coleman was trying to mug his wife and as a result, he verbally harassed and pushed Coleman. At the time, MacDonald did not know that Coleman was on the autism spectrum, or that he was non-verbal. Coleman’s lack of response further provoked MacDonald to verbally attack the young student.
Coleman merely stood in the street, lost and likely confused at his whereabouts. He is gangly, weighs about 130-pounds, is African American, and wore his Syracuse West cross country uniform with his number pinned to his shirt. MacDonald is a white, middle-aged man about twice the size of Coleman. Coleman was no match for MacDonald’s overpowering demands which wreaked of white privilege and the all too common fear white men have of African Americans based off of systematically constructed oppressive stereotypes. Stereotypes that facilitate behaviors such as attacking an underaged black student with special needs and calling it fear. Despite Coleman’s lack of response to MacDonald’s yelling to move out of the street, witnesses shared that there was no justifiable reason for MacDonald’s attack – that Coleman was another black male taken hostage to a white man’s unjustifiable fears. MacDonald pushed young Coleman so hard, that he flew back a few feet and fell on his backside.
After this incident took place, Coleman decided to resign from running on the cross-country team, fearing he may be lost and hurt again. The morning after, Coleman turned his uniform in. Although Coleman wasn’t the fastest runner, oftentimes straggling behind at the end of the group, his mother shared that merely being a part of the team and having the ability to connect with others brought Coleman visible joy. This happiness was not something that needed to be expressed through words, everyone could see that Coleman loved running.
Coleman’s mother quickly sought to presses charges against MacDonald for the unnecessary verbal and physical harassment of her son. The judge quickly denied the request to file a complaint against MacDonald.
15 days after the incident, a different judge signed the warrant to press charges against MacDonald. According to People magazine, the charges against him are a violation, which require an initial court appearance (not arrest) and carries a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail.
The Coleman family is relieved that justice is being pursued for their son, who represents a group of individuals in the autism community that have been wrongly accused and attacked for their lack of response. On a broader note, Coleman has fallen subject to the many unwarranted attacks by white males against African Americans.
For young Coleman, this incident is a pivotal moment in which he may never fully understand. He now associates the incident with running, something he once loved that is now ruined for him. How can the autism community maneuver through a world in which individuals lack the understanding, patience, and mental capacity to rationalize their fears beyond race, ability, gender, and class. The autism community focuses heavily on raising awareness, acceptance, and understanding of autism spectrum disorders specifically, however, the need to additionally factor in the experiences of various races, gendes, and social class’ experiences intertwined within the autism community are necessary step moving forward.