On the afternoon of Monday, July 18, 2016, Miami police officers were called to a scene where a man was reported to be carrying a gun, and threatening suicide. Little did they know that the supposed armed suspect was a 26-year-old man with autism named Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, who was carrying not a gun, but a toy truck.
Charles Kinsey, an African American behavioral therapist and father of five, was there at the scene attempting to assist Arnaldo, who was a patient of his. The police arrived with the threat in mind, and positioned firearms in the direction of Kinsey and Arnaldo. In compliance with the officers, Kinsey laid flat on the ground, and positioned his hands in the air so that they would not shoot.
From there, Kinsey went on to plead his innocence, as well as that of the autistic man. “All he has is a toy truck,” Kinsey stated to police. “A toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.” Kinsey also went on to instruct his patient to lay down with him so that he would not be harmed. “Arnaldo please be still, Arnaldo” said Kinsey. “Sit down, Arnaldo. Lay on your stomach.”
Suddenly, an officer began to fire in the direction of Kinsey, and he was struck in the leg by a bullet. When Kinsey asked the police officer “Sir, why did you shoot me?” he responded, “I don’t know.”
John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, told reporters. “Fearing for Mr. Kinsey’s life, the officer discharged his firearm [at Arnaldo], trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life, and he missed, and accidentally struck Mr. Kinsey.” Kinsey was fortunate enough to survive the unwarranted shooting and is currently hospitalized.
The world has been shocked and stunned by the numerous violent events that have forced many to question: where is the humanity?
As a non profit organization that dedicates our time and efforts to serving those in the autism community, we focus on the positives of those with autism and celebrate their differences. However, we cannot forget about the obstacles they face, especially as adults. Autism, along with other developmental or cognitive disorders, are usually referred to as “invisible disabilities”. Looking at someone who has autism, it’s unlikely someone will know they are autistic by mere appearance. Many police departments are trying to educate their force on how to better deal with the cognitively disabled and taking measures with ID cards, events, training, etc., but adults with autism remain a high risk population for similar encounters to Kinsey and Rinaldo’s.
These hardships were displayed in incidences such as the death of Kayden Clarke, who was shot to death by police after a neighbor reported a potential suicide risk. Or Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old man with Down Syndrome who was shot to death after refusing to leave a movie theater, after his aide – who cops dragged on the floor out of the movie theater – warned them not to try and interact or force Saylor to do anything.
It is these misunderstandings, misjudgments, and lack of awareness that often result in fatalities.
Although it is hard to think about what might have happened had Kinsey not been there with Arnaldo, he is a beacon of protection to the autism community.
This situation is an indicator that we must take action to spread more awareness, more knowledge, more understanding, more hope, and more love in communities across our nation.