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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Headlines Are Important

Houston Police Shoot Wheelchair Bound Amputee Threatening People with Pen
Houston Police Kill Wheelchair Bound Man
HPD Officer Fatally Shoots Man in Wheelchair
Police Kill Mentally Troubled Double Amputee
Cop Shoots and Kills Man in Wheelchair 
Police Officer Kills One Armed One Legged Man
Sissy Cops Murder Wheelchair Bound Innocent

I could have provided many more headlines but they are all variations on the same theme. What immediately struck me was the fact not a single headline included the name of the wheelchair bound double amputee who was shot by a Houston police officer--heavy on the sarcasm here. The human being killed was Brian Claunch. Brian Claunch was shot dead. I know nothing about Brian Claunch’s life. Based on news reports Brian Claunch lost his limbs in a train crash. Why this is important I do not know.  CNN reported he had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. All reports state he was shot in a group home—a home specifically set up for mentally ill patients who are placed there for 24 hours after being released from the hospital. No reports state why he had been hospitalized or whether he had been hospitalized at all. All reports state Brian Claunch created a disturbance and the police were called at 1:30AM. Police state Brian Claunch cornered a police officer in his wheelchair and threatened him. According to the police Brian Claunch was holding a shiny object and that one of the police officers feared for his safety as well as the safety of others. Brian Claunch was shot once and died at the scene. The object he was wielding turned out to be a pen.

Some reports state the quarters inside the group home were cramped and that this was a variable in the shooting.  Juan Garcia described as the group home manager and in other reports as the owner of Healing Hands Home stated that he knew Brian Claunch for 18 months.  Mr. Garcia stated Brian Claunch was in his mid 40s and liked to doodle.  Garcia had given him a black felt pen to draw with two days prior to the shooting. Garcia stated Brian Claunch “had a temper. He could fly off once in a while. I don’t want to say he did anything or they did anything”. The night he was shot Brian Claunch was upset because he was not allowed to smoke nor given a soda.  Brian Claunch was so irate a staff member called 911. Unconfirmed reports state Brian Claunch was capable of making people in the group home feel threatened despite the fact he used a wheelchair.

Obviously I have used Brian Claunch’s name multiple times—far more than necessary. I have done this to establish the simple fact Brian Claunch was a human being. Brian Claunch's humanity was denied in all headlines. He was used to sell newspapers via catchy headlines designed to prompt outrage. How can a police officer kill an unarmed double amputee wheelchair bound man? The hysterical headlines all accept as a given a wheelchair bound double amputee could hardly represent a threat--one headline even calling the police sissies. We all know people with a disability are not a threat to the general public's safety. Afterall, there are steps to get into most homes and they serve as an effective barrier. Who wants a double amputee wheelchair bound person in their home?   All the stories I read ignored what I consider to be the important issues of the case. For instancce, I wondered are Houston police offers trained to deal with people such as Brian Claunch who was apparently mentally ill? If so did they send a trained officer or simply the nearest person on patrol? Exactly why was Brian Claunch living in a group home that was supposedly designed to observe people with mental illnesses released from the hospital for 24 hours? What were the conditions in the group home? If the rooms of the home were cluttered why was this the case? What sort of staffing did the group home have between midnight and 7AM?  More generally, what was Brian Claunch like? Was he homeless? Had he been in and out of group homes? Had he caused disturbances in the past as was suggested? These questions are worthy of our attention. Instead the mainstream press chose to dehumanize Brian Claunch--reduce his life to "wheelchair bound double amputee".  Now that is a tragedy built upon a tragedy.  


Becky Andrews said...

Oh so sad. You raise many important issues needing to be discussed. People FIRST.

BA Haller said...

Great post!

william Peace said...

Becky, The officer that shot and killed Brian Claunch was involved in another fatality a few years ago. I wonder what the odds of this are even in Texas.
Beth, These sort of headlines really are dehumanizing. Sadly, few get this point.

Phil Dzialo said...

Most of society would rather be quite uninterested in a Brian Claunch, he wouldn't sell papers or catch people's interest. A guy in wheelchair shot by police, an autistic kid killed by his mom, a student in a residential school electro-shocked 37 that gets readers. People don't care about the humanity of the disabled, the poor, the widowed or the starving..if you knew the humanity and accepted it, you might feel a need to "feel" and do something. By reducing the humanity of a person to an "abstraction", indifference to humanity is justified by the masses!

Eric Fischer said...

Video surveillance? Not compulsory? Shiny object? Shiny object ?! FFS.

william Peace said...

Phil, Well, I thought I had a grim view of society. I want to believe some people do care about the disenfranchised. Let me dream.
Eric, Wow, I do wonder if cameras are in group homes. I see no reason why not. The technology is cheap--cameras abound on college campuses and blanket tourist areas in NYC. So why not group homes.