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Demilitarizing, Not Training, a Better Solution to Reducing Police Brutality, Experts Say

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Nationwide outrage ensued after video surfaced online of an African-American mental health therapist lying on the ground with his hands in the air moments before he was shot by a North Miami police officer.

Charles Kinsey, 62, was attempting to console an autistic patient, Arnaldo Rios-Soto, who had wandered from the MacTown Panther Group Home, when he was shot in the leg by police. According to the Miami Herald, authorities responded to a 911 call from someone in the neighborhood who mistook the autistic man’s toy truck for a firearm.

Since the horrific shooting, family members of 27-year-old Rios-Soto say the incident has traumatized the disabled man, causing him sleep and eating difficulties.

He’s “not sleeping, he’s not eating, he’s not the same anymore,” Rios-Soto’s sister, Mariam Rios, told NBC News.

The Rios family argued that law enforcement personnel need adequate training when it comes to dealing with those who have mental disabilities. But human rights advocates assert that demilitarizing, not training, the police is the real solution to fighting police brutality.

According to Alternet, the Kinsey shooting presented human rights campaigners with a golden opportunity to scrutinize the federally funded military police trainings in Miami that may contribute to aggressive policing tactics in surrounding areas. In the last two years, the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area received close to $5.5 million from a controversial federal grant program known as the Urban Areas Security Initiative.

“The UASI Program assists high-threat, high-density Urban Areas in efforts to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism,” the program website states. It’s also known for financing military-style police and SWAT team trainings nationwide, funding a police militarization and weapons expo known as Urban Shield, and subsidizing the distribution of military-style equipment to law enforcement agencies, Alternet reports.

“The police shooting of ‪Charles Kinsey last week exposed the myth of policing as a viable response to crisis scenarios in the United States,” national organizer for the War Resisters League Tara Tabassi told the news site. “Policing upholds the current social order: whiteness, neurotypical behavior, and wealth are the markers of who matters in our society.”

“What matters now is that we hear an overwhelming cry for more police trainings, yet the content of current trainings goes unexamined,” she continued. “In the case of North Miami, Florida, families with children or siblings living with autism are asking for more relationship building with the police, and police sensitivity trainings. While sensitivity trainings are a first step, they do not address that fact that policing is built on a foundation of militarism and racism. We need more.”

According to a recent report on disability and policing from the Ruderman Family Foundation, over a third of the high-profile cases concerning police violence between 2013 and 2015 involved people with disabilities.

“Disability is the missing word in media coverage of police violence,” authors David Perry and Lawrence Carter-Long wrote in their report. However, their paper points out that there’s been little evidence to show whether more police training would be effective in reducing deaths and/or use-of-force incidents.

The push for demilitarized police comes at a time when law enforcement agencies are ramping up the militarization of their forces following the massacre at the Orlando LGBTQ nightclub and deliberate attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Still, advocates say militarization isn’t the way to go as it only contributes to the issue of police brutality.

“Militarizing the police endangers our communities and heightens risk of injury and death to groups that are already disproportionately impacted by state violence,” Muhammed Malik, a former Racial Justice and Voting Rights Coordinator at ACLU Florida, told AlterNet. “The mentality of militarization within the context of a racist society warps neighborhoods into war zones and views residents as enemy combatants to be subdued by heavy force.”

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