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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tragedy in Seventy Seconds: The Death of Keith Vidal and the Importance of Coming Together


I wish this story never had to be printed, but perhaps it is a call for people with all types of disabilities to come together. When we all have different diagnoses, it can be easy to see what separates us. Because we’re… well, different. It can be easy to say, “I’m not one of those people; his or her story has nothing to do with mine.” I am not trying to shame those who have perhaps indulged in these easy options, but rather to teach them that today is the moment to think again. To recognize the power of a cross-disability coalition, one that empowers, supports, and protects its members without hesitation. If for no other reason, build this dream in honor of Keith Vidal.
Keith was an 18-year-old young man with schizophrenia reportedly shot and killed by a North Carolina police officer. Keith’s family called the police for help during an episode in which he threatened his mother. Despite the fact that two officers arrived and successfully calmed him, a third allegedly arrived “fourteen minutes later” and shot him as he lied on the floor after multiple shots with a Taser. The shot was fired seventy seconds after the third officer arrived. Seventy. In just over a minute, an officer that “didn’t have time for this” took a parent’s child, snuffed a young life, and reinforced the culture of fear and misunderstanding surrounding people with psychiatric disabilities.
Nothing can be done now to bring this young man back, but I hope this tragedy is one that will demonstrate how far we have to go to improve our attitudes toward psychiatric disabilities in this country. If we work together to promote understanding and education, perhaps we will see a day when people with these diagnoses will be treated with dignity. Yes, Keith’s disability is dramatically different than mine. I will never face the same exact set of challenges as he did, but I count him as a brother in the disability movement, and a fellow human being. Keith was someone’s son, someone’s friend, someone’s brother. Someone with a future. Keith matters to someone, and so he matters to me.
Perhaps you have a disability much different than Keith’s, or maybe quite the same. Perhaps you will have one someday. Or maybe you don’t have one at all. No matter the relevance of his situation to your own experiences, Keith is a person. Keith is a dramatic example of what can transpire when stereotypes, prejudice, and fear become bound to our culture. He deserves to be alive today. Instead, his life was ended in less time than it will take you to reach the bottom of this page.

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