The unique harms faced by Black disabled people is missing from the mainstream conversation and national reckoning on police violence and racism following several high-profile killings by police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Of the long list of Black people killed by police, many had disabilities, including Tanisha Anderson, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Laquan McDonald. (Note: we use both person-first and identity-first language throughout to acknowledge and respect the diversity of preferences in the Disability community.)

Having a disability—a term that encompasses physical, psychological, and learning differences—can raise a person’s risk of having a violent encounter with police. Black disabled people find themselves at the unique intersection of two systems of oppression: racism and ableism. Tackling the compounded harms of systemic racism and ableism in the criminal legal system requires centering the needs of Black disabled people using an intersectional lens that explicitly dismantles the multiple structures that put them at risk of harm or death.

Institutional racism and bias throughout the criminal legal system result in disproportionate harm to Black people. When police initiate stops, they are more likely to threaten and use physical force against Black people than white people, and police shootings kill Black people at twice the rate of white people.

Ableism in the criminal legal system also results in significant harm to disabled people. Many behaviors and activities associated with disabilities are criminalized. This can result in dangerous police encounters, often exacerbated by police who lack the training and tools to help people in crisis, don’t recognize or understand disability, and rely on “command and control” tactics and excessive physical force for noncompliance.

Read the full article about locating intersectionality for social justice by Lily Robin and Evelyn F. McCoy at Urban Institute.