Magdiel Sanchez, a 35-year-old Latino man, was sitting on his porch in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night as two law-enforcement officers approached his house. He got up and walked toward them, when, according to news reports and a statement, the officers noticed he was holding a metal pipe. They started giving him “verbal commands” to lie down, then one fired his Taser and the other shot him in the chest with his sidearm. Sanchez died. Officers later claimed not to have heard neighbors shouting that Sanchez was deaf and couldn’t hear their commands.
The police were there because allegedly Sanchez’s father had been in a hit-and-run (injuring property, not people, if the accusations are true). Sanchez carried the pipe, neighbors said, to ward off dogs. He was deaf and reportedly developmentally disabled. In a statement, the ACLU said, “Magdiel Sanchez was shot at his own home, without having committed any crime, and in front of neighbors who knew he was deaf trying to communicate to the police that what they were about to do was wrong.”
Sanchez is far from the first deaf or disabled person to be killed or brutalized by police. It happens almost every day. According to The Washington Post, police have shot 165 people in mental-health crisis in the first 263 days this year (and 715 total). When you add people like Sanchez and individuals with invisible, undiagnosed, or unrevealed disabilities, the numbers start to get much higher. In a white paper I co-wrote in 2016 for the Ruderman Family Foundation, I noted that disability-rights advocates routinely argue that a third to a half of all people killed by police are disabled. Most of those people, especially in cases where police clearly misused lethal force, turn out to also be marginalized by race, class, gender orientation, or other factors that intensify vulnerability.
Sanchez is actually the second high-profile killing of a disabled person just this week (and the fourth probable case, with Eric Alvarez, possibly in mental-health crisis, killed on a Los Angeles highway, and naval officer Nicholas Perkins killed outside his home in Washington after he would not put down a long gun). Georgia Tech campus police killed Scout Schultz, a trans and intersex activist who had been expressing suicidal thoughts. They had called 911 to report themselves as a person with a knife and possibly a gun. After police shot and killed Schultz, the officers found only a closed Leatherman multi-tool. The specifics of each case matter. Each victim’s life deserves to be mourned. Most cases are more like the Perkins situation than the Sanchez one. Still, when it comes to body count, this was a pretty typical week.