Human Dignity and the 8th Amendment

February 14, 2008 Kyron 1 Comment

Yesterday morning on the Today Show I saw video of a man being just dumped out of his wheelchair by an individual who appeared to be a police officer. I was so shoctdy potter wheelchair Human Dignity and the 8th Amendmentked I paused the TV so that I could finish dealing with the morning din of school readiness and revisit this show because surely my eyes were playing tricks on me.

Shoes tied, meds taken and appropriate outdoor gear selected, I went back to the paused TV. Unfortunately, I wasn’t seeing things. Indeed before my very eyes was a man in a wheelchair who was being dumped and all I had to do was read the headline below – CAUGHT ON TAPE – Deputy dumps man from wheelchair to know it was all to sickeningly real.

I sought out the video online and found the article at MSNBC (as I would expect given that I saw it on the Today Show) I re-watched it a few times. It was if I still couldn’t believe it – even with people spelling it out for me step by step. There is somewhere that someone – well heck more than one person felt that treating this individual – prisoner or no – in this manner was so acceptable, so typical that not only is there no apparent reaction (certainly none that I can see on this video) to this by other co-workers standing by and participating but not a single report of this incident was filed.

I read some comments over the net which just disgusted me. This individual, Brian Sterner, is paralyzed from the chest down and identifies himself as a quadriplegic although he has some use of his arms – so someone suggests he’s getting more pity than he should because he’s misidentified as a quadraplegic as opposed to a paraplegic. Aside from the fact that I think that statement is false, please somehow how much of him is paralyzed is relevant to whether the action was justified??? Someone else suggested that this individual somehow deserved this type of treatment because he was in the custody of the police. Have we as a society lost our collective minds???

While I certainly don’t want riots in the street a la Rodney King I sure as heck would like to see some righteous indignation in the State of Florida and some swift action on the part of people in power down there. With power comes responsibility. I am not talking just about taking legal action against the sheriffs involved in the incident – that’s just the tip of a huge iceberg. People with power and responsibility need to make changes – both in education and mindset.

Sensitivity training is obviously in dire need – and to be fair, probably not just at that sheriff’s department….although it’s obviously a good place to start. People in positions of power need more education on disabilities. They need to understand the difference between someone suffering from psychosis vs. someone being aggressive. They need to learn ways to err on the side of caution. They need to understand what someone who has alzheimers or dementia acts like and how to handle those situations. They need to have procedures in place that accommodate individuals who need assistance with activities of daily living during their incarceration. Just because you are in jail doesn’t mean you lose the right to live with dignity.

Cruel and unusual punishment as forbidden in our eighth amendment has also been further defined by the Supreme Court as “a punishment that must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity”. I certainly think being dumped out of one’s mode of ambulation could be reasonably considered degrading to human dignity. If those in power remembered those powerful words – better yet – all of humanity remembered those powerful words of human dignity before speaking or acting it might be a better world.

I can only hope for my daughter’s sake and all our children, that we each take a step to assure the preservation of human dignity in our own lives on a daily basis. Each one of us needs to step up in situations where those other officers failed to and speak out when we see an affront to human dignity. When I see Brian Sterner get thrown out of his chair, I see my daughter being mistreated for her inability to perform something an officer asks her to do or swing at the officer because she believes they are the voices harassing her in her mind. It sends a lightning bolt of fear down my spine the very real thought of what could happen.

Today is just another day. But it can be a day towards a better tomorrow if we each commit to upholding human dignity. I think that’s what Brian Sterner was saying when he told Meredith Viera:

“It can happen to anybody at any time. Hopefully, that’s what will come out of this, that this negative way of dealing with life and people will change.”

It’s my hope too.

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Categories : Legal, News, Political, Television

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. [...] sickened by it.  However, Kyron is much more coherent about it then I am, and you should go read her article about it. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Dignity, Or Lack Thereof”, url: [...]

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