Erin Kelly believes the simple act of listening would have saved Robert Ethan Saylor’s life.
Many moments in history have defined a generation or era. They sparked social movements and inspired ordinary people to take action—action that eventually changed the face of society.
As I read this CNN headline story about a man’s unlawful death, it became apparent that this is one of those moments. More importantly, it’s a call for action for a new generation.
The article reported that the man killed, Robert Ethan Saylor, died in a movie theater in Maryland last January, after not paying admission to a second showing of the film “Zero Dark Thirty.” I couldn’t help but to think that perhaps society has taken a step backwards. However, there’s a sickening twist to this story—Saylor had Down Syndrome.
This is where ethics come into play, not only from the perspective of an outsider looking in, but also from someone with a disability.
I think it would almost be cliché to say I know how this gentleman felt when three deputies, who happened to be off duty that day, confronted him. I’d only be speaking to what it feels like to have someone look at me for my cerebral palsy or my wheelchair. As the article alluded to, however, these individuals showed complete disregard for not only a person, but also the characteristics and warning signs of their disability.
Witnesses claim the deputies proceeded to wrestled him to the ground, held him down, and handcuffed him—even after his caretaker warned them that he “didn’t like to be touched,” pleading with them to stop and to please let her handle the situation.
The feeling of being belittled or kicked aside as an outcast—whether or not it’s being acknowledged by the person who’s causing it—is something anyone with a disability has experienced. The disabled must learn to deal with that pressure—but so too must the belittler, the outcaster.
Those three deputies didn’t take this into consideration, however. They attempted to physically remove Saylor from the theater against his will, at which point he reportedly swore at them.
Saylor suffered a fracture in his throat and died of asphyxiation during the scuffle. His death was ruled as a homicide, though a grand jury failed to indict the three individuals involved. They returned to work without any charges filed against them.
That’s the real step backwards. If a jury essentially let these individuals go free, what’s going to be the outcome if someone else attempts something similar to this, as per the tragic story of a World War II veteran?
Furthermore, it’s evident that those deputies didn’t see Saylor as a person whose disability caused him the situation, caused him to lash out. They looked at him not as an individual but as merely a disturbance growing hostile. It makes me wonder if incidents like this are somehow related or linked to disability hate crime. It makes me reflect upon intent vs. ignorance and the lines between.
The fact that Saylor didn’t pay admission the second time around is a reasonable cause for suspicion, but I don’t think it should be linked solely to what he did or didn’t do. The majority—if not all—of the suspicion should be linked to the actions of those individuals who, in my mind, set a new low for society.
I think it’s also worthwhile to point out that Saylor died young. At 26 years old, his death is just one in a string of young lives that could have been saved—including Treyvon Martin’s. That not only sends chills down my spine, but it also makes me want to want to write about incidents like these more often— in hopes that I’ll raise awareness about things that have long been kept in the dark.
I find it sickening that the CNN report went on to say that there’s no hard evidence to prove those three deputies had anything to do with Saylor’s death.
If those deputies had listened to Saylor’s caretaker’s warnings, he might still be alive today. If there would’ve been another second, minute, or even hour, perhaps he or she could’ve calmed him down enough to address the situation properly. And perhaps his perpetrators would’ve seen that he was just a man wanting to see a movie – not a man whose intent was to cause a ruckus.
The moral in the midst of such tragedy is simple—stop and listen. We’ve become so quick to act on emotion. Until we open our eyes and realize we’re often doing more harm than good, moments like this have the potential to be what defines our generation.
–Original theater photo: roeyahram/Flickr