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5 Times Police Killed People with Mental Disabilities

Police are charged with the murder of a man with Down's syndrome, after he was arrested for trying to watch a double feature—and that's just the tip of the iceberg

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5. Autistic man shot and killed for carrying a toy gun in Miami

In September 2011, the Miami police murdered Ernest Vassell, a 57-year-old man, for refusing to relinquish his toy gun. Vassell was autistic and lived with his family in the neighborhood. But when the police saw Vassell walking down the street carrying a toy rifle, they began shouting at him to put down the weapon. Confused and scared by the officers, Vassell hesitated just long enough for the police to open fire, killing the man.


Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press.