Youth with autism handcuffed – police weren’t wrong

It’s not easy to be a parent of a child with autism. It gets even harder when the child grows up into a teen, then a youth. It takes immense courage, strength, wisdom, forbearance, and infinite love. One mother’s account of what happened to her son with autism, who is now 20, demonstrated this.

Sebastien, the son of Facebook user, Kah Ying Choo, is 20 this year. He has autism. One of the obsessions he has is to open the doors of vehicles and close them. Kah Ying has been unable to stop her son from doing this. Whenever she tried, it would incur “an outburst and attack” on her.

Sebastien frequently skated in a park. But something went wrong on his skate on Saturday. This was Kah Ying’s account

Specifically, this was Kah Ying’s account of Sebastien’s brush with the police:

“A Singaporean couple had contacted the police because Sebastien was going around opening cardoor handles at a carpark. When the police approached to talk to him, Sebastien moved away. They then decided to grab him, which caused Sebastien to react aggressively. That was when they handcuffed him and put him in a police car.”

Kah Ying felt that the police’s decision to grab Sebastien was completely out of line because he hadn’t committed any crime. As much as I can understand why Kah Ying is unhappy with how Sebastien was treated, she’s wrong to say that the police were completely out of line.

Section 63, subsection (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code reads:

“Any police officer who has reasonable grounds to suspect that any offence may be committed may intervene for the purpose of preventing and must (emphasis mine), to the best of his ability, use all lawful means to prevent the commission of the offence”

Did the police officers in the incident involving Sebastien have reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence may be committed? If you saw someone trying to open a vehicle door, would that be enough for you to suspect that person to be trying to break into the vehicle and steal something? That’s probably what the couple thought, thus prompting them to call the police.

And once the police has been notified, they are duty bound to find out what’s going on and, if necessary and possible, prevent the commission of a crime.

Now imagine if the police received a call, went to the scene, decided not to act, and a crime was committed. What do you think would be the public backlash on the police force? They would be lynched by the court of public opinion! If you were the police officers, what would you have done? Would you have erred on the side of inaction, or would you have erred on the side of caution and took action?

The police officers in this case erred on the side of caution and took action. I don’t think their first course of action was to grab Sebastien. It is more likely that the police officers first approached Sebastien to talk to him and find out what he’s doing. They only grabbed him because he moved away. And Sebastien probably turned aggressive, which was why the police officers handcuffed him – to prevent him from hurting anyone else or himself.

Did the police do anything wrong? No. I don’t think so. The police officers were performing their duty. Could they have done better? Could they have identified Sebastien as a person with autism by just looking at him? With sufficient training, perhaps they could. Should there be steps put in place so that police officers can handle such incidences better? Certainly.

And what about that couple who called the police? There are comments online criticising that couple for calling the police. Do they deserve the criticisms? On one hand, we have been told, rightfully, that we should be vigilant against crime, terrorism, and any suspicious actions and individuals. But now when a couple actually act based on their suspicion, we criticise them?

So what is it we want? When we see something suspicious, just turn a blind eye. Don’t kick up a fuss. Because if we are wrong we will kena lynched by the court of public opinion? Or do we expect every Singaporean to be Professor Xavier, with the ability to read minds to know whether someone doing something suspicious has malicious intent?

We aren't Professor X! We can't read minds!

We aren’t Professor X! We can’t read minds!

We have a long way to go to finding the right balance of being vigilant without being paranoid. It’s not easy. And it gets even more complicated when it involves individuals who are intellectually challenged or with autism. I agree, we have a long way more to go before we find that balance. But criticising either parties won’t bring us to where we need to be. Each of these incidents are opportunities for us to learn, to be more aware, to be better.

I hope more people will read about this incident, find out more about the story of Sebastien and his amazing mother, Kah Ying. As much as I don’t think that the police were wrong, I agree with Kah Ying that they could have done better. I also agree that more can be done so that Singaporeans better understand people with special needs (e.g. autism, intellectually challenged, mental health issues) and the challenges that their caregivers face.

As a start, I suggest learning more about Kah Ying’s journey with Sebastien.

And to support her and Sebastien in more concrete ways by going to Raw Art, an exhibition of Sebastien’s art works. It’s from 13 May 2016 to 5 June 2016 at the KC Arts Centre (20 Merbau Road).

Sebastien's exhibition

[Featured image: from Kah Ying Choo’s Facebook page]


3 thoughts on “Youth with autism handcuffed – police weren’t wrong

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s