On Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter: It’s not ok for police to immobilise PWD for questioning
This post is not spoily for the Dexter TV series to date, except perhaps for the premise. It contains a very minor spoiler for an event that occurs at the start of Dexter By Design. Comments may contain spoilers up to the Chapter Ten of Dexter by Design, but no further please..
At the moment I’m reading Dexter by Design (2009), by Jeff Lindsay. It is the fourth book in the Dexter series, a thriller/crime series with a touch of spec fic, set in current-day Miami. Dexter Morgan and his foster sister Deb are both police officers working in homicide; Dexter a blood-spatter expert and Deb a sergeant. Dexter is also a serial killer, brought up by his police officer foster dad to follow “The Code”, to only kill murderers who have escaped justice, and to not get caught.
Last night I read the scene below, and it hit all my rage buttons. Coming on the heels of the Ayr incident where a police officer stolen a woman’s mobility scooter, and the episode in Colorado where a teacher duct taped a disabled 12-year-old’s only communicative hand to his wheelchair, it was all too much.
The scene is excerpted below the cut. Additional warning for lots of taboo language; NSFW.
Dexter by Design, Chapter Nine.
[Background: Dexter and Deb are investigating a series of murders that look like they’re trying to make a business look bad. They have a suspect identified by paperwork only. All they know about Meza is his name, and the fact that he was fired by this business. Dexter is the point of view character. Emphases are mine.]
It started right after Debs knocked on his door. I could tell by the way she was jiggling one foot that she was excited and really thought she might be on to something. And then when the door made a kind of mechanical whirring sound and opened inward to reveal Meza, Deborah’s foot stopped jiggling and she said, “Shit.” Under her breath, of course, but hardly inaudibly.
Meza heard her and responded with, “Well, fuck you,” and just stared at her with a really impressive amount of hostility, considering he was in a motorized wheelchair and without the apparent use of any of his limbs, except possibly for a few fingers on each hand.
He used one of the fingers to twitch at a joystick on the bright metal tray attached to the front of his chair, and it lurched a few inches forward at us. “The fuck you want?” he said. “You don’t look smart enough to be Witnesses, so you selling something? Hey, I could use some new skis.”
Deborah glanced at me, but I had no actual advice or insight for her, so I simply smiled. For some reason, that made her angry; her eyebrows crashed together and her lips got very thin. She turned to Meza and, in a perfect Cold Cop tone of voice, she said, “Are you Hernando Meza?”
“What’s left of him,” Meza said. “Hey, you sound like a cop. Is this about me running laps naked at the Orange Bowl?”
“We’d like to ask you a couple of questions,” Debs said. “May we come in?”
“No.” he said.
Deborah already had one foot lifted, her weight leaning forward, anticipating that Meza, like everyone else in the world, would automatically let her come in. Now she lurched to a pause and then stepped back half a step. “Excuse me?” she said.
“Noooooo,” Meza said, drawing out the word as if he was talking to an idiot who didn’t understand the concept. “Noooo, you may not come in.” And he twitched a finger on the chair’s controls and the chair jerked toward us very aggressively.
Deborah jumped wildly to one side, then recovered her professional dignity and stepped back in front of Meza, although at a safe distance. “All right” she said. “We’ll do it here.”
“Oh, yeah” Meza said, “let’s do it here.” And flipping his finger on the joystick he made the chair pump a few inches forward and backward several times. “Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah baby” he said.
Deborah had clearly lost control of the interview with her suspect, which the cop handbook frowns upon. She jumped off to the side again, completely flustered by Meza’s fake chair sex, and he followed her around in his chair. “Come on, mama, give it up!” he called in a voice somewhere between a chortle and a wheeze.
I’m sorry if it sounds like I am feeling something, but I sometimes get just a little twinge of sympathy for Deborah, who really does try very hard. And so, as Meza whirled his chair in a stuttering arch of mini-lurches at Debs, I stepped behind him, leaned down to the back of his chair, and pulled the power cable off the batteries. The whine of the engine stopped, the chair thumped to a halt, and the only remaining sound was a siren in the distance and the small clatter of Meza’s finger rattling against the joy stick. […]
This is where I started screaming “Nooooooooooo!” I’m fine with the idea of a nasty bloke who happens to use a wheelchair. Whatever – it’s a fictional Miami homicide investigation in a nasty nasty Miami; people are nasty. People who use wheelchairs can be just as nasty as people who don’t, and I’m glad Lindsay didn’t try to make an exception.
But. But. Dexter UNPLUGGED MEZA’S WHEELCHAIR. In his own house. Without putting him under arrest. Just to question him. About a series of murders in which they’ve decided he is no longer a suspect.
This is no different from a police officer charging into your house and tying you up without arresting you, or locking you in a room without arresting you. It’s assault, it’s deprivation of liberty, and it is not ok, no way no how, not even if the officer is feeling or being threatened. If these cops felt they were being threatened enough to put them in genuine fear of attack, they needed to defend themselves with reasonable force, then arrest Meza and take him down to the station, and write the whole thing up with a paper trail. Not immobilise him, then let him go when they’re finished questioning him. No, no, no, no, no.
People with disabilities should only ever be restrained or interfered with in the same situations that people without disabilities would be restrained or interfered with, for the same reasons, and with the same effects. It’s not ok to unplug someone’s wheelchair unless, in the same situation, you would completely immobilise an abled person by tying up all of their limbs. It’s not ok to duct tape someone’s only communicative hand to a wheelchair except in a situation where you would put duct tape over someone else’s mouth and hands. It’s not ok to take someone’s mobility device away unless you would tie another person in that situation to a chair.
And since these things are pretty much never ok during routine police work or school teaching? It’s not ok to do them to people with disabilities. It’s brutality, it’s assault and battery, it’s dehumanisation, it’s dangerous, and it is NOT OK.
I am continuing to read the book, hoping that this will come back to bite them in the arse, but I’m really fearing that it won’t.
In case you’re wondering what happens in the rest of the scene, it’s excerpted below.
At its best, Miami is a city of two cultures and two languages, and those of us who immerse ourselves in both have learned that a different culture can teach us many new and wonderful things.
I have always embraced this concept, and it paid off now, as Meza proved to be wonderfully creative in both Spanish and English. He ran through an impressive list of standards, and then his artistic side took full flower and he called me things that had never before existed, except possibly in a parallel universe designed by Hieronymus Bosch. The performance took on an added air of supernatural improbability because Meza’s voice was so weak and husky, but he never allowed that to slow him. I was frankly awed, and Deborah seemed to be too, because we both simply stood and listened until Meza finally wore down and tapered off with, “Cocksucker.”
I stepped around in front and stood beside Debs. “Don’t say that” I said, and he just glared at me. “It’s so pedestrian, and you’re much better than that. What was that part, “turd-sucking bag of possum vomit?” Wonderful.” And I gave him his due with some light applause.
“Plug me in, perro de puta,” he said. “We see how funny you are then.”
“And have you run us over with that sporty SUV of yours?” I said. “No thanks.”
Deborah lurched up out of her stunned appreciation of the performance and back into her alpha role. She pushed me to one side and resumed her stone-faced staring at Meza. “Mr Meza, we need you to answer a couple of questions, and if you refuse to cooperate I will take you down to the station and ask them there.”
“Do it, cunt” he said. “My lawyer would love that.”
“We could just leave him like this” I suggested. “Until someone comes along and steals him to sell for scrap metal.”
“Plug me in, you sack of lizard pus.”
“He’s repeating himself” I said to Deborah. I think we’re wearing him down.” […]
“Nobody killed anyone at the Board,” I said.
He glared at me. “No?” he said. His head swivelled back to Deborah, mucus flashing in the sunlight. “Then what the fuck you harassing me for, shit-pig?” Deborah hesitated, then tried one last time. “Mr Meza,” she said.
“Fuck you, get the fuck off my porch,” Meza said.
“It seems like a good idea, Debs,” I said.
Deborah shook her head with frustration, then blew out a short, explosive breath. “Fuck” she said. “Let’s go. Plug him in.” And she turned and walked off the porch, leaving me the dangerous and thankless job of plugging Meza’s power cord back into the battery.
By lauredhel 4 June, 2010. books, justice, social attitudes, violence assault, book, brutality, dehumanisation, dehumanization, dexter, dexter by design, duct tape, homicide, immobilisation, immobilization, jeff lindsay, lindsay, police, power wheelchair, reading, restraint, thriller, wheelchair