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.

12 thoughts on “On Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter: It’s not ok for police to immobilise PWD for questioning

  1. This is really too bad because the beginning of the scene seems good. The guy is an obnoxious jerk, like any other character might be, it’s not just like “OHHH HE’S IN A WHEELCHAIR HE DOESN’T HAVE ANY OTHER TRAITS.” And then. Why is it so hard for people to realize that it’s not acceptable to hold people with disabilities to a different standard–that non-disabled people don’t have special rights to treat PWDs badly? I mean, I feel like it’s so ingrained that people don’t even think about it that way, but they just think of PWDs as being so different that standard rules don’t apply.

  2. Wow, was that badly written. Ugh. (The chapter! Not the post. To be clear.)

    And I’m horrified and disgusted by Dexter unplugging the wheelchair. Completely crosses the line. Entirely unjustified.

    Whenever I see someone grabbing someone else’s wheelchair, I have a physical reaction, as if I’m witnessing an assault. It’s such a serious invasion/violation of personal space, bodily autonomy, etc. And it’s so very normalized, as if that’s a perfectly okay thing to do.

    The link in the post, to the duct-taping teacher, I’m afraid to click. It just sounds horrific.

  3. QLH, totally agreed on the quality of the writing. Wow, ouch.

    I’ve only read the first book, so I could be wrong about the tone, but it seems like we were supposed to support and applaud Dexter. Like he’s done some kind of awesome, righteous thing. The self-congratulatory tone of the narration was the worst. Which, I know, it’s from Dexter’s POV, but it still seems pretty clear that we’re supposed to be laughing at Meza’s frustration.

  4. doorslam: If anything, Dexter is significantly more antihero in the books than in the TV show. I’m really not getting the impression, in the broader context of all the books, that I’m supposed to be cheering Dexter on. Deb might be another story; she’s written very differently from how she’s portrayed in the TV series, though, and we know that she has a particular soft spot in Dexter, despite knowing who he is and what he does. (This spoils the books a little but not the TV series, in which her character and their relationship is very different from the books.) To me, none of it yet deserves a one-note response; I think Dexter’s is an incredibly nuanced situation and characterisation, designed to elicit layered and perhaps also ever-changing reactions from the reader.

    I don’t think Dexter’s action here is unexpected given his characterisation, nor am I at all convinced that we’re supposed to unequivocally cheer about it. But what I want is for it to be called out or to have consequences, perhaps by Meza reporting it down the track. I haven’t finished the book yet, so maybe it is.

    To try to go somewhere useful: I don’t think Dexter’s action is out of character for him. I do think that many RL police officers, officers who aren’t serial killers and wouldn’t consider themselves brutal or abusive, do similar things without recourse. I’m not convinced that we’re supposed to cheer on Dexter’s action. I do hope that Dexter’s action will be reported and called out in a way that such events are often not in real life. I think there’s an opportunity here to make that point without jarring the reader out of the story in any way, and in fact it would tie in very well with the Internal Affairs investigation taking place in the story right now.

    This isn’t intended as a critique of Lindsay’s writing; it’s a gateway to talking about how these events often play out in real life.

  5. I’ve only read the first Dexter book, but your comment above dovetails with my impression of how the reader is supposed to respond to Dexter. But yes, the unplugging thing is problematic because it reflects the fact that immobilizing someone disabled is seen as normal and acceptable in society.

    We seem to be hearing about so many such incidents lately… I hope that’s because they are being challenged more and happening less behind closed doors than they used to; rather than that we’re hearing about it more because it’s happening more. It’s very interesting and instructive to see how the problem is reflected in popular culture.

  6. That is horrible, and from what I’ve read about the books, I think I’m sticking with the series.

    But I can’t resist this, it’s pulling me I have to say it –

    HE KILLS PEOPLE. Chops them up while they’re conscious. Sure, they killed people, but he’s a serial killer.

    I knew this would happen when I started watching the show. “I can’t believe Dexter just TRAPPED a wheelchair user! How cruel!” “…Dexter? That show with the serial killer?” “Um, yeah… but this happens to people in real life!”

    I’m not saying it’s not horrific in real life (is Dexter’s action a sign that he’s degenerating in the book version while he’s being more “human” in the show?) but it’s still cracking me up. It had to be Dexter. Not Debra. Not Angel. Not Doakes. If it had been someone else, I could focus on the horror.

    Wait – what was Dexter doing there? In the show, his role is quite realistic – he only investigates for his “hobby” – for his job, he’s not a cop, he’s a technician.

    Speaking of Dexter and PWD – first episode of the 2nd season, he’s going to kill a blind man who’s killed others. (Typical) He says in the voiceover that he doesn’t discriminate.

  7. Excellent post. I recognize that Dexter is supposed to be an anti-hero, but generally speaking, if your protagonist does something awful like that, there’s meant to be some sort of punishment, some remorse, some indication that your character isn’t a cruel. thoughtless jerk; or if he is such a jerk, some indication that what he just did is WRONG and an example of him being a jerk. Here, it seems to me that what Dexter has done seems acceptable, both by his sister’s standards and the author’s. And that just oozes privilege.

  8. I knew this would happen when I started watching the show. “I can’t believe Dexter just TRAPPED a wheelchair user! How cruel!” “…Dexter? That show with the serial killer?” “Um, yeah… but this happens to people in real life!” […] it’s still cracking me up.

    Except that’s not what I said, Kaitlyn. Is it necessary to misrepresent my argument, then laugh at me?

    As for other aspects of your comment – as I’ve noted, the books are quite different from the series in a number of ways, including characterisation.

  9. I have some issues with the way Meza’s movements are described. His chair, and the fact that he’s in it, are being mentioned way more often than necessary. For example, “he followed her around in his chair” is superfluous at the point it is written, because we have already very well established that he is in a chair, and he moves in it. It’s as if the author is worried that if he doesn’t mention the chair Every Single Time he talks about Meza moving, we’ll forget and think he’s walking.

    Similarly, there’s an over-focus on Meza’s fingers, with some bizarre phrasing. “He used one of the fingers to twitch at a joystick” is an odd way of describing the motion, almost giving the impression that Meza is not using his own fingers.

    And then there’s this: “…a really impressive amount of hostility, considering he was in a motorized wheelchair…”. What does the wheelchair have to do with how much hostility Meza feels or expresses?

    The cumulative effect is that Lindsay can’t stop marveling over the oddness of a man in a wheelchair doing things, and has to explain and re-explain every nuance because it’s otherwise too difficult to grasp.

  10. Wow, that is one HARDCORE COP and one HARDCORE SERIAL KILLER – immobilizing the disabled because he doesn’t bow down to authority.


    [/ end sarcasm]


    Somehow I’m glad I stopped reading this series a while ago. All that bullshit subtext about how apparently being in a wheelchair damaged a man’s ability to feel and think; all that bullshit subtext of ‘he thought he was an independent human being with rights, but we sure showed him‘. The currently able bodied white female cop having to assert her place on the kyriarchy totem pole by pushing someone else down and doing her best impression of a cis, het, ablist white (disrespectful)male – ugh.

  11. Lauredhel – I wasn’t laughing at you or the points you raised. Just the acceptance of the “morality” of Dexter’s world.

    I should not have posted that, I’m sorry.

  12. there are so many problems with that piece of text. Not just that they imoboloized him, not just that the character is considered strange and foreign due to his disability. But that a cop asked to come in, he said “no”. instead of respecting the citizens rights, they try to lure him into conversation outside his door. (you never have to answer any questions a cop asks you, and if they don’t have a warrant you have the right to refuse a search or refuse them entry into your home.)

    They should have left when he said no the first time. if not then, when he said no the second time. get a warrant if you want to arrest of search.

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