Autism ACCEPTANCE Month: How is Reforming the Police like Managing PDA?

Here’s an interesting twist that I did not see coming! The same boundaries that you need to successfully manage PDA, you can apply to the police to limit their excesses. Who knew? Read further to find out.

The Importance of Setting Limits with PDA

The Wisdom of a Mother

When I was an older teenager verging on young adulthood, my mother had a kind of epiphany, I guess you’d call it, and she decided to impart some words of wisdom that have guided my entire life, but, especially, those very formative early adult years. She said to me, “Jack, if you are ever arrested, don’t call me because I’m not coming to get you.” I knew she meant it, too. So, from that moment on, I curbed my enthusiasm for some of the pursuits that young men will pursue and questioned some of our decisions and choices.

Don’t Mess With My Mom

My mother left me with another example of the same concept. You know, you didn’t mess with my mom. She meant what she said, and, well, let’s just say, you didn’t cross her.

The house I grew up in shared a fence with our neighbors behind us. On that fence grew a grapevine that extended to the fence we shared with one neighbor in particular. He hated that grapevine for some obscure reason — probably because he hated everything; you know the type. The vine actually produced good sweet grapes every year. We shared them generously with everyone including him, but he wouldn’t take them. One year, he cut the vine off the fence we shared, and it died. It died. It. died.

Are you missing a cat? Mr. So-and-So at this address with this phone number has been trapping and killing cats in his backyard.

My mother never forgave him that.

A couple years later, this same gentleman took to trapping cats in his back yard. More words were exchanged over that back fence about this, too. He was incalcitrant. It was his yard, and he’d do in it not only what he wanted, but he’d do what he wanted to any animal that ventured into it.

The very same day that he made that smug self-confident declaration, my mom went down to the newspaper office of the local free monthly neighborhood paper. Remember them? This was back in the day before the Interwebs when we had to communicate a little less instantaneously and circuitously, but it didn’t deter her. She took out a full-page ad reading something to the effect of, Are you missing a cat? Mr. So-and-So at this address with this phone number has been trapping and killing cats in his backyard. That was it. That was the ad, to paraphrase the kids nowadays.

From the moment that issue hit the streets and it was distributed to every house in the neighborhood, that man knew not a moment’s peace. He couldn’t walk from his front door to his car without someone yelling at him. He couldn’t sleep a night’s sleep without someone calling him. He couldn’t shop at any of the local stores without someone giving him a piece of their mind. He couldn’t wake up on a Saturday or Sunday morning without finding that his house had been papered and egged.

He entertained visits from the local chapter of the SPCA and county sheriff’s office. He found out that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted to whatever animal ventured into his backyard. There were limits.

Now that I have a daughter and neighbors of my own, I take try to use the lessons my mother taught me, but in a kinder, gentler, more genteel way. If you seen any of this year’s Autism ACCEPTANCE Month posts, you know that both my daughter and I have pathological demand avoidance, a profile on the autism spectrum. It makes life difficult because any type of demand can provoke paralyzing anxiety. For example, as a teenager, it was my job to mow the lawn. It only got mowed once or twice a summer. The grass was literally up to your waist. Everyone hated it: my mom, neighbors, especially the guy behind us, myself, hell, even the dog. But, I couldn’t do it. I wanted to. I was happy after I did it and vowed to do it more regularly, but when it came time to just couldn’t.

The Importance of Getting a Job

During university, which was easier but not easy because I chose to be there and the courses I took and could adjust my schedule by withdrawing from classes, I realized that everyone had to work. We needed to earn money in order to survive in society. No matter how much you hated it, you had to work. You had to get a job. There just wasn’t a choice. It was hell, but I did it. The need for money and the socially acceptable ways of getting money placed a limit on me and my behavior. I had to have a job, and I had to keep a job. I’ve been more or less continuously employed since I was 16 because of it.

Without those very real limits placed on our behavior because of very real and unpleasant consequences, people with PDA wouldn’t do anything that they didn’t want to do. I guess most people wouldn’t, but that is what puts the pathological part into PDA. There are other motivations for doing things that you’d rather not like empathy and love. When I was staring the likelihood of arrest for a variety of small petty misdemeanor behaviors like public drunkeness, DWI, brawling, and all of the other things that young men did to run afoul of the law, I probably would’ve done a lot more of that kinda stuff. If I wasn’t staring the likelihood of homelessness in the face, I probably wouldn’t’ve done the things I needed to do to get and hold a job. If I hadn’t realized that working in deadend low-wage jobs wasn’t sustainable for me, I wouldn’t’ve embarked on my careers in mental health and education. See the way limits work?

Setting Limits with the Police

Let’s apply this same concept to policing in America. Since the Derek Chauvin was found guilty guilty guilty on all three counts of murder against him, there have been six people killed by police across the country. In addition, there have been numerous instances of police treating people violently even when they don’t seem to deserve it as these tweets suggest.

Many of the talking pundits on the pudit shows have pundited that one of the reasons Chauvin looked so nonchalant as he suffocated Floyd was because he thought he was not going to be held accountable that he could act with impunity. I think it’s because he’s a life-course persistent antisocial personality disorder otherwise known as a psychopath.

Qualified Immunity

The talking pundits seem to think that much police misconduct can be traced to the idea of qualified immunity that police enjoy as a result of judicial review of police misconduct. Qualified immunity is a legal principle that prevents government officials from being sued for doing their jobs. It allows for suits to be brought only if government officials have violated “clearly established” constitutional or statutory rights.

The principle dates back to the 19th century when courts used it to shield government actors from lawsuits over their conduct. It was first codified in 1871 when Congress based the law on those legal cases. Since then it has been steadily expanded and distorted until it reached the “clearly established” constitutional or statutory rights that a hypothetical reasonable person would’ve known about. Clearly established has been taken to mean that a court has already ruled on it making it a veritable Catch-22. If a court hasn’t ruled on it, then the officer is protected until a court rules on it, which it can’t because no court has ruled on it. The courts removed the first mover from the equation so now no police officer can be held liable for violating the constitutional or statutory rights of a person in their care and custody.

The Case of Johnny Leija

To be clear, qualified immunity does not apply to criminal charges or cases as in the case of Derek Chauvin. It applies to civil litigations for violations of civil rights like your Fourth Amendment protections from illegal search and seizure. A clear example is from a Reuter’s investigation examining the use of qualified immunity protections. the death of Johnny Leija at the hands of police in 2011 in Madill, Oklahoma where he was in hospital being treated for pneumonia. On 24 March, he grew confused due to the medication he was on as often happens to pneumonia patients, left his room, and refused to return to it. The police were called. When he still refused to return to his room, they tased him. Unfazed by the tasing, Leija ran, so they shocked him again bringing him to the ground. In the process of cuffing him — straddling his back trying to bring his wrists together — he died of oxygen insufficiently. The DA declined to bring criminal charges, so the family sued. The Supreme Court ordered a review of the appellate court’s decision that a reasonable person would realize that pinning a mentally impaired person with compromised lung capacity to the ground in the prone position simply to handcuff and drag him kicking and screaming back to his hospital bed violated to his Fourth Amendment rights! He was not being accused of breaking a law just not following doctor’s orders.

Eventually, the appellate court ruled that the precedent set by police detention of a mentally impaired person was not close enough to be applied to this case dismissing the wrongful death case brought by Leija’s family.

Qualified immunity, everybody. Qualified immunity. No reasonable person would think that tasing, pinning, and cuffing a mentally impaired and compromised respiration just to return him to his hospital bed not even to take him to jail was unreasonable seizure.

The police are protected from criminal prosecution because (1) their unions fight like hell to keep them from being prosecuted no matter how ungodly their behavior; (2) DA’s are reluctant to bring cases against them because juries tend to side with the police and they have to work with the police on all of their cases; and (3) the judiciary is biased in favor of the police. That leaves families with civil litigation to mitigate the wrongs perpetrated by the police, but the judiciary has expanded the use of qualified immunity to protect them there, too.

Without the limits that professional, criminal, and civil liabilities would place them under, the police have gotten the impression that there are no limits to what they can get away with or do. Like my adolescent and young adult selves, they need clear boundaries of where the no go zones are. They need clear, logical, and natural consequences to violations of those boundaries. We all adapt to our environments and without clear external boundaries our internal sense of what can be done will wander.

If you agree that we as a society should be providing more guidance and clearer boundaries for our police, then please follow the link to the Call Your Senators about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in order to find everything you’ll need to successfully advocate for this bill: background information, a summary of the bill, links for contact information, scripts for the five types of senators, other tips for contacting your senators, and suggestions of other things you can do to influence legislation.

If you enjoyed this discussion of the effects of qualified immunity on the BEHAVIOR of our police, then join our EMAIL list and never miss a post!

Image Attribution

“Militarized Police” by Shotboxer Portland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

14 replies »

  1. Whoa! I’ve been spotted trussed and diagnosed by myself in this.
    Before this, I used to simply cop to mild autism — so what?
    That’s too easy.
    Indeed, pathologic demand avoidance nails it, and it’s much harder to treat.
    There’s probably no cure.

    I could be sleeping under bridges but for some sort of serendipity.
    On the work thing: I can procrastinate BIGLY.
    Perhaps would never have had a job except work came to me. Literally, beginning with my first FICA-deducting job in adolescence, strangers have approached me and asked me to work for them and became my bosses or managers when I said ‘okay.’
    I never had to ask for work. Work asked for me.

    Also this: whatever jobs I had, and there were many many, from farm work in the fields of hot sun (Ceasar Chavez), to cool consulting Carnegie-sharp in the halls of power (H R Haldemann), whatever the duty I loved the work. Either physical or mental or both, I woke up each morning eager to get to the worksite and get moving. Work I assigned myself — clean the kitchen, do my laundry, write a book — I avoid (get a job) like it is a pathological demand.

    The difference appears to be that if someone asks it of me I am happy to oblige. And show off that my skillset is limitless.
    If I ask it of myself I just. don’t. do. it. Maybe because I ‘know’ I can’t impress myself. And I seem to laugh at my own jokes louder than others are laughing.

    [ I was never asked to be a cop. I was elected to power, once, and I got corrupt. So I resigned. ]

    Darn. This article — PDA — hit me hard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Meremark!
      PDA works in mysterious ways. One of the traits of PDA is that PDA’ers can be people pleasers. It takes so much to successfully do a job that there is nothing left to take care of your home or yourself. I’ve been there. It is part of the behaviors have natural and logical consequences. Usually, I would get excited about a job and do a GREAT job for a year or so and then it would get stale and my enthusiasm and energy drain. I’d hold on for a bit after that before I quit for the next job that I’d be excited about doing. Luckily, these symptoms faded as I got older and I was able to sustain work a bit better, but just a bit.

      I used to only apply for one job. I knew I’d get it. Literally. I would “look” for work like go through the want ads and when I became a professional talk trade publications and through friends and acquaintances. I’d hear about lots of jobs. One job would jump out at me and I’d know that was the one. I would go for that one. That’s the one I’d get.

      I’m glad that you found a way to cope with your PDA. Too many of us have no idea what is happening to us and just flail against it. Or, as I tell my daughter, you fight yourself. That’s always the worst part of it. You want to do the dishes, for example. You don’t want them to stack up in the sink until they stink.But, you can’t. You don’t want to have to leave for work early, so you can stop at the laundromat and do a pair of paints and a shirt to wear that day, but since you can’t make yourself do your laundry any other way, that’s what you end up doing.

      I used to describe myself as a chameleon because I’d take on the qualities of those in my immediate environment. It helped at work. I would adopt the attitude of those around me toward the job, company, workplace, employer. In some ways being malleable was helpful. It helped me adapt to my environment.I don’t know if that was your experience.

      Thank you for letting me know about your experience with PDA and how the post touched you. I appreciate it. These kinds of comments really make my day.



  2. This post is interesting on so many fronts Jack. I loved your anecdotes about your mother and the dastardly neighbor. I’d never heard of PDA before but it seems like a trait that might well run in my family. I have googled many times looking to see if there is some kind of condition that prevents well-intended, intelligent, and earnest people from following directions. Now, I need to look into this more.

    Definitely agree that societal parameters/pressures, in many forms, can help rein people in, regardless of their potentially anti-social tendencies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Carol!

      I think the survival instinct really kicks in when you realize the hard boundaries in your life. I have PDA. It results in behaviors like letting the electric get cut off before paying the bill and penalties. I did that a couple of times as a young man. Eventually, I was able to stopped myself and started paying just before it would be cut off. If you search the blog for pathological demand avoidance, you’ll find a couple of posts on it. The same was true for figuring out how late you could show up for work before your job was in jeopardy because you realized not only that you really did want to keep your job, it was really necessary. As soon as you realized you could get another minimum wage job, your enthusiasm for the job quickly evaporated. Cops need a little help that way to keep them in line.

      PDA was established as a profile on the autism spectrum by a British psychologist in the 1980’s. It hasn’t been picked up by Americans as enthusiastically as it has by the Brits. I’m thinking of one more post on PDA inspired by my daughter.



    • Howdy Infidel!

      The American relationship to pets is something unique in the world in my experience. Luckily, it is spreading and people are being kinder to animals, especially domesticated animals kept as pets.

      In terms of people, it seems like as long as the right people are being killed, many Americans are just fine with it. Luckily, that seems to be changing, too.

      I was interested in the report by human rights lawyers that the police murder of Black people are crimes against humanity. So, it will probably spur the “You can’t tell me what to do! I know mah rahts!” conservatives on to continuing the system unchanged.



  3. For many police officers it is not a question of, “I am under the Law.”, or ” I am above the Law.”, but the certainty, “I AM THE LAW.” IT is kind of like the idea that a sitting President can’t be legally prosecuted because he is the chief law enforcement officer.

    Qualified Immunity must go. If or when it does, I suspect a lot of bad cops will go with it. Consequences are effective.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When you can operate with near total impunity… what do they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely? I think that’s what we’ve done here. That said, all we need to do is look for who benefits from this kind of system.


      Liked by 3 people

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