Interacting with the police can be difficult at the best of times, but for those who are hard of hearing, talking with law enforcement can be stressful. If you struggle with hearing loss, you know that miscommunications are common and you often don’t understand exactly what is happening or respond correctly. When encountering police who are trained to deal with dangerous situations, misunderstandings can lead to beatings, wrongful arrest, or even be life threatening!
Shooting Death in Charlotte
Last month in the town of Charlotte, a 29-year-old man was shot and killed by a North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper. Daniel Kevin Harris was both hearing and speech impaired, and this was a factor in his death. Harris failed to stop his vehicle when an officer attempted to pull him over for a speeding violation. After a seven-mile car chase, Harris finally stopped his vehicle. When he got out of the vehicle, police opened fire. In the encounter, it is thought his hearing loss was a factor in the shooting.
What Can You Do to Stay Safe?
If you are hard of hearing, the story of Harris can be bone chilling. Here are some helpful tips to keep yourself safe.
Most police violence on hard of hearing individuals happens because the officer doesn’t realize the person has hearing loss. The best thing you can do is tell them. Have a card in your wallet or in your car that says you are hard of hearing. Tell the officer you are hard of hearing or show them the card at the very beginning of the interaction. This will allow them to make good decisions, knowing that you might be having trouble understanding them. Carry a small pad of paper and a pen with you, to help with clear communication.
If you are flagged down when driving, always pull your vehicle over immediately. This shows the officers that you have seen them, and are willing to follow directions. Don’t ever touch a police officer! You might just be putting your hand on the officer’s shoulder to help you communicate, but they could interpret it as a threat. Before leaving a road stop, ask the officer if you are allowed to drive away. Leave calmly, and at a normal speed.
What Are Your Rights?
As a hard of hearing person, you have the same rights as those with normal hearing. This includes the right to easy communication. Not sure what your rights are? Actress Marlee Matlin, who is also deaf, teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf) to put together a presentation on your rights and liberties. See it at this link. Don’t let a misunderstanding in a police interaction turn ugly. Law enforcement are trained to respond in high stress situations, and it’s their responsibility to be trained and ready for everything. It’s your responsibility to know your rights and advocate for them.
The most important right you have as a hard of hearing individual is the right to an assistive listening device, real time captioning, or even an ASL translator. You have the right to understand everything that is being said to you, and law enforcement are required to provide you with whatever aids you need. You have the right to refuse a search of your car or your home. Police have the right to search your person to keep everyone safe, but if a further search makes you uncomfortable, you can say no. Make sure you fully understand any documents before you sign them. With hearing loss, it can be hard to catch all the subtleties happening around you, so be sure the documents you sign are accurate and complete.
If your rights have been violated, write down as many details as you can, including the officer’s name and badge number. Notify your local ACLU chapter, who will help you defend your rights.
Hearing health is not just about improved communication at home or at the office, it’s a matter of safety. Don’t let hearing loss put you at risk! Visit us at Fidelity Hearing Center today for a consultation.