A recent assault on a minor in Rochester on Oct. 14 has sparked conversations about the continuous racial profiling and blatant racism that harms people of color—including children and teenagers—all over the United States. Chase Coleman, a 15-year-old high school cross country runner from Syracuse, is a nearly-nonverbal autistic child. Coleman was running in a meet with his cross-country team near Cobb’s Hill Park in Rochester when his mother realized he was lost along the course, according to The Washington Post. Coleman’s mother usually prepares for meets ahead of time, as he often wanders off.
While off the course, Coleman was running in the street when 57-year-old Pittsford resident Martin MacDonald exited his car and approached Coleman while yelling and pushed him onto the ground.
MacDonald claimed he was acting in self-defense, as he believed Coleman would attempt to rob his wife. MacDonald explained that “black youths” had recently broken into his car, which justified his attack on the seemingly “suspicious” Coleman. Although Coleman was a quiet young teenager dressed in an identifiable cross-country uniform and number, MacDonald acted on his blatantly racist and violent assumptions.
Rochester City Court Judge Caroline Morrison initially denied a requested arrest warrant charging MacDonald for second-degree harassment, according to Syracuse.com. In response, Syracuse city councilor Susan Boyle wrote a letter to Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, condemning the “racist, aggressive, unprovoked attack on a disabled African American minor with absolutely no consequences.”
Associated Press noted that the Rochester police renewed an investigation of the assault on Monday Oct. 31.
This incident exemplifies the societal struggles of not only people of color, but of disabled people of color. The intersection of race and disability can evoke specific experiences or incidents of discrimination that relate to the connection of both identities.
While it is deplorable and shameful that Coleman was assaulted in what could arguably be defined as a hate crime, the weak reaction from Rochester authorities is also extremely disappointing. This situation shows that discriminatory incidents are not properly understood by law enforcement.
Able-bodied people and law enforcement often see people with mental disabilities as a threat because they lack understanding of certain disabilities. When police taser or shoot unarmed disabled men—or a passerby assaults an innocent autistic child—we must identify and attempt to eradicate these examples of aggressive ignorance.
Coleman and his family deserve to receive justice for this incident. Hopefully authorities will be motivated to increase training and education about how to engage with and handle similar discriminatory situations.