Ryan Gainer, Black Teen With Autism Is Killed By Cops In Southern California


Ryan Gainer, a 15-year-old Black California boy who appeared to be dealing with a mental health crisis, was killed. Deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department responded to a call from his parents on Saturday, March 9th, the twenty-seventh anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.

The parents of Ryan Gainer, a Black teen with autism, called the Apple Valley division of the sheriff’s department and asked authorities to “take him in” after an altercation in the home, according to the Los Angeles Times. Instead, the teen was shot after charging a deputy “armed with an approximate five-foot-long garden tool, with a sharp bladed end,” according to a news release from the sheriff’s department.

On Saturday afternoon, the 15-year-old became upset that his parents had demanded he complete his household chores before he would be allowed to play video games or listen to music on his computer, according to DeWitt Lacy, a civil rights attorney representing Ryan’s family.

“He got upset. Any teen would be upset by that,” Lacy said. Some people with autism experience more heightened emotions and on that day Ryan responded by breaking glass on the front door, Lacy said.

According to the L.A. Times, Ryan’s death has heightened concerns from activists about law enforcement’s use of force against people suffering from mental health issues and the lack of supportive services available for families when they call police for help.

The death was not the first. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was sued last year after deputies shot and killed Tony Garza while he was in the middle of a mental health crisis. In 2019, an off-duty LAPD officer fatally shot 32-year-old Kenneth French, who had a cognitive disability, during an altercation inside a Costco in Corona.

Zoe Gross who works as the advocacy director at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a nonprofit organization run by and for individuals on the autism spectrum, said law enforcement must release a fuller picture of what happened during their encounter with Ryan to better understand what could have been done differently.

“The autistic community has seen far too many cases of law enforcement profiling, targeting, and using excessive, sometimes deadly force on Black autistic people,” Gross, told the L.A. Times. “Because of the prevalence of police violence and the amount of unmet need in our communities, we must fund and implement alternatives to policing.”

The death of Ryan Gainer has also renewed discussions about finding better alternatives for law enforcement officers who respond to mental health crises, according to the L.A. Times.

“Our social safety net for those experiencing mental illness needs to be strengthened. Our deputies handle seemingly insurmountable calls daily. Most of these calls do not end in violence,” Sheriff Shannon Dicus said in a statement to multiple news outlets.

“However, this one ended in tragedy for Ryan, his family, and for the deputies who responded. Rapidly evolving, violent encounters are some of the most difficult, requiring split-second decisions. While these decisions are lawful, they are awful in terms of our humanity. I feel for both Ryan’s family and my deputies, who will struggle with this for their entire lives,” Dicus said.

A New York Times article, The Toll of Police Violence on Black People’s Mental Health, illustrates the myriad ways Black people in America grapple, often quietly, with continuing threats of police violence.

[Four] years have passed since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. But while the widespread protests against police violence in the United States have quieted, the pain Black people experience when a police officer injures or kills a Black person persists. Black people in America are killed by the police at three times the rate of their white counterparts. And the number of deaths has remained consistent from year to year.

Victims and their families, as well as bystanders, are often psychologically scarred by these events. But there is evidence that the millions of Black people indirectly exposed to police violence are affected, too. In a 2021 study, researchers examined emergency room data from hospitals across five states, finding a correlation between police killings of unarmed Black people and a rise in depression-related E.R. visits among Black people.

We don’t have to look almost 3,000 miles away to see the need for better alternatives for law enforcement officers who respond to mental health crises, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., was shot and killed by White Plains Police who were supposed to be making a wellness check. Chamberlain accidentally triggered his Life Alert pendant in his sleep one night in 2011 and he was killed 90 minutes later by the very officers there to check on him.

After the nationwide outrage over the killings of George Floyd (May 25, 2020) and Breonna Taylor (who was killed four years ago today, March 13, 2020), Westchester County created a crisis response team, called Project Alliance, as a better alternative for law enforcement officers who respond to mental health crises as part of the cry for criminal justice reform. But even with the Project Alliance in place and the city of New Rochelle opting in, there are still incidents locally, like in the case of the murder of Jarrell Garris, last July. Family and friends of Garris, an unarmed Black male with mental health issues who was shot and killed by New Rochelle Police Detective Steven Conn on July 3rd, are still looking for answers eight months later. Community leaders are still trying to find out how, even with a Project Alliance, there is still a breakdown and much work to be done in this area.

Raymond ‘C2’ Fowler appeared on Black Westchester’s People Before Politics Radio Show, joining Damon K. Jones and myself on Sunday, February 4, 2024, to talk about his fight for justice and accountability for the death of his son, Jarrell Garris, at the hands of Det. Steven Conn, whose presence escalated the encounter and the absence of the Project Alliance on that day.

The killing of Gainer is the latest in a long line of police killings of African Americans with mental health issues in the United States.

Neither the Gainer’s family attorney nor the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department have yet to respond to Black Westchester’s requests for comment. Stay tuned to BW for more on this developing story.

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

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