22 December 2015

Ableism in the Criminal Justice System: The Case of Ms. Opal Gordon

On 21 September, 2015, Ms. Opal Gordon was arrested by the NYPD for allegedly violating an order of protection. A Deaf person who's primary language is American Sign Language, Ms. Gordon was arrested without an interpreter on scene. She was transported to the 45th precinct in the Bronx, held for hours without access to an interpreter or even, according to the NY Daily News, a pen and paper, before being transferred to a cell at the Bronx criminal court, where she was held overnight.

The fact that Ms. Gordon was never brought an interpreter--despite her repeated requests for one--goes far beyond an inconvenience or preference; it is a gross (and illegal miscarriage of justice). The fact that the NYPD did not provide an interpreter means also that Ms. Gordon did not know what she was being arrested for, or what would happen next, nor was she made aware of her Miranda Rights.

What is even more disturbing is that the New York City Administration for Children's Services made an unannounced visit to Ms. Gordon's home several weeks after the incident, and they too failed to provide an interpreter. This brings into question whether ACS had communicated fully with Ms. Gordon in the past, and whether she understood the order of protection she was alleged to have violated on the 21st.

Ms. Gordon's case is yet another example in which the ableism, racism, and classism of our justice system are inextricably bonded together to form a pattern of systematic oppression against people with disabilities and minorities. Please share Ms. Gordon's story, along with the following points from Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing:

1. These cases address a complete systemic failure by the NYPD and ACS to prevent egregious discrimination against Deaf individuals. The NYPD has failed our clients, and Deaf individuals throughout the city, by blatantly violating not only to their legal rights, but their basic human rights, and our clients refuse to tolerate this abuse any longer.

2. The NYPD has been repeatedly warned that failure to ensure effective communication with Deaf individuals could have grave consequences on innocent peoples’ lives. However, the NYPD has made a conscious choice not only to skirt the requirements of the law but to violate a Consent Decree entered into with the Department of Justice in 2009.

3. First and foremost, our client wants to see change. If proper policies, training, and procedures were in place, these situations could have been prevented, and our client could have been spared these traumatic experiences. Our client wants to ensure that this does not happen again to any Deaf person.

-Eisenberg and Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Eric Baum, Esq. , Andrew Rozynski, Esq., Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski (Deaf Liaison)

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