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YMCA, Autism, & Why Mental Health IS an Issue for Occupy
Robert Wilkes, the YMCA East Bay President and CEO is attempting to say that those including myself, an Autistic person, are felons who aided in a burglary of the YMCA, as part of a plan to use the center and its staff as "a human shield". His explanation of events is untrue.
I am not ashamed to say that I was scared of being kettled by the Oakland Police. I was in a trapped situation and had a panic attack. The police gave no dispersal order, and no way out of their blockade, nor was any dispersal order given. I asked the YMCA to please let me in because I was scared. The YMCA staff unlocked the doors, and opened them on their own accord.
(This is my personal experience of the events of Saturday the 28th. And this a direct rebuttal against the lies put forth by YMCA CEO Robert Wilkes.)
I need to preface my statement by stating I did not participate in any attempt in a building take over, and only later joined the FTP march which followed a failed attempt of a building take over. I offer no personal view on the failed building take over event. It was beyond my capacity, and beyond my personal interest. I was only interested in the FTP march, because it was merely a street march, and was different than other activities which took place earlier in the day. The FTP marches offer all levels of peaceful participation, and those like myself can join them without violating personal beliefs, and without breaking our own personal mental and physical limits.
The FTP march was trying to head back to Oscar Grant Plaza.... "We're going home", we were told. But the cops impeded forward and backwards motion, and had batons and guns drawn. I had gotten disconnected from anyone I knew and was lost in a sea of strange faces. The sidewalks were blocked. The police were not just impeding walking in the streets, but were also not allowing legal foot-traffic to occur. It was clear the police were going to enter the crowd in a violent manner.
Those with bikes locked them at the YMCA. We were looking for sanctuary, not attempting to use the Y as "a human shield" as Robert A. Wilkins the head of the YMCA wrongfully said in an interview.
I used a small bullhorn to communicate through the door, asking to please open the doors, begging for aid and compassion. The YMCA unlocked and opened the door. There was no break in. I was not the first person in the door, but was one of the first 10 inside. I thanked the staff at the front desk. I told them the cops were attacking us, and I was scared.
What started as a trickle became a rush of people who were also fleeing armed police who had already used tear-gas and rubber-bullets earlier in the day. Inside, I again used the small bullhorn and asked people to be calm, because I was concerned someone might be trampled, including myself who was going slower than others. And actually many people did slow down a little, so things were slightly less chaotic. (I am not saying this to sound heroic, but just to tell the events as they happened.)
The YMCA flooded with people, but most were looking for an exit and most did leave.
Again, I can only speak to my personal experience. I stayed, because I was tired, I was having mental health issues, and I was not at any time told to leave by staff.
I got a drink of water and looked for a quiet corner to rest. I was not even near an exit when I was found by police, I was literally the furthest from an exit possible, because I was under the impression the YMCA was offering rest. I was trying to get as far away from everything for a moment.
The cops entered with guns drawn, threatening to shoot anyone who didn't stay still. They found me and others by me, and we were led to the main lobby.
I saw a staff member, a young lady whom I cannot her name, and told her I needed her help because I have a mental health condition. I asked her if I could stay with her. The staff person told the police that I was going to be with her.
The police said everyone had to stay in the main lobby, but me. I was allowed by police to go with the YMCA staff member into an area outside the locker room. I was told to sit on a bench and wait for everything to end. Then I would be able to leave un-harassed by police.
While I was waiting downstairs, an announcement was made over the intercom that the building was closing early and that anyone without a YMCA membership was going to be arrested. The situation had changed in a dire way.
The staff member who was with me had gone upstairs to check on things, so she was no longer with me, when I walked up into the main lobby. I was forced by police to sit down and stay quiet. I was considered a criminal, as we all were. Even-though the YMCA opened the door for us, let us in, and never told us to leave.
By filing felony charges, Robert Wilkes is lashing out blindly at everyone who entered the building, no matter what their intent was.
Robert Wilkes is trying to make a political statement, and use a Christian-based community center to lash out at what he sees as a progressive threat against his world-view. In his actions, Robert Wilkes is pressing a felony charge against a disabled person who asked for help, and was granted help. What became an offer of aid, turned into false accusations of terrorist-level conspiracy.
Again, I can only speak to my personal experience, but I was scared, confused, and was offered a solace which turned into an incarceration.
Robert Wilkes might be interested to know that I was handcuffed in a painful stress position for many hours. And was not allowed to use a restroom for a long period of time, as those of us inside were forced to go a long process of identification and search.
Robert Wilkes might want to know that those around me demanded that I leave in a ambulance and be sent to a hospital. I made the request at first, but it was echoed by other protesters... that I was not like them, and I needed special care a prison could not offer. This request for an ambulance was denied despite showing major signs of stress and confusion, slowed and stuttered speech, severe lack of eye contact, signs of disorientation, and other physical signs things were not going well for me.
Robert Wilkes might want to know that I was not considered a human being in jail. I was called a "thing" in Santa Rita, as well as "a lunatic", "crazy", "a psycho", and et cetera. I was not allowed any psychiatric care. I was not allowed contact with any staff at Santa Rita who had any knowledge of Autism or PTSD (a secondary diagnosis which accompanies many people with Autism), nor did I encounter people who had any sympathy for people like me. I was treated as an animal, with no blanket, no socks, no undershirt or underwear. I was cold, in thin prison garb. I was not allowed a shower, and was on an increased restricted access to outside my cell, restrictions others in my unit were not bound by.
Robert Wilkes might want to know that in Santa Rita jail I had to navigate a violent fight between inmates, and had to witness other acts of violence towards inmates by guards.
Robert Wilkes might want to know that the staff at Santa Rita threw away my personal clothing, and thus I could not get my items back after release. The hat my brother gave me for my birthday before he left out of state is gone.
Robert Wilkes might want to know I had to leave in the cold without my shoes, without my hat, and without my new hoodie which another Christian based organization (a church) gave me.
Robert Wilkes might want to know that because I asked for help, I faced a $57,000 bail. A bail which I wouldn't have, if his own staff hadn't let me in.
Robert Wilkes NEEDS to know that disabled people have the right to march in a peaceful protest. Robert Wilkes needs to understand what Free-speech is, and what Freedom of assembly is. Robert Wilkes needs to understand what a side-walk is, and that when the police block a sidewalk by kettling, people's liberties have been taken away.
As an Autistic person, I have the right to protest my situation as a disabled American... not a "psycho", nor a "thing", nor a "crazy", nor a "lunatic"... but as a human being. I am not a hardcore protester, and there are many things that have happened related to Occupy that I lack the neurological, and physical capacity to do. I protest on my own terms, following my personal beliefs of non-violence, and for a deeper understanding of the society I am in. As an Autistic person I should not have to stay home, and pass as history takes place. I have the right to be part of a global movement which demands change for all people. I have the right to demand change for disabled persons, without being labelled a felon... or worse.
Robert Wilkes needs to understand that a change of perceptions for the mental health community is needed. Mental health is an issue, because everyone knows someone who has a mental health challenge. Our society doesn't openly discuss mental health issues, because they are still taboo. People who disclose their neurological impairments are deemed substandard, faulty, and less-than-normal. However, in reality the base-line for normal does not stand where popular-society posits. The base-line for normal is more fluid, more dynamic than our mainstream culture pretends. People are falling through the cracks because they are born differently. Fewer educational and job opportunities, which leads to fewer housing opportunities, which leads to a less substantial quality of life. All for just being born differently.
The prison system is becoming a catch-all for people with mental health issues, as real mental health programs become fewer and more expensive.
The police do not treat people with mental health issues with dignity. The government in general does not treat people with mental health issues with dignity. Capitalism does not treat people with mental health issues with dignity.
If Robert Wilkes doesn't understand that he needs to resign immediately from the YMCA, and he needs to rethink what it means to be a Christian in our modern times.