Reginald Latson is in solitary confinement for the crime of being being Black with autism.
If Reginald Latson was a white kid and did not have autism, would he be sitting in solitary confinement in a Virginia prison facing years behind bars?
Four years ago Reginald, known as Neli, went to the library.
It wasn’t open yet. So Neli, a Black 23-year old sat on the lawn in a white neighborhood of Stafford, Virginia doing nothing more than waiting for the library to open.
He was wearing a hoodie.
You know. A Black 23-year-old in a hoodie.
The white neighbors called to complain. Some reported seeing a gun.
Neli had no gun.
When the police arrived, Neli tried to leave, but was grabbed by a police officer.
Neli became frustrated and fought back.
As a teacher for 30 years of students on the autism spectrum I can tell you this is far from unusual.
I can’t even tell you the number of times I was punched and kicked by a child with autism because of their feelings of frustration over which they had no control.
But Neli is Black and on the autism spectrum and he was facing a police officer, not a teacher experienced with autistic behavior.
It was not criminal behavior. It was autism.
Neli was arrested and put on trial for attacking the police officer. The prosecution demanded a ten-year sentence.
The judge disagreed and placed Neli in a residential facility for a few months over time served.
The staff of the group home were not familiar with Neli’s autism and when he became agitated during a visit with his mom, they called the police.
Jailed again, he was denied his medication. This caused Neli to become suicidal and aggressive.
The prosecutor who had originally demanded the ten-year sentence and was denied it by the judge, saw his opportunity and charged Neli with a felony.
And then Neli was placed in solitary confinement.
Where he remains.
To be clear. This all started with Reginald Latson sitting quietly in front of a library waiting for it to open. He was doing nothing illegal.
He was doing nothing wrong.
But he was Black and had autism.
He could end this horror story now and release Reginald Latson.