The simple facts of vulnerability and safeguarding seem to keep presenting themselves in the world, perhaps so we can learn what we need to from them about being of service to others. The explosions and death and terror caused by people towards people reminds me of the fragility of life, the thin line between everyday lives and chaos, and the seeming randomness with which those we love can be struck down in a moment.
What protects us and shields us to any degree? What about people who are living on the margins, on the very edges of society, people for whom things can go very badly, very quickly? I am thinking this morning of that young man – Robert Saylor- who was in Regal Cinema Theater #16 in Frederick, Maryland on January 12, 2013. He was 26 years old, had watched and apparently enjoyed the movie “Zero Dark Thirty”, and wanted to see it again. A movie theater employee called mall security, which consisted of three off-duty policemen (not in uniform), moonlighting as mall security guards. Mr. Saylor, who had Down Syndrome, was handcuffed as they tried to forcibly remove him from the theater. The scuffle that ensued resulted in Mr. Saylor being held facedown on the floor while handcuffed, and he was soon dead by suffocation. Observers state that before he died, he cried out for his mother. Blame has spread far and wide – lack of education for security officers, police mindsets, predjudice against of people with disabilities, lack of awareness of physical vulnerabilities of people with Down Syndrome, and more.
What I have heard may be true, and even if it is not completely true, it matters as we try to figure out how a chain of events like this could occur. It is said that Mr. Saylor was accompanied to that movie by a service worker. It is also said that, when it became clear that he was not leaving the movie theater, she decided to give him some time while she went to retrieve the car to pick him up in the front of the theater. By the time she had come back, it was too late. I can read some details into this scenario. I can read that Mr. Saylor had done similar things before – he doesn’t like to leave when he is having a good time. I imagine that she knew him pretty well, and knew giving him some time and space would be helpful. At some point, she may well have simply bought two $11.00 movie tickets and sat down for another round of Zero Dark Thirty, had she had the chance.
At some point, she walked through the lobby of the theater, and for whatever reason, did not to mention to any theater employees that Mr. Saylor was still in the theater, that he was waiting there until she came back, and that she would indeed be back in a few minutes. Perhaps she thought of this, and decided against it. On another day, she might decided differently. Perhaps if there had been a welcoming face on her way out, she would have, perhaps not. Had she, though, things would, in all likelihood, have turned out differently, and perhaps the Saylor family would not be grieving the death of their 26 year old son.
No blame intended from me – what lays me low is the realization of the hair’s breadth that separates people with disabilities and other devalued conditions from disaster. When we decide to walk with such people, we carry a responsibility of knowing that each and every action we take in that person’s life has exponential weight in terms of the consequences. Those consequences will be born quite heavily by the people we are in service to, and perhaps never even be noted or appreciated by those of us in service to them. This calls us to be wide awake and aware of the seriousness of the roles we have in the lives of the people we serve and are walking with.
All the policies and protections and laws and rules that many of us have to contend with can indeed provide important frameworks for protecting and safeguarding those with fragile lives and shaky life circumstances. However, acute personal awareness of what we actually DO in the lives of others moment to moment, and how these actions may impact the people we are serving adds a layer of safeguarding that is fallible and itself uncertain, but powerful and potentially life-saving.