Sara Hart Weir: Justice for Ethan, time for action

Op-Ed by Sara Weir originally published in the Frederick News-Post.

Our organization, the National Down Syndrome Society, is anxiously waiting for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to take action following the needless death of one of our own. Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old man who happened to have Down syndrome, died senselessly while in the custody of three off-duty Frederick County Sheriff’s Office deputies in a movie theater last January. We are outraged. Ethan’s death was tragic and avoidable.

Last week, Delegate Heather Mizeur was the first Maryland lawmaker to speak out and join our call for action. Mizeur, a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, understands as we do that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities deserve to be valued members of welcoming communities.

Ethan deserved to be in the movie theater that evening. People with Down syndrome and other disabilities deserve and have the right to a meaningful life in their communities, whether it’s through a career of their choosing, a living arrangement of their liking, recreational activities of their selecting, or just friendships of their electing.

We commend the U.S. Department of Justice for opening an investigation into Ethan’s death.

However, we have grave concerns with the findings outlined in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office report released last month. Our organization has called on Gov. O’Malley to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an independent, unbiased investigation into Ethan’s tragic death.

Gov. O’Malley, please take action now. Our community needs answers. Ethan’s family deserves answers. We need an accurate account of what exactly happened and a push for action. Ethan is calling on all of us to make sure we learn from this tragedy.

We applaud Delegate Mizeur for speaking out and continuing to fight for underrepresented communities, and as the national advocate for people with Down syndrome, want to be sure this situation never happens again.

SARA HART WEIR, MS, is the Vice President of Advocacy and Affiliate Relations for the National Down Syndrome Society based in Washington, D.C. NDSS is a nonprofit organization representing the more than 400,000 Americans with Down syndrome. The mission of NDSS is to be the national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.