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Interactions Between Diabetics and Law Enforcement Can Become Life-Threatening

The health of diabetics depends on uninterrupted access to insulin, snacks, pumps, glucose testing strips, or syringes on a near constant basis. If a diabetic experiences unbalanced blood sugar levels, he or she may struggle to process commands, possibly becoming erratic or aggressive.

“A decent chunk of ‘use of force’ cases involve people who ... were in some kind of physical or mental health crisis,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of ACLU Massachusetts. He added, “It’s very common for the police to deal very harshly with people who simply need help.” This issue is neither new nor infrequent.

In 1984, Dethorne Graham, a diabetic who is Black, entered a store to get juice to raise his blood sugar. Graham left when he saw the long line. An officer, assuming Graham had committed a crime, detained him. Graham was assaulted by the officer and sued. That suit became a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding use of force in policing. Graham v. Connor set forth the “objective reasonableness test”: Would a reasonable police officer in the officer’s position have done the same thing? The test disregards the actual subjective intent or motivation of the officer in question.

“If you see everything from the perspective of the police officer, then suddenly the horrible beating of a man just trying to get orange juice is just a reasonable mistake,” says Segal. The American Diabetes Association found that diabetic care is often denied to those in short-term custody.

Diabetic healthcare deteriorates rapidly behind bars, with a dozen deaths in Georgia jails and prisons from ketoacidosis in 2019 alone. Research suggests that diabetics being injured or killed by police is all too common. Making these encounters even more dangerous is the fact that Blacks are 60 percent more statistically likely to be diabetics.

Bob Carder, a Black Type-1 diabetic, was arrested in 2009 for unpaid speeding tickets and put in an Ohio jail. Guards took away his supplies, stating that drugs would be administered “as the guards deemed necessary.” Carder’s blood sugar became so high he began violently vomiting. Eventually he was rushed to the hospital where he suffered a heart attack. Carder was 24 years old and almost died over a speeding ticket. Carder summed up what he believes the guards were thinking, “I don’t think the majority of them that I’ve dealt with wake up and go, ‘How am I going to ruin somebody’s life today?’ But at the same time, they’re also not thinking, ‘How do I make sure I don’t ruin somebody’s life today?’” 


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