October 27, 2020 | 8 minutes read

Black Autistic Lives Matter: Solidarity with Osime Brown

From education, to social care, to justice, Black autistic lives are criminalised and abused; we can and must fight for a world without the inhumanity of capitalism; we must not forget or abandon those whose autonomy is removed in the name of justice.

Black Autistic Lives Matter: Solidarity with Osime Brown

Trigger warnings: racism, self harm, medical abuse, physical abuse, slavery, prison, police brutality

On the 7th of October, Osime Brown, a 22 year old, Black, autistic man from Dudley finally returned to his family after spending the last five years behind bars. Osime was initially set to be taken to a detention centre on the day of his release, awaiting deportation to Jamaica; but thanks to many months of action on the streets and online by the #FreeOsimeBrown movement, Osime has been allowed to return to his home. The movement led by Osime’s family has shone a light on the continued war carried out by the British state, against neurodivergent people, particularly Black neurodivergent people. From the education system to the justice system, the bourgeoisie is deeming disability to be unproductive or disruptive. They opt to remove those individuals from society altogether, via school exclusions, frequent rehoming, prison, and deportation.

Osime was arrested in 2016 over the theft of a mobile phone, despite a witness testifying that he had not stolen anything but was telling the two other boys to stop. Two years later, when he was old enough to be charged as an adult, the courts took advantage of Osime’s autism and the racist joint enterprise law, sentencing him to five years in prison for being guilty by association. In actuality, Osime Brown’s crime was being Black and autistic, and since 2018 the British state has violently punished him for it.

During his prison sentence at HMP Stocken in Rutland, Osime has suffered racial abuse, mechanical and chemical restraint, and has had his mental and physical health used against him in the form of manipulative punishment. Within the prison’s “care”, Osime was prescribed sedatives and antipsychotic medication in order to further remove his autonomy.

The overuse of sedatives and anti-psychotics led to the development of a heart condition, for which Osime has had two operations. The first surgery was carried out without enough anesthesia, leaving Osime awake for the whole procedure.

In late July, HMP Stocken knowingly left Osime to cough blood for a week before seeking help, after which the prison doctor reprimanded him for not taking part in regular gym exercise. He continued to cough blood for the next month. Pleas for help by Osime were met with further punishment: solitary confinement, denial of meals, and verbal abuse. In his frustration, Osime punched his cell wall, breaking his hand; the prison authorities left him without medical attention for 24 hours.

Whilst the administering of antipsychotics and sedatives is a common practice under capitalism, as a means of removing the autonomy of neurodivergent and disabled people, the modern day subjugation of Black lives via medical institutions and racial science falls in line with dehumanising practices carried out under the American chattel slavery system. In order to maintain hegemony, and reinforce the idea of Black people as naturally predisposed to slavery, the notion of a slave wanting freedom was made into a mental illness, drapetomania. “Curing” Black desires for freedom often involved exerting bodily control, via amputation, restricting limbs, and marking the body, in order to prevent escape and assert dominance. White supremacy must maintain that Black lives are only suited to work for the creation of their masters’ wealth, locking them into narratives of being hyper-able-bodied yet fundamentally disabled by, and therefore “lesser'' due to, their race. These racist, ableist assertions, delivered in the form of science, have created a view of Black people as ineligible for citizenship, and valued only for their utility to capital. In Osime’s case, his race, autism, and mental illnesses were regarded by capitalism as disruptive and unproductive, and therefore better removed from “normal”, able society. Later, Osime’s desire for freedom and the frustration he felt towards his oppressors were treated with bodily restraint, neglect, and by weaponising the field of medicine to keep him without autonomy.

But the acts of racist and ableist violence inflicted upon this Black, autistic man were not limited to abuses committed at HMP Stocken, but could already be found in the bourgeois systems of education, health and social care.

At school, Osime, then undiagnosed, was labelled “disruptive”, “a trouble maker”, “rude”, and was punished for holding his hands over his ears, and vocally stimming. Indicators of autism were dismissed as misbehaving, an occurrence all too frequent for people of colour, leaving autism and learning disabilities largely undiagnosed.

Shortly after being diagnosed with autism at the age of 16, Osime was removed from his home without his mother’s consent, and without legal paperwork to sign. He was placed into local authority care, and was rehomed 28 times within a 12 month period. Joan Fairclough, Osime’s mother, has cited the failures of the school system through to the justice system, as the causes of her son’s heart condition and PTSD.

Osime was originally set to be released from prison and moved to an immigrant detention centre on the 7th of October, awaiting his deportation to Jamaica.

Due to the UK Borders Act 2007, the Secretary of State must put a deportation order on a “foreign criminal” if they see a “period of imprisonment of at least 12 months.”  The act also states that “the deportation of a foreign criminal is conducive to the public good”. The targeted viciousness of the UK criminal justice system is revealed all the more cruel when the two older white boys involved in the theft received just one year of probation.

Although Osime Brown has been allowed to stay with his family for now, the threat of deportation is still imminent. Osime is set to be deported to Jamaica, a country he left at the age of four, and where he has no connections or systems of support. Abandoning Osime, an autistic man, struggling with PTSD and anxiety, at the airport of a country he has no familiarity with would be murder.

Osime Brown’s situation is not a mistake or an outlier; it is a continuation of capitalism’s exploitation and oppression of Black, neurodivergent, and disabled individuals. Beyond these borders, similar cases and the movements that rose out of them have found solidarity with one another. Movements led by the mothers and families of children elsewhere in the world, imprisoned for being Black, neurodivergent, or mentally ill, have reached out to one another over social media, offering support and voice to a shared fight.

Saraya Rees is a 15-year old from Coos County Oregon, with a history of mental health struggles. At 13, she was improperly and abruptly taken off of antidepressants by a paediatrician who was not her regular doctor. This led to Saraya going into a manic state of psychosis, where she poured a small amount of gasoline onto her living room floor as a cry for help, and with no intention of setting it alight. As recommended by her doctor, Saraya’s parents called the 24-hour Crisis Team at Coos Health and Wellness Centre, expecting them to pick her up. Instead, the Centre elected to call the Myrtle Point Police, who stormed the house, guns drawn, and handcuffed Saraya in front of her parents. On top of being coerced into making statements whilst in custody, the DA deemed her parents “victims”, despite them never pressing charges, and today she sits in Oak Creek Correctional Facility, where she will remain until she has “accepted accountability” for a crime she did not commit. #Justice4Saraya

Elliot (last name not made public) is a Black, Muslim, autistic teenager who grew up in Buckinghamshire and Suffolk counties. In 2012, Elliot was maliciously removed from the care of his family, after his mother instigated a judicial review of a discriminatory blanket policy, in place by the Buckinghamshire County Council, which obstructed children with autism and ADHD from accessing the education and support they are entitled to. Throughout his childhood, Elliot has been frequently denied adequate mental and behavioural health services, has been subjected to racist and Islamophobic bullying, and in 2019, following a meltdown, Elliot was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. In June 2020 instead of being released to his family, Elliot was sent to a bail hostel; meanwhile, his belongings were sent home, damaged and vandalised with racial slurs and swastikas. On June 17, Elliot was assaulted by police while asking directions to the bail hostel, and returned to Peterborough prison. Elliot, like Osime, has been medicated without proper physical health checks, has had issues accessing his prescribed medication, leading to withdrawals, and he has been seriously assaulted. #BringElliotHome

Matthew Rushin, a Black, autistic 22 year old from Virginia, sits in prison with a sentence of up to 50 years due to the parasitism of bourgeois systems of “justice”. January 4th, 2019, driving to pick up some pastries and meet his new girlfriend as she got off from work, Matthew grazed a vehicle that failed to remain stopped at a stop sign. The incident was minor, but Matthew was unable to prompt the man to pull off to the side, triggering a panic that wasn’t typical for Matthew, and therefore difficult to understand. Matthew drove two blocks before realising he needed to return to the scene, even if it wasn’t his fault. He made a U-turn and lost consciousness, and would later describe repeatedly to detectives that he only remembered the LED lights of a vehicle he struck, but did not realize he had travelled a quarter of a mile between the U-turn and being in oncoming traffic. Matthew climbed out the back of the SUV, and was quickly restrained by a bystander, and having seen a Black male and an older white man in what looked like an altercation, another stranger came over to restrain Matthew. One of the people involved in the crash approached Matthew, yelling, “What the f--k were you trying to do? Kill yourself?”.

The man would claim Matthew responded, “I want to die.” Meanwhile, the police reported that Matthew said he wanted to kill himself. Matthew could not remember what he said. His family holds that Matthew’s response was due to echolalia, which is when an autistic person repeats something to help process it, especially in a state of overwhelm. Yet the police account was the primary evidence used to charge Matthew Rushin with attempted murder, a charge that would later be elevated to 2 counts of aggravated malicious wounding, a class 2 felony equivalent to first degree murder. Matthew was sentenced to prison through coercion and his trial counsel’s failure to address his neurodevelopmental diagnoses, his PTSD and traumatic brain injury from an accident in 2017. Instead those factors were exploited by the police and the courts, questioning him for hours, and coercing him into signing a deal claiming that if signed he would have a 50/50 chance of going home, rather than ending up in prison for life. The lesser charges Matthew was manipulated into signing still carried a maximum potential sentence of 50 years.

August 26th, Matthew sent a poem to Osime Brown after seeing his artwork and feeling an immediate kinship.

Osime, Saraya, Elliot, and Matthew are but a few of the young Black, neurodivergent, or disabled lives abandoned in prisons and abused by the inherently racist and ableist structures that uphold white, neurotypical, able-bodied, bourgeois hegemony. From education, to social care, to justice, Black autistic lives are criminalised and abused; we can and must fight for a world without the inhumanity of capitalism; we must not forget or abandon those whose autonomy is removed in the name of justice, nor must we sit idly by whilst Black mothers are forced to organise movements to bring their children home to safety.

We offer solidarity to Osime Brown and his family. We echo the calls to put an immediate stop to his deportation which is an act of calculated murder by the UK Home Office.

We offer our solidarity to Saraya Rees, Elliot, Matthew Rushin, their families, and all Black neurodivergent and disabled lives removed and abused by the capitalist state.

#BlackAutisticLivesMatter

#StopTheDeportation

#OsimeMatters

#OsimeNeedsHisFamily

#JusticeForOsimeBrown