There’s an incredibly lucky young man living in Howell, New Jersey. Parker Drake, an autistic 19 year old was lured out on the Manasquan jetty with two ‘friends’. His luck almost ran out on a fateful wintry day at the Jersey shore.
On February 25th, Parker’s luck swung like a pendulum. He was happy to be out with his friends, because autistic people have a difficult time dealing with relationships or trust. Unfortunately, he was taunted by his ‘pals’ in what’s known as a ‘mate’ crime… a crime in which people befriend an autistic person only to commit crimes against them, or using them to commit crimes.
In this case, Parker was offered $20 and two packs of cigarettes if he would jump off the rocky jetty into the frigid, freezing Atlantic Ocean. The sea was only 30 degrees that day. He had only four minutes before he would start to lose consciousness. Waves went right over his head, pushing him under, but luckily, not onto the rocks, where he might have been crushed. Salt water went down his throat. He was drowning.
His ‘pals’ didn’t help. Instead, they recorded it on their mobile phones to post it on social media later, catching their own taunts and laughter. To them, Parker’s life wasn’t worth anything. Clearly, they perceived his autism to mean he wasn’t a full human, nor did he have any rights. He was a plaything, they could destroy if they wished.
Luckily, Parker somehow made it out of the ocean. He doesn’t remember how he came ashore. The insulin pump he wears for his diabetes froze. He could well have suffered a coma, stroke or heart failure. While in the ocean, he could have suffered hypothermia, or been bashed against the rocks, or drowned. His life was at serious risk. He literally came within minutes of death.
Manasquan Police did not find compelling reasons to charge Nicholas Formica, 20, and Christopher Tilton, 19, both of Howell, with any criminal charges. Evidently, police also believe that a person with autism isn’t a citizen either. Their opinion seems to be shared by the Monmouth County Prosecutor, who also refused to press charges because Parker voluntarily jumped into the ocean and he’s over 18.
Evidently, police and prosecutors know nothing about autism. Let us enlighten them here.
Autistic persons are willing to do most anything to keep a friendship they value. So if someone purporting to be a friend challenges them to do unsafe things, they might, depending on their perception of safety. This doesn’t mean it was voluntary, because the autistic person feels incredible pressure to satisfy the friend, thus Parker was actually pressured into jumping – a criminal act, no different than pushing him.
The autistic often don’t have any perception of safety, which is why so many drown or die in auto accidents. Did Parker have any sense that he would be in danger in the ocean? Probably not, because if he did, he wouldn’t have jumped, which begs the question – was Parker’s decision to jump that of a rational adult or, of a child unaware of the dangers?
By making this ‘deal’ Formica and Tilton criminally endangered Parker’s life, a crime by any standard if the victim wasn’t autistic. Is the prosecutor not setting a double standard by failing to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law?
A diagnosis of autism usually includes a lower than average Intelligence Quotient (IQ), except in Aspergians (AS) and those with High Functioning Autism (HFA). We don’t know Parker’s IQ, but we doubt the County Prosecutor even asked about it. Likely, his IQ is equal to an age lower than his calendar age. He may well be comparable to a 13 or 14 year old, mentally. Therefore, the crime they say didn’t matter because of Parker’s age is actually equal to a crime against a child.
Despite their desire to please friends, the autistic live in constant fear relative to friendships. They are scared the friend will abandon them, or that the friend will physically abuse them, yell at them or call them names. As Parker screamed “Help!”, his so-called friends laughed at him, videotaping the entire incident and posting it on a social media site for fun; proof that the life of Parker meant nothing to them. That isn’t reckless endangerment, attempted manslaughter? Of course not… the victim is autistic, so he doesn’t matter.
Parker’s best bit of luck, after surviving this life threatening event is his Mom, Christine Marshall, who swore out a complaint against Formica and Tilton after someone gave her the video they found online. Ms. Marshall was stunned that police refused to bring charges, so she had to resort to filing with the County Prosector. The complaint only charges them with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, though local political figures, civic leaders and parents are demanding the County Prosecutor find some validation for added charges.
His luck continues in the efforts of State Senator Robert Singer (R-30th) and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R), who are leading the charge to craft strong legislation to make such acts against mentally disabled persons a felony.
This same scenario has played out too many times. When the ALS Challenge prank took place in Ohio, police did not immediately respond to file charges against those who convinced an autistic teen to pour a bucket of urine and feces over his head until considerable public pressure forced their hand. In Florida, when Aaron Hill was beaten, police did not make any arrests until public pressure overwhelmed them, ultimately resulting in felony charges against six individuals.
When are police, prosecutors and courts going to get it? An autistic person IS a citizen, with equal rights. That means law enforcement, has a duty, and an obligation to protect those rights and send a clear message that harming an autistic person is going to result in forceful criminal prosecutions.
If the prosecutor in this case cannot see a way to protect Parker’s rights and his life, then he should resign, strictly on the basis that he’s unable to do the job.
We are supporting Parker and his Mom, of course. We hope everyone will join us. Tweet #DareToAdvocate and #JusticeforParker