Mike ErvinI’ve taken part in so many cripple political protests that I’ve run out of appendages on which to tabulate them (which means it’s more than 21). I’d say that at least 70% of the time, the first reaction of the police and/or other security personnel who are dispatched to deal with us is to play a game I call Grab-A-Vert.

It’s an amazing phenomenon to observe, and it plays out pretty much the same way every time. The police arrive. They see a pack of raucous cripples chanting. They look flummoxed. They huddle and come up with an action plan. They break the huddle and move in on us. They grab everyone who is standing, or not sitting in a wheelchair, and haul them away.

They grab everyone they perceive to be a vert. Sometimes they grab deaf people. They might even grab a blind person who doesn’t have a white cane or guide dog nearby to clearly identify them as blind. One time when we protested in the lobby of a hotel where an evil conference was taking place, hotel security manhandled a guy with hemophilia, dragging him out onto the sidewalk and leaving a bruise shaped like a handprint on his ribcage.

When the cops huddle, no doubt one says, “Well, what do we do now?” And then another one says, “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” And that person feels full of pride because they think they’re the first person to come up with this brilliant Grab-A-Vert approach.

The success of this strategy relies on the premise that the verts are our Svengalis who have hypnotized us into protesting. The cops must picture these verts having a big meeting where they all decide to organize a cripple protest for some reason. And then the verts set about the business of recruiting innocent cripples to join. I bet the cops picture these sinister verts cruising nursing homes in search of vulnerable, impressionable cripples to lure in. After all, some cripples will do anything if it’ll get them out of the nursing home for an afternoon.

And so, the Grab-A-Vert logic concludes that if the vert ringleaders and instigators are removed, their poor, frightened crippled dupes won’t know what to do. And we’ll probably break down crying and run away.

After encountering crippled protesters for the first time, cops new to Grab-A-Vert stand there with their arms folded, looking all badass, waiting to see what happens next. And not once has it ever played out the way they hope it will. They soon realize that all they’ve managed to accomplish was to make the cripples chant louder. The cops look forlorn. They huddle again to figure out a plan B.

I used to be insulted by Grab-A-Verting. How dare the cops assume that cripples are all a bunch of passive Tiny Tims! How dare they assume that cripples can never be pushy, rude and out-of-line without outside agitator verts putting us up to it! This is the 21st century, dammit!  Hasn’t everybody learned by now that cripples are perfectly capable of being pushy, rude and out-of-line on our own? It just goes to show that even 30 years after the signing of the ADA, we still have a long way to go to properly change people’s hearts and minds.

But as I think about Grab-A-Vert more, I’m starting to believe that maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe the cops don’t think the whole Grab-A-Vert thing through nearly as much as I give them credit for. Maybe it’s all just instinct and reflex. The gut response of a lot of cops when confronted with a rowdy mob is to manhandle everybody into submission. So maybe Grab-A-Vert is just their way of satisfying that burning urge in a measured manner that doesn’t create video of cops giving cripples whiplash. Maybe it’s manhandling done purely for the joy of manhandling, with no other particular outcome sought.

Maybe I shouldn’t take Grab-A-Vert so personally. It’s probably just cops being cops.