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Nathaniel Julius, Teen With Down Syndrome, Killed by Police in South Africa

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Editor's Note

The following story contains upsetting details about the murder of a Black teenager.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Nathaniel Julius, a Black 16-year-old teenager with Down syndrome, was shot and killed by police in Johannesburg’s Eldorado Park in South Africa on Aug. 26. Julius was allegedly shot by police after he couldn’t answer the officers’ questions, highlighting a common fear about police violence in the disability community.

According to his family, Julius had gone out to get some snacks and was eating biscuits just meters from his home. He was confronted by police who, according to witnesses and Julius’ family, allegedly got frustrated when Julius couldn’t answer their questions. The officers then shot Julius before they put him in a van and “unceremoniously dumped” him at a hospital. He died later that night.

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“He was 16. He was 16 and disabled. He was 16, disabled and unarmed. He was 16, disabled, unarmed and coloured. He was 16, disabled, unarmed, coloured and killed at the hands of police brutality.” – @itscleoche This is happening in our nation. Our home. This is on our doorstep. Where we are planted, we are responsible. If you’re getting tired of seeing these kind of posts, I would ask you to check your privilege. May we never grow weary in doing good, in speaking out against injustice, in correcting, in challenging, in fighting the good fight. We cannot stop doing the good and faithful work. ( Edited: the word “coloured” is being used within the context of South Africa. Not as a derogatory term ???????? This is a post to commemorate the life of a young boy who died at the hands of injustice. Please be respectful in the comments ???? ) Say his name. Nathaniel Julius. #keeptheenergy #justicefornathanieljulius✊????✊????✊???? #nathanieljulius

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Julius’ death follows a dangerous pattern in police-related killings. As many as 50% of people killed by police in the United States have a disability. Police lack training on interacting with people with disabilities, especially those who don’t communicate in a typical way. Julius’ uncle Cyril Brown told South Africa’s Eyewitness News Julius was mostly non-speaking.

Disability and advocacy organizations around the world condemned the police officers involved in Julius’ death while protestors took to the streets in his community.

“This tragic killing at the hands of those whose job is to protect the community is a stark reminder that worldwide people with Down syndrome and disabilities continue to have their fundamental rights violated. For Nathaniel this was a violation of the most basic of human rights, the right to life,” Down Syndrome International wrote in a statement, adding:

We call on the government of South Africa and other governments worldwide to fulfill the rights of people with disabilities like Nathaniel to live in their communities safely without fear of exploitation, violence or abuse, with equal opportunities to participate and be fully included.

Initially the officers involved in Julius’ killing said he was caught in the crossfire between police officers and gang members. According to Eyewitness News, however, community witnesses suggested otherwise — that police shot Julius in the chest after failing to answer their questions.

An Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) investigation into the incident resulted in charges. Two of the South African Police Services officers involved in the shooting will be charged with murder and other charges related to the shooting. A third officer was later arrested as a suspect in Julius’ death. An investigation is ongoing.

“There is no evidence of any provocation and it’s difficult to understand why live ammunition could be used in a community such as this,” Archbishop Malusi Mpumlwana, head of the South African Council of Churches, told the media, according to BBC. “We can’t say Black Lives Matter in the United States if we don’t say it in South Africa.”

Header image via Twitter

Originally published: September 8, 2020
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