Voices of #JusticeForEthan – A Study of Responses to the Change.org Petition

From the Archives: Originally posted 8/27/13

Voices of #JusticeForEthan


The number of signatures on Emma’s petition is about to reach the quarter-million mark!

I spent some time reading through the comments to see what people were saying.


If you’re reading my blog, chances are that you’ve already signed the current (and probably previous) petition on Change.org.  If you haven’t, please take a moment and add your name.

When you’re signing, you’re asked “Why is this important to you.”  You can choose to leave it blank, but the people who fill it in obviously have something to say.   This week,  Change.org  began tweeting some of the comments along with a link to the petition.

I started scrolling through the most resent responses to tweet some as well hoping to “blow up” Governor O’Malley’s inbox and raise the #JusticeForEthan count.  Tweeting of course only allows you 140 characters per message.  I chose some that could be condensed without loosing the point.  There were others that I wanted to share but couldn’t do them justice with a tweet…


(Several categories emerged, and that’s how I’ll present them to you.  Some individual comments qualify for more than one category.  The bold emphasis is my own.   I erased the last names and just used the initial – with one important exception.)
I’ll start with the “Top 5.”  These comments received the most “likes.”

Top 5

Scott R- Heber, UT about 1 month ago    Like 100
1) Not all but some officers consistantly abuse powers and need to be checked out. Didn’t they have common sence with a handicapped person who just wanted to enjoy a movie?
2) it’s down right wrong not to launch a special investigation when people with disabilities are killed, excuse me.. MURDERED, by those they should feel most protected by. What do you think was racing thru this young mans mind while on the floor? Could he tell they were law enforcement while in plain clothes?
3) Because I work with children with special needs and this breaks my heart and angers me more than anything I’ve heard in the past year. What the hell happened!?!?!

Christie V- CROWLEY, TX about 1 month ago    Like 96
Because people need to be educated on how to talk and deal with individuals with Down syndrome and alike disabilities including our police departments.

Sam H- DUNWOODY, GA about 1 month ago    Liked 79
The thing that struck me most is that police are trained to stall, and calm people in high pressure situations. They talk suicidal people off of bridges. They negotiate and calm while inches away from someone holding a hostage at knife point. They couldn’t let the guy watch his movie for 5 minutes while talking to his caregiver? There’s no way they did not know that Ethan Saylor was handicapped. The police were the aggressors, and everything that happened from the second they touched him is their fault They need to be brought to justice for their actions.

Lisa M- NEWMARKET, NH about 1 month ago    Like 71
Whomever killed Ethan MUST be brought to justice. NO death at the hands of another must be swept under the rug.

Dawn F- OAK FIELD, NY about 1 month ago    Like 57
My child has Down syndrome. Do not let it happen again.

Many of the comments had to do with police conduct and the amount of excessive force that people are seeing.  “Police state” was mentioned many, many times.  Some were benign, but others were down right harsh.  I stuck with the ones I could say in front of Josh – he doesn’t allow me to use “bad language.”

Police – Internal investigation, Training, Corruption

Robert B- WORTH INGROWN, OH “I am a retired police lieutenant and currently operate my own private investigation company and I specialize in homicide investigations. There are training procedures to handle people with disabilities and it sounds like those training procedures were either not followed or not in place.”

Richard M- ROCK HILL, SC “As the Major for a Special Police Agency; this clearly warrants a review by the State Department of Justice.”

Ken T- BOISE, ID “Police should not investigate themselves”

marcia -CLOVIS, CA “This should never happen to anyone. It doesn’t bring trust in our law in enforcement agencies. If we can’t trust them to do the right thing, then who can we trust?

Tonya P-FRANKLIN, MA “Please don’t let these officers walk away thinking the handled this situation appropriately. Not launching an independent investigation sends the wrong message to police officers. They need to know their actions were unreasonable and such behavior won’t be tolerated.”

Suzanne M-CLIO, MI “I’m really not expecting any answer or results to this young man death. We all know the police can get away with anything they want anymore, infact I think they like them being this brutal because it helps keep people living in fear of them. I believe we’re on our way to Marshall Law in America and it’s going to get a lot worse before it ever gets better. These bullies get rewards for being cruel because if they didn”t we wouldn’t see so much of it. I’m more afraid of the police than terrorist anymore. Their by far more dangerous!”

jordan m- COLUMBUS, OH “This is one of the single worst stories I’ve heard in the past year. Police should NOT be allowed internal investigations. Why would you allow someone with the authority to clear their good name the same authority to investigate their wrongdoings? This family deserves justice, and the officers responsible deserve the same punishment *I* would receive if I murdered someone.”

Gerald Y- BEARDSTOWN, IL “If the officers did nothing wrong, then why is this young man dead?”

dave b- MILL VALLEY, CA The good old boy network is alive and well in Frederick County.Instead of charging the paid thugs, oh I mean off duty cops, with felony manslaughter, they are exonerated. Not even a slap on the wrist apparently. I’m hopeful that an investigation will be conducted and saddened that it took a change.org petition for the right thing to happen. If these cops were run of the mill security guards, I’m sure they would have been charged.”

Inga B- SAN JOSE, CA “We only heard one side of the story, but I’m sure an investigation should be made.”

Jeremiah R- COXSACKIE, NY “Training is required, especially for developmental illnesses. It;s not their fault.”

I also looked at where the comments were coming from.  For tweeting purposes, the ones from Frederick and Maryland were going to be more important to political types like Governor O’Malley.  But, they came from all over.  I noticed that a significant number came from Portland, OR where another case in their local news must have heightened their sensibilities on this issue. 

Frederick and Other Places in Maryland

Charles R- FREDERICK, MD “I am ashamed to be called a Marylander after reading this.”

Elizabeth -FREDERICK, MD “I live in Frederick and believe that there needs to be an independent investigation. The sheriffs department has too much local political influence.”

David K- FREDERICK, MD “I don’t believe the officers involved were guilty of criminality so much as haste and unwillingness to listen. A full investigation would identify the weaknesses in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department’s training programs that allowed this misunderstanding to escalate into tragic consequences.”

Michael P- FREDERICK, MD “it is time for justice!”

Brandon G- CHESTERTOWN, MD “well i knew Ethan. I went to school with him.”

John B-BOWIE, MD “An independent inquiry in cases like this should be routine!”

theresa f-RIDGE, MD “This whole situation from the fact that grown men (who were actual police officers), who should have known that this young man was a special needs person to the lame assed prosecutor and sheriff for allowing a half-assed investigation, because they didn’t want the world to see just what kind of crap is supposed to be upholding the law in Frederick County, is totally Effed UP! How on earth can these POS officers look at themselves in the mirror every day. Why wasn’t an investigation done before now? Does Frederick County think that special needs people do not deserve the same respect as “NORMAL” people? Do the powers that be in Frederick County view them as second class citizens? I guess they aren’t worth a full investigation. Oh and the fake officers should NEVER be allowed to serve as a peace officer again- ever! If they cannot distinguish the difference between a special needs person-especially a downs person -then they don’t belong making life or death decisions. Clearly they don’t have the ability to make those types of calls – especially when it involves using their brains. I am behind you 1oo% in demanding a full investigation, and when they finally show that these bullies killed this young man in cold blood, lock them up where they belong. My brother is a special needs person and I don’t know how I would react if it happened to him. I can’t even imagine what you are going through. My heart and prayers go out to you and your parents in this extremely difficult time. None of you should be going through this. I also agree in more training for police officers. It seems like their training consists mostly of drug raids and guns. They have no idea on how to intervene appropriately in situations like this!”

eric s- MOUNT AIRY, MD “I remember when this happened. I called the Frederick D.A. office to tell them something needs to be done and that I expected a call and never received one after 3 tries!Just because you enforce the law does not mean you are above the law, they should know better and be prosecuted as such!”

Andrea R- SILVER SPRING, MD  “This a terrible tragedy and as a Marylander, I am sickened by this.”

David L-BALTIMORE, MD “O’Malley, count me in as a fan. You can and should do this. Nothing will bring him back, but there is a way to hold people accountable.”

Laurinda T- GAITHERSBURG, MD “As a mother of an adult mentally ill son I understand the need for education and funding in Maryland”

Susan – GAMBRILLS, MD “There is NO excuse for violent and deadly force to be used in such circumstances. The Frederick County Sheriffs’ Department clearing itself of any wrongdoing is much like the fox guarding the hen house! Such arrogance is mind-numbing!!!”

About Maryland

DENISE A- MIDLAND, GA “I went through Maryland years ago and we were on our way home from a vacation in California to ATlantic City New Jersey it was my husband and 3 small children when a cop pulled us over and said we were speeding which we were not we told him we were on our way home and it was late in the evening we did not have much money on us and he told us to give him what cash we had or he would hold us over for court. we know he put the money in his pocket since then I have not been in Maryland and hope I never have to go through there again.”

Alexander S-OAKRIDGE, OR “It’s no secret that Maryland has one of the most corrupt police systems in the country. For shame. I hope Maryland’s government realizes it’s losing a lot of tourism revenue from the people who refuse to even drive through the state.”


Martha M-PORTLAND, OR “I live in Portland, OR. We have had several cases of mentally challenged individuals being injured or killed by officers. This is a national problem with local manifestations, and it needs to be addressed.”

Laura H- PORTLAND, OR “This situation is just SO SAD, that Ethan had to die due to mismanagement of the theater manager, and misjudgment of the police officer in charge of this encounter. ANYONE could have chipped in a few cents and kept this young man contented to watch his movie and this never would have happened. The theater manager (probably young and inadequately trained) mishandled the situation, and any officer who arrived at the scene could have de-escalated this confrontation. My heart breaks for Ethan’s family, and for those involved who will be examining their conduct and conscience for the remainder of their lives. Please Governor O’Malley, step in here and show leadership with compassion, and have an independent investigation and mentally impaired individual encounter training.”


Rhoda Barkhan JOHANNESBURG GP SOUTH AFRICA, “that is not good. The police committed a crime and an investigation should be held. Or is life so cheap?”

Katie C- LONDON, UK “Another life being disregarded over the concept of money is a disgrace to the world and all of it’s inhabitants.”

Jen M- LEUTENHEIM, FRANCE “Justice must be served.”

David – BOGOTá, COLOMBIA “Because everybody deserve respect and justice.”

Of course, many people who signed the petition did so because they have a friend or family member who has Down syndrome or other disability. 

Family Members

Darlene L- CHARLOTTE, MI “My baby brother had Down Syndrome. He died at the age of 41, but at least it was of natural causes. I will always miss him!”

Karen R- LINDEN, MI “My eldest brother also had Down’s Syndrome. I always had a suspicion that people valued his life less than other people because of his disability. I think this is a widespread view that some may not even realize they have. Training is needed to make sure those who deal with the public are aware of how to treat people who may not process information efficiently or quickly. And investigate this death as if it had been the death of the star quarterback of the local football team. We are all equal, and equally important.”

priscilla w- TOPEKA, KS “I have a developmentally delayed teen. The police are definitely NOT his friends, as one officer said to him, “I would shoot your dog, I would kill your dog.”. This was said while the dog (service dog) was laying quietly by his side. The officer refused to get my child’s ID (on the dog’s vest), instead demanding that the child in question take it out of the pouch. The child CANNOT remove it himself, this is why the dog carries it, clearly labeled. The officer in question was adamant that he was adequately trained to work with autistic people. Really? The police can be a developmentally disabled person’s worst nightmare, because of the disability coupled with poor officer training, NOT because of any criminal behavior.”

Ygnacio C- TUCSON, AZ “I have an older brother with developmental disabilities as well who has continuously faced challenges similar to this from figures of authority whom he has shown nothing but respect. I am not looking for retribution from people who’s basic sin is ignorance. What I would love is an open discussion in our society for increasing awareness and knowledge of how to deal with folks whose only fault is their learning disability and lack of comprehension. This is the next civil rights cause.

Allison R- HOUSTON, TX  “I have a cousin that is mentally challenged and she would have reacted the same way, confused, very aggressive. This breaks my heart and opens my eyes that this could happen to my family at any time.

Michael K ELMHURST, IL “So sorry for your loss. My son is profoundly deaf and has a Cochlear Implant to hear. When I meet a police office who has time to talk (at a block party, or a town hall meeting). I explain to them that if my son (or another person with a cochlear implant) were tackled down by an officer, the magnetic coil attached to the side of the head can easily fall off, and if you are yelling commands at the person, they will not hear you. When the external part of the cochlear equipment is detached off the side of the head, the person is deaf. Some officers appear to appreciate the information, while others give a look of indifference, to which I want to simply say “Excuse Me, but my taxes help pay your salary, and all I’m trying to do is give you some beneficial information to help you.” I have not yet said that, but wanted to a few times. I agree that all Law Enforcement personnel should receive additional training for handling differently-able people (and officers should receive refreshers on a yearly basis). Please be encouraged by others that appreciate what you are doing to seek justice for your brother. Thank You.”

george g- HOLLAND, MI “my little brother is 58 and also has down syndrome. I don’t know what I would to those three policemen if they hurt my little brother!!!”

Even if people didn’t identify directly with disability, they found other connections, some of which are heartbreaking stories.

Personal connection

Cynthia P- SACRAMENTO, CA  “I had a brother who was murdered. We don’t know who did it. Everyone deserves to have answers when a loved one is killed.”

Thomas A- WINCHESTER, VA “It could have been my son or daughter. Down Syndrome is not the issue here. It is the conduct of the police officers in handling this type of situation.

Paulita B- SEATTLE, WA “Because he’s also “my brother””

Ray H-LAWRENCEVILLE, GA If this could happen to Ethan, it could happen to absolutely anyone, including me. I’m sick of cops all over the country acting like storm troopers or worse and getting away with it. Internal affairs “investigations” are a joke.”

Lydia E- ALLEN, TX “Because I work at a movie theater- and if officers are going to treat customers like this, I will NEVER EVER put my faith in the law and in the safety of the theater. This is absolutely disgusting.”

There were even some people who questioned why this story wasn’t getting national media attention.


Bill G – FRANKLIN, NC “He was murdered. Why is this being ignored?”

Nathanael W- STRATFORD, CT “I am shocked to hear about this case. This case at the very least demands an independent investigation. And in case the governor and attorney general only care about those they need to impress as constituents, I have volunteered every summer for the past decade for programs for disabled teens in Maryland. Why isn’t this in any national media? Is it so open-and-shut that there’d be no controversy to drive up ratings, or does the media find D.S. not photogenic enough? I could go on–a lot–but start by giving justice for this Ethan.”

Nina L- ARLINGTON, TX  “This is such a sad story that did not make headline news ! We all know what it takes to make headline news and I guess police killing a kid with Down Syndrome is not enough :( I pray that justice will be served for Ethan and his family !!”

Another theme was the idea that the issue is prejudice and civil rights. 

Prejudice / Civil Rights

lillian k- MILWAUKEE, WI “I’m always shocked when I hear of something like this happening. Why are some people still in the dark ages?”

Kenneth G- OAKLAND, CA –“This is yet another manifestation of prejudice. Anyone who is different gets punished.”

Cari B- WADING RIVER, NY “All individuals have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity. This was an excessive response to a minor incident which ended in tragedy. Own it. Prevent repeat.Honor the life that was lost by doing the right thing now, and protecting others in the future.

Marlee P- PRIVATE DRIVE, CA “Because every life needs to be treated with respect”

John L-DALLAS, TX “Let’s make this a turning-point in the training of police officers and in the public understanding of Down Syndrome!”

Marilyn C- MCLEANSVILLE, NC “ I believe in justice. Justice was not served in this case.”

Brenda B- ROGERS, AR  “Having been around many different disabled people I can see how those unfamiliar, or untrained, can let a small situation get out of hand, but this, this should have never happened. Ever. And it surely should not just be swept under the rug, not just for the sake of Ethan, but of those who come along after him who need to be approached in a different manner by police and other departments, if the situation is necessary, and police that are at least basically trained how to best communicate with these people in order to come to a peaceful resolution.”

Marina I EMERYVILLE, CA I believe in accepting and respecting people and their variation of being, as well as believing in the concepts of justice and human decency.”

And then we have those whose response I classified as “the DUH! factor.” 


Carrie M- PLANO, IL “Do you really need to ask this question”

Shaun L- SOUTH BEND, IN “The real question should be why this isn’t important to more people.”

Artelia E- DANBURY, NH “This is horrifying.”

Nichole S-PAOLI, PA “I don’t see how this couldn’t be important”

Robin A- SURREY, B.C., CANADA “I’m a human being!!!!!”


RICHARD E- SAN JOSE, CA “Are you kidding me? I don’t understand why I have to sign a petition to request a comprehensive police investigation into the cause of death of this developmentally disabled man which SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST THING THAT WAS DONE. WHAT KIND OF CITY AND STATE DO YOU RUN OVER THERE IN MARYLAND, ANYWAY? THIS IS THE MOST BLATANT VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS I HAVE EVER COME ACROSS. IT MAKES ME SICK TO MY STOMACH TO HEAR THE STORY FROM THE VICTIM’S SISTER.”

Last, but not least, is the one comment that actually shocked me.  Daniel Vail’s grandfather signed Emma’s petition.  I could feel his frustration through his words.

Vernon Vail (Daniel’s grandfather) MYRTLE BEACH SC, SC “They are doing the same thing with my grandson’s death, how do you investigate yourself it’s BS”

I also saw one other mention of Daniel:

Stephanie H-FAIRFIELD, PA “Justice for Ethan and Daniel Vail!!!”

We are Legion

I’m so grateful to every person who took the time to sign.  I couldn’t get through half of them but I think this sampling shows just how outraged and passionate people really are.  There’s no way to tell whether or not the Governor is actually listening or if the petition will make a difference unless/until something happens.  I just want people to know that we are listening to each other and we will keep speaking out.



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