A quadriplegic black man's fight from home against coronavirus and racism

In moments of depression and isolation, Paul Lane always looks to help others.

June 7, 2020, 3:12 PM

Paul Amadeus Lane was sitting in the passenger seat of a champagne-colored 1981 Toyota Corolla while his older brother was driving them to church. Suddenly, six police cars started following them, Lane said. They pulled over. At gunpoint, the police told them to get out of the car and lie on the ground. They were both in their finest suits. Lane was just 13.

Luckily, their mother was running late that day. She noticed the commotion and was able to get her sons out of a potentially dangerous situation. Many have not been so lucky.

“If my mom would not have showed up during that time, I’m not sure what would have happened,” Lane told ABC News. They later learned their car was a similar color to a vehicle described in a robbery.

Paul Lane is seen in this undated photo.
Courtesy Paul Lane

Now, as a 6’ 6” African American man, Lane said the police would normally consider him a threat.

"But since I've been disabled, I haven't had any [incidents]," Lane said, saying the police are nothing but respectful now.

Lane, now 49, has been a lower-level quadriplegic for nearly 27 years after a horrific car accident left him disabled in January 1993. He is one of 20% of Americans who live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But there is still one situation that scares him.

"I’m pretty big, and I always wonder if I get pulled over – and if law enforcement told me to get out of the car – I can’t,” he said. Later adding, “Would they try to use excessive force to get me out?”

Lane said that the death of George Floyd shook him to the core in more ways than one.

Before his accident, Lane was an EMT. He told ABC News that through his job he knew many good law enforcement officers. He says what disappoints him about the current situation the United States justice system finds itself in is that not enough good officers are speaking up against the bad ones – he believes this is out of fear of ostracization or even retaliation.

“If we saw a crime committed, they would tell us to speak up and be a witness and talk about it,” Lane said. “But it seems like in that whole community they don’t practice what they want us to do. And that’s really sad.”

Lane is more at risk of COVID-19 because of his pre-existing conditions and will be staying at home for the foreseeable future. He won’t be participating in any protests. But unlike many Americans, he has 27 years of experience staying at home. He knows how to channel frustration, isolation and boredom into positive energy.

In 1994, when he was beginning physical therapy, Lane said he became infuriated at the idea of not being able to feed himself.

“We’re all entitled to our pity party,” Lane said.

“But sometimes when we’re frustrated of a situation, we learn things we never knew we could do,” he said. In that moment of pure anger, he moved his bicep.

That simple movement unlocked the world for Lane. Using a simple Velcro contraption, he said he can use a computer mouse. Since that miracle moment, he’s learned how to use Microsoft Word, edit videos, code, play battle chess online, play countless video games, and even use Mieron Virtual Reality at home as a form of physical therapy to work out his biceps and neck.

His motto is simple: if he doesn’t give up, he can learn to do remarkable things. He believes that that same attitude applies to the current crisis that the United States faces.

Because Lane won’t be protesting, he chooses to engage with people online, like many other Americans.

“I love to reach out to people privately because they do act like they have some sense,” Lane said. “And you’re able to really have a conversation,” Lane added that he thinks public statements can often be misconstrued, and comments can become confrontational when they are not meant to be.

"I want to do my part -- I want to be there for people who are able-bodied," he said, referencing some of the frustration and loss many Americans may feel right now being stuck at home. "I've been there before."

Lane said he knows how suffocating being at home can feel, and he told ABC News a few tricks he’s developed over the last few decades.

His first tip: take a breath. Then, he said he takes a moment to recognize that he’s always happier giving rather than receiving.

“The more we keep our minds off ourselves and put it on others, then that’s when the transformation starts within us,” Lane said, adding that bringing a smile to someone's face is his greatest happiness. “And we’re not perfect – there are good days and bad days. But when we feel down, look for ways we can help others.”

For Lane, he said it’s best for his mental health to not get mad at people with varying opinions. If he finds himself getting angry looking at social media, he said he takes a step back, reminding himself that he needs to be a part of the solution.

"I'm not going to let anyone take my joy away from me," he said. “I will not cower to fear. I will not cower to pressure."

Lane has overcome barrier after barrier in his life and proudly remains a vocal member of the marginalized communities he is a part of. He told ABC News he is grateful every day for being alive.

But many black Americans – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice -- can’t say the same.

“It crushed me,” Lane said about watching Minneapolis police murder Floyd on camera. “And even though I don't take part of any protests -- or things like that -- I understand where they're coming from. People are saying their voices are not being heard, and sometimes they feel this is the only way for them to be heard. And it’s a really sad and dark day in our society.”

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