David Perry noted recently that a family of swans being run over garnered more outrage than the murder of yet another disabled person (Theron Leonard). And even though the media coverage in this incident was plain facts, no supposition of how the disabled person deserved to die somehow – unlike previous incidents – the comments that cropped up proved yet again that we live in an ableist society. I will not repeat the comments here – you can find them yourself if you want to read them at the article link, but they involved the usual narratives of the murder being understandable.
Even when journalism is mostly responsible (apart from the “suffered from cerebral palsy” bit, which is definitely not ideal), the comments betray an ableist society. The comments show the thin veneer of tolerance, if there is even a veneer, held for disabled people. It’s not always as blatant as the time someone said Issy Stapleton deserved it and needed to be institutionalized (a comment on a Daily Beast article), or when the commenter indicates that the parent must have just cracked under the strain. But a lot of times it is. And people still rush to defend it. Thankfully, the comments on the article about Theron Leonard had people who came in to argue against the supposition that filicide of a disabled person is understandable.
To the people rushing in, to the people who withstand the torrent of ableism and comment on these articles to refute these ableist claims – I thank you. To the people rushing to defend blatantly ableist things – the people still rushing to defend the murders of disabled people, claiming they understand the situation far more than any of the disability advocates and activists speaking on the situation – I do hold you responsible, along with those who routinely expose intimate details about their children and call their children violent and burdensome, for allowing the list of people we mourn at Days of Mourning to get longer every year.
Things seem to be getting a little better – the murderers are receiving longer sentences. After being rebuked by disability activists, one news station removed the reference to a mercy killing (though it was abhorrent they would use such language to begin with). And we have many allies who speak out against filicide, and those who attend our Days of Mourning who aren’t disabled. To those people: you will help us create a future where the list of the dead stops growing so fast. You are doing the right thing.
It should be a low bar, but it seems hard for people to step back and realize that disabled people are real people, with real lives and real value. It is apparently hard especially for non-disabled parents of people with disabilities to step back and think about the lives lost due to injustice and murder, and not because the disability made it justifiable. As I and others have pointed out – the murdered disabled people were wanted. The disability community wanted them, we wanted to teach them how to build pride and navigate a world not built for us, we wanted to teach them the value of community and both the joys and hardships of disability.
There seems to be a kneejerk reaction to defend parents in solidarity, to defend the murderer. Systems are not set up to support people with disabilities, but murder with a get out of jail free or with light punishment card is unacceptable. Think about how much we wanted those people to learn about disability community. Think about their lives and value. If someone cannot care for their charge, they should be responsible and seek alternate placements for the person. Murder is wrong. I will say it over and over again. Murder is wrong.
Care about the swans all you want, because even though swans have historically held nothing but the urge to bite me, they shouldn’t have died. But I want you to care about us, too – parenting in general is hard, but disability is no excuse for murder. And even when journalism holds itself to mostly responsible standards, which it often does not, comments betray society’s feelings.
And yes, we notice. We are are so much more than shells of people. We are so much more. The ones you especially don’t think notice also notice. We all can tell when the people around us think we’re better off dead or find us burdens – it shows in your words and in your actions toward us. What do you think that does? Here’s one example. If you care, wouldn’t you want us to be happier (and alive; when we are dead, we are dead, lost from this world)?
Issy Stapleton’s last words before going into a three-day coma were “I love you, Mommy.” We love, and we should be able to trust our parents and caregivers. We are so much more than shells of people. We are so much more. Wouldn’t you want us to live the fullest lives we can, alive? Wouldn’t you want us to be happy, alive?
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Sampling of Articles and Resources on Filicide in the Disability Community
- Disability Memorial (TW: Ableist Killings)
- List of Murdered Disabled People of Color at the Autism Wars
- When a Child is Killed by their Parent the word “But” does not apply
- Whitewashing the Brutal Murder of Alex Spourdalakis
- Mourning and Advocating for Autistic Murder Victim London McCabe
- Killing Words by Zoe Gross
- ASAN’s Anti-Filicide Toolkit
- The Loss of Innocence
- On Our Backs, We Will Carry Them at ASAN website for 2015 Day of Mourning
- #DDoM2015 Speech at ASAN Atlanta Vigil 2015
- Disability Day of Mourning 2015 at ASAN Vancouver Vigil 2015
- Changing Conversations: When Parents Murder Disabled Children
- Remarks from DDOM Founder Zoe Gross at DC Vigil 2016
- Honoring the Dead by Lydia Brown at DC Vigil 2013