Followers of this blog are aware that often I cover very serious issues in Disability Rights, such as homicide, abuse and neglect of disabled children. It is not easy for me to write about and research these articles, especially because as a Deaf and disabled person, I can identify with the children. The reason I write about these subjects is because many` do not realize that disabled people in general, not just children, are murdered and abused at higher rates than able-bodied people. I have focused in this blog on homeschooled disabled children who were tortured for years leading up to the homicide. This is a very specific type of case. There are other cases involving disability homicide that we also see a lot: the murder of a disabled child or adult by parents or guardians who have been entrusted with caring for that person’s physical needs.
If you follow disability homicide related news as I do, you know that there are so many cases of disabled people being murdered each year by parents and caretakers that it is hard to keep up. And sadly, what often happens in these cases is that the parents of the disabled victim are considered to have been unduly burdened by the disabled person in their care. There is sympathy from the media, criminal justice and legal systems towards these murderers. In many cases where a parent murders a disabled person in their care, the disability is autism. Many autistic children and adults are murdered each year by those who have been trusted to assist them in their daily lives. And so often the response is the same: that poor parent. They were so unfairly burdened by the disabled person. Let’s give them a lighter sentence, or no sentence, and lots of sympathy. Never mind what the victim went through. Even if there is a harsh sentence doled out in the court, the media and public reaction is often still sympathy for the murderer.
In more typical cases of homicide where the victim was able-bodied, the experience of the victim is highlighted. Language surrounding these cases is not sympathetic to the murderer, especially after they have been convicted and sentenced. It would be considered offensive and insensitive to the victim and those who are grieving that person to do so. So why is it different in cases where a parent murders a disabled person? Because disability is not understood in the criminal justice system, the media, and many other areas of society. Autism, for example, is considered by many to be sad condition; a burden, a defect. Autistic children are “puzzle pieces” to figure out. People think that maybe the autism was caused by a chemical or an environmental “toxin”. It is a shame that their parents never got themselves a neurotypical child, is a common thought. All of this is untrue. There is nothing wrong with autism; autistic people do very well with the right understanding and education. The case of George Hodgins, a 22 year old autistic man who was killed by his mother in 2012, is an example of how media sympathized with the murderer.
The same type of notions are believed about other disabilities, too: it is a shame, a burden, a defect, and so on. Disability is not a defect, it is one of the many ways that humans are diverse. Disability is not something that can or should be eradicated; it is a natural part of human biodiversity. And diversity is extremely important. It is beneficial for society to have many ideas that come from different places. A person’s experience may be outside the mainstream, and they may notice and understand things that others don’t. Diversity brings many ideas to the table. Also, all humans have inherent worth. Humans are deserving of dignity and respect, and it is better for everyone when human rights are upheld.
When a parent murders a disabled person in their care, there is something going on with them that is not the fault of the disabled person. While it is true that caretakers can feel overburdened, it is never acceptable to murder or abuse the disabled person in their care. There are many reasons that people kill and hurt each other, but the fact remains: homicide, abuse and neglect are illegal. It is not “less illegal” when the victim had a disability. It is not any less of a crime. The victim still suffers.
It is important to keep the memory of these victims alive, and to continue working for justice in Disability Rights. Tomorrow there will be vigils all over the U.S., and a virtual vigil will be held on Facebook at this page, happening tomorrow, March 1st, from 3pm-7pm:
Syracuse University is having a vigil on campus outside Hendrick’s Chapel on the Quad tomorrow, March 1st at 1:30pm. The event is accessible with ASL interpretation and braille documents.
This year, I will be thinking of Erica Parsons, who was finally laid to rest last weekend. She would have been 19 years old. I will also be thinking of Hana Alemu Williams.