I need to be writing my submission for the LHP right now. Now that I got myself off to a good start on a topic I can actually get into. Rather than trying to recombine old tumblr posts creatively.
But I have to say this.
I am devastated over the woman in Sunnyvale who murdered her autistic son.
I am further devastated over the usual responses. “It was lack of services.” (She had turned down services.) “She must have been mentally ill, because you know how violent and scary They are when They aren’t treated properly.” “Every parent of a child with autism wants to kill their child now and then. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. It could have been any of us. Let’s sympathize, not condemn.” “People don’t know how awful it is to have an autistic child. They can drive you to murder.” “It’s better to be dead than autistic. This was a mercy killing.”
I know it all by heart. I helped with the research for the first place that tried to chronicle and memorialize as many murders of autistic people as possible. We got hate mail. From the families of those killed. Saying we just couldn’t understand the murderers or we wouldn’t sympathize with the autistic people. I’m dead serious.
Every time this happens it cuts me to the core.
Every time this happens I know we are not safe anywhere.
If my parents got an ethics transplant and decided to kill me. They could fly out here and do it. They could show the world how bad I look on paper. Autism societies would rally around them and collect money for their defense fund. They would be charged with manslaughter, if anything. Their sentences would be shorter than those of anyone otherwise similar to them who murdered a nonautistic, nondisabled person otherwise demographically similar to me. It’s not that I expect justice out of a system as terrible as our “justice” system, but these disparities show something seriously wrong.
A woman’s daughter comes home from her residential school for the holidays. The girl begins to repeat the words “The sun is rising”. The mother, who has been thinking about murder for years, decides now is the time. She tries to get the girl to walk off a bridge but she refuses. She strangles the girl with a cord. She wishes the girl would die faster, saying “Let go, just let go.”
She turns herself in to the police. The entire country’s autism community comes to her aid while actual disabled people look on in horror. She claims that her daughter’s repetitive speech caused her to “snap”. She is finally convicted of manslaughter and given a few years in prison. Other parents of autistic children protest even this. As a result she gets out after five months. People have been jailed for longer for merely planning to murder their nondisabled kids.
True story. Typical of the people who get sentenced to anything at all. The way to get away with murder is to kill someone society doesn’t care about, and be someone society sympathizes with. You can say you were driven to it by having to care for us, even if you were not at all responsible for caring for us ever. People will eat it up.
Also understand this if you understand nothing else: When people use murders for telling people we need better services for parents, this does two things once it gets into the media. It holds disabled people hostage. And it means the murder rate against us goes up. Lobby for better services on your own time — not using our dead bodies as justification.
It’s a little over fifteen years ago that caregivers (not my family) tried to murder me. They knew I was having an anaphylactic reaction so they just made it clear they wouldn’t treat it and nobody would know that it wasn’t an accident. They carefully noted my swollen tongue and throat, and what that meant, and they insulted me thoroughly and walked out the door. If it weren’t for someone from the outside seeing me collapsed on the floor struggling to breathe, I wouldn’t be here.
That’s typical of caregiver-induced murders in mental institutions. They often simply don’t get help after it’s clear someone’s going to die. This is known because of times when they slip up and get caught. Other times they deliberately kill someone but blame it on seizures or heart disorders. Other times, during restraint, they disregard someone’s complaints that they can’t breathe — often their last words.
I know these things because I’ve made it my business to know them. But it never gets easier. Never.
I don’t think people understand the danger to disabled people. Particularly some kinds of disabled people, autistic people among them. That if someone wants to kill us, they generally can, and they will usually get away with it. That there is no place we can be absolutely safe from this kind of thing.
There’s a reason that some serial killers will try to find work in nursing homes or in medical settings where deaths can be blamed on other things. (One serial killer even murdered patients so that the first letters of their names spelled out words in the sequence of the deaths.) These are far more common than the serial killers who make the news, yet nobody ever hears about this. And if they do, they often think that the killing was justified because the disabled person had no quality of life. (Ever wonder why I see the words quality of life as a knife at my throat? The people who tried to kill me said something similar. That they didn’t want me around because they wanted to treat people who would really get better. And that I was a waste of space in their program.)
There’s a reason that disabled people are often singled out for murder in order to collect life insurance policies.
Another true story: A couple went to a great deal of trouble to adopt a disabled girl. They took out a big life insurance policy on her. They put her in the house and burned the house down.
They were convicted. OF INSURANCE FRAUD. And only that. Get the picture yet? That’s how little our lives are worth.
It hurts knowing these things. Having studied the matter well enough, I can’t get away from this knowledge. It hurts even worse knowing how few people understand it. How many people rush to rationalize when one of us dies.
And here’s the thing.
People swear up and down that nobody hates disabled people. And yet the overwhelming evidence is that yes, yes they do.
If people didn’t hate us then they would never justify when people kill us.
Hate isn’t an emotion. It’s an action. It’s a state of being. Hate can feel like pity sometimes. It can feel like indifference. It can feel like the person in question just doesn’t matter as much as other people do. It can be unconscious.
What else is it when people torture to death people with developmental disabilities. And judges and juries treat it like just a little mischief got out of hand. What the hell else is that other than hate?
What is it other than hate when people refer to those of us who can’t work as leeches. As people who take from society and give nothing back.
What is it when the majority of people in a country think it’s only natural that we are shunted off into nursing homes and other institutions against our will. To live out the rest of our lives. Which will be drastically shortened because institutions do that.
What is it when people want to take away what little help we get from the government. When people blame us for hard economic times.
That last one scares me to death. OMG. Really. It terrifies me. Because when people blame a very poor, very oppressed group of people for the failure of the economy. Then they do their best to toss us off a cliff. And you can’t argue. They always have an answer. There is so much hate.
People have told me I should have been drowned at birth. How is that not hate? And you hear things like this your whole life.
And then if you say something people get all patronizing. “Nobody wants you dead, dear, you’re just paranoid.” If nobody wanted me dead, why did my shrink order them to put a one on one staff for me in a mental institution to protect me from the staff who tried to “allow me to die”. Why have people told me to my face that the Nazis had it right about people like me. That I should be sterilized at minimum and killed at most. And repeatedly that I should have been killed at birth or in infancy.
Anne McDonald reported hearing someone say to her caregiver, “If it was a dog, you’d put it down.”
Among disabled people, those who are, or are thought to be, cognitively disabled in some way, are down with some other groups at the bottom of the disability hierarchy. The more extreme it’s thought to be, the more okay people think it is to kill us.
Autistic people are among such people. Even those of us whose cognitive skills were at least in part obviously advanced for our age, can be described as empty shells when we are murdered. Think of Katie McCarron. A little girl who loved life and was the only child in her preschool to know what an octagon was. Murdered by her mother, who was not her actual caregiver but who still made the “It’s lack of services” argument. Not that it would have been any better if Katie weren’t all those things. It’s just that it shows how killers can lie to gain sympathy.
And think of what a retard is. Really think. I’m talking about the slur, not any particular diagnosis. It becomes obvious that idea in people’s heads is not of a human. Or fully human. It’s a weird shriveled up piece of a human who is empty of a soul and empty of worth.
Which is why people who have been called this near-unanimously want that word gone. It’s not a diagnostic word, it’s a slur against the entire gamut of people with developmental or cognitive disabilities, and those who appear to have them.
Dehumanization is necessary for an ordinary human being to kill. When we are retards rather than people, here is one more thing that nudges potential killers to the edge. Every time I hear retard I am fearful for that reason.
The teens who lived where I first moved out on my own. They’d follow me down the street “fucking with the retard”. I have no way of knowing if they’d become violent. You never know, once you hear that word, or see its meaning written on the bodies of people who harass you. Because people do use that word when they beat you up, when they sexually assault, when they kill you. And sometimes the word hurts worse than a beating.
I still remember the man and woman who, in my twenties, tried to lure me into their car with a toy. I didn’t know what was happening until later. They’d kept touching me and talking about sex. Later I learned there was a group of people abducting, raping, and worse, DD women. They had spotted me in the street ANC tried to reel me in. There have been so many close calls. When I say nowhere is safe I mean it.
And a note about blaming murders on mental illness — like DD people, people deemed mentally ill are disproportionately the targets of violence. Not the perpetrators. Blaming these murders on mental illness fails to understand the fact that it’s usually nondisabled people who abuse us and nondisabled people who kill. Crazy is not the same thing as evil, no matter how many people try to make it so. And these murders are part of a pattern of evil acts against disabled people.
I know I’ve ventured far from my original topic, but these things are all bound together. There is an entire pattern of violence towards disabled people. I’ve only touched on the tip of the iceberg.
And this murder happened within this pattern of violence towards disabled people, and more particularly towards cognitively disabled people. It’s not an isolated incident. It’s not a loving parent who snapped because we are just so hard to live with. It’s not because of lack of services.
It’s because we are not people. We are retards. And that’s different. If we weren’t retards then very few people would be trying to excuse, explain away, or justify these murders. People only rationalize murders when the victim isn’t valuable to them. And the vitriol that comes with these conversations says more about hate than any words do.
And anybody who tries to rationalize this or sympathize with the murderer or anything even close to along those lines, I will block you so fast…
Remember: this is a pattern. People always say autistic people can’t see the big picture but I can. My eyes are open. I know what happens when we are killed. I know how unsafe all of us are from things like this. See the pattern. Please. And try to be one of the people who stops people from making this into sympathy for the murderer, into anti-disabled hate propaganda that results in more deaths.
I can’t even describe what this does to me. It freezes my heart. I feel horrible for the 22-year-old victim. I feel horrible that we all live in this kind of society where this is okay or at least understandable. Please make it stop. I’ve been crying and raging and panicking since it happened. When will people learn?
Murder of Autistics
Really important book: Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities: The End of Silent Acceptance? by Dick Sobsey. If you can find a cheap copy used, buy immediately. Otherwise it’s often over a hundred dollars.