Whose Shoes?

Courtesy of Google Images
Courtesy of Google Images

by Riam Griswold

Staff Reporter

1996: Charles-Antoine Blais, six years old, is drowned by his mother. She is sentenced to one year in a halfway house, then hired as a spokesperson for an autism society.

2001: Gabriel Britt, also six years old, is suffocated by his father. He serves four years in prison for unlawful conduct toward a child.

2004: Four-year-old Scarlett Chen is drowned by her mother, who is then released after thirty months in prison and ruled not to be a threat to children.

2009: Sixteen-year-old Peter Eitzen is stabbed by his mother. She is acquitted.

2010: Ajit Singh’s mother forces her son, twelve, to drink bleach. She is charged with manslaughter.

Ten-year-old Zahra Baker, murdered and dismembered. Seven-year-old Jori Lirette, decapitated. Thirteen-year-old Daniel Leubner, burned alive. Adult dependent Betty Anne Gagnon, tortured to death.

In a video produced by Autism Speaks, likely the most well-known autism foundation in the world, board member Alison Singer discussed her fantasies of driving her autistic child off a bridge, and how she stopped herself only out of concern for her non-autistic child. She told this story in the presence of that same autistic daughter.

This month, London McCabe, six, was thrown off a bridge by his mother. She was part of the community of “autism moms”—arguably the most prominent voices in global discussion of autism—non-autistic mothers who take to the web as well as other venues to bemoan the trials of having autistic children. So was Kelli Stapleton, who tried to kill her autistic daughter Issy by way of carbon monoxide poisoning late 2013. Also this month, Faith Hall, ten years old and autistic, was killed in an accidental car crash; her parents said that they were happy she had been “released” from autism.

This recital doesn’t even scratch the surface.

The list of murders of disabled people by their parents and caretakers is as long as it is horrifying. Perhaps more horrifying, however, is the reaction to these murders by the public, the media, and the courts. Time and again, the murderers are given a quantity of sympathy unheard of in crimes against non-disabled children. It wasn’t their fault, everyone argues. They were overwhelmed; they were trying their hardest; they should have had more support; do you know how difficult it is to raise a disabled child; it’s all for the best; the child is better off now. The victim’s life, we are told, is worth little or nothing because of their disability. We are begged to put ourselves in the murderer’s shoes, but never do they suggest that we put ourselves in the shoes of the human who was devalued, abused, and murdered by the person on whom they depended to take care of them.

The crimes with which the perpetrators are charged are often light; the sentences, if they exist, are perhaps lighter. Autism Speaks and similar foundations express sympathy and support for the killers. Celebrities and talk show hosts claim that these deaths are the fault of disabled people themselves, who have committed the intolerable crime of existing.

Where does all this come from? How can there be so little compassion for a group of people so continually abused and murdered? Why is this treatment so widespread in the first place?

In our society, disabled lives are constantly devalued. Organizations about us spend their energy trying to eradicate us, to spread fear about our existence, and pushing damaging normalization by any means possible. They ignore our voices and encourage our abuse. The media echoes these sentiments.

These patterns of thought are so pervasive that most people don’t even notice them. It doesn’t occur to them to think differently. But the consequences are too dire to be ignored. We are killed month after month after month. Our murders are excused month after month after month. No more.

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ETA: I wrote this article before the news about the Ferguson decision broke.  The title then was “Stop Killing Us.”  I decided to change it because I didn’t want it to seem that I was appropriating the words of protests against racism and police brutality for this other matter.  I’m not really prepared right now to be articulate about the similarities/differences/relationship between the two issues, but the parallels (as well as the distinctions) are important and striking. Though this piece is about something else, every ounce of outrage here is also there for Ferguson, and stands in full solidarity with the Ferguson protesters and their fight against the destruction and devaluation of black lives.


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