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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hate Crimes

I will assume most people interested in disability rights have heard about the hateful letter sent to the family of a person with Autism that lives in Newcastle Ontario. I showed this letter to my son earlier in the week when we were on the Canadian side of Niagra Falls. My son was outrage. Steam was coming out of his ears and profanity flowed from his lips. His face even flushed red. Aside from the hateful content what he could not wrap his head around was how the below letter was not considered to be a hate crime in Canada. I read multiple news reports and I understand why this vile letter is not a hate crime. What shocked me though was my reaction. Unlike my son, I read the letter and was not angry at all. I was not shocked. I thought it was a perfect example of ableist hate and social superiority. There is a reason people with a disability live at or below the poverty line. There is a reason people with a disability are unemployed in great numbers. There is a reason people with a disability do not get an adequate education or advanced degrees. The history of disability is as shocking as it is depressing. The legacy of exclusion is ever present and still profoundly influences the lives of people such as myself and others.  Oppression and isolation are a constant.  Thus when I read the letter what struck me was that an ignorant bigot was brazen enough to poorly express what I suspect many others think and feel but do not articulate: disability is a tragedy, a fate worse than death. The presence of people with a disability is an unwanted reminder of what can go wrong with life and the human body. How else do you explain persistent civil rights violations?

I understand the law. Hate crimes are very narrowly defined. Multiple lawyers on various cable news outlets and many newspapers explained why the below letter, though offensive, is not a hate crime. Read the below: 

The Letter

To the lady living at this address:

I also live in this neighbourhood and have a problem!!!!  You have a kid that is mentally handicapped and you consciously decided that it would be a good idea to live in a close proximity neighbourhood like this????  You selfishly put your kid outside everyday and let him be a nothing but a nuisance and a problem to everyone else with that noise polluting whaling he constantly makes!!!  That noise he makes when he is outside isDREADFUL!!!!!!!!!!! It scares the hell out of my normal children!!!!!!!! When you feel your idiot kid needs air, take him to our park you dope!!! We have a nature trail!!!  Let him run around those places and make noise!!!!!! Crying babies , music, and even barking dogs are normal sounds in a residential neighbourhood!!!!!! He is NOT!!!!!!!!!!!

He is a nuisance to everyone and will always be that way!!!!!  Who the hell is going to care for him??????  No employer will hire him, no normal girl is going to marry/love him and you are not going to live forever!! Personally they should take whatever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it to science.  What the hell else good is he to anyone!!!  You had a retarded kid, deal with it...properly!!!!!!  What right do you have to do this to hard working people!!!!!!!  I HATE people like you who believe, just because you have a special needs kid, you are entitled to special treatment!!!! GOD!!!!!!!

Do everyone in our community huge a [sic] favour and MOVE!!!!! VAMOSE!!!!! SCRAM!!!!! Move away and get out of this type of neighbourhood setting!!! Go live in a trailer or something with your wild kid!!! Nobody wants you living here and they don't have the guts to tell you!!!!!!

Do the right thing and move or euthanize him!!! Either way, we are ALL better off!!!


One pissed off mother!!!!!

I am one pissed off cripple thanks to my son. I am angry because this is not a hate crime. This is a classic example of how disability is always somehow different. Disability in terms of civil rights raises a level of complexity people are ill equipped to analyze. No powerful symbols associated with disability rights are known to the general public. There is no Martin Luther King of disability rights that touched the hearts and minds of the nation. Bra burning women put feminism on the national news. Equal work for equal pay and gender equality became part of the national conscious. We as a people accepted women have the right to control their reproduction.  We people with a disability need comparable singular moment in time. Those in disability rights are well aware  such events have taken place. But this has not resonated--not even the ADA. Most people have a hazy idea a law was passed a long time ago and it solved all the problems disabled people like me encounter.

I try to put myself in the mind set of a lawyer. The letter above, a lawyer would maintain, is directed at a single individual. It is not hate speech inciting violence against a group or class of people. The letter is not a burning cross on the lawn of a black family in an all white neighborhood. While the letter is vile, it does not meet the letter of the law as a hate crime is currently defined. Canadian authorities are investigating the matter and trying to determine if it falls under a different criminal code. I get this sort of legal thinking and do not like it. I think it is very reasonable to assume the letter was directed at one person with Autism. What the law fails to do is take the next step--specifically the letter could have been directed at any person with Autism or other disability. In my estimation we people with a disability are a distinct an insular minority group. One of the members of my class of people was subjected to a hateful act. The next step, violence, I think is a real concern had the letter not gone viral. I consider this letter to be a threat to me and all people with a disability. It is without question an effort to undermine the civil rights of all people with a disability. Few get this. My thinking may lack the rigor of the law, a separate language I do not speak, but it is at minimum the sign of a much larger problem. The sooner we address the problem, violations of the civil rights of people with a disability, the better off all people will be. 


Dr. Dan's Daffy Deliberations said...

Bill, t was thinking the exact same thing myself. While legally such a letter doesn't "rise to the level of a hate crime the malicious intent of aggressiveness against ALL people with disabilities and who are perceived to be different are clearly there! In fact, it's ableism to an extreme, a concept not recognized by the powers that be! Such messages are an incitement to violent acts and if repeated often enough like the "big lie" in Nazi times, might trigger violent acts. That's why vigilance must be maintained. A waterfall begins with a drop of water!

Unknown said...

I am an elderly woman and have COPD. I wear oxygen wherever I go and also walk funny. I am used to some stares, but somehow have problems with rudeness. I've been fortunate, however, to have lived in Durango, Colorado, where people are, on the average, quite decent and helpful.

I also am part of a great movement in the U.S., the independent living movement. A civil rights movement, it started in the 1960's and was responsible for the passing of the ADA. It is also responsible for millions of dollars being funneled into ways to keep people independent .... from handicapped parking spaces, to special ed, to accessible shopping and driving, and to the independent living centers (ILC) throughout the U.S. Colorado has 9 --other states have as many as 30 depending on population.

By federal law, ILCs are non-residential, 501(c)(3) centers that help people with disabilities be independent --cook, work, play, and just live productive lives .... whatever that means to them. Also by law, 51% of ILC's staff have significant disabilities and 51% of the organization's governing board members, also, must have disabilites.

ILCs must provide 4 core services: independent living skills training, peer counseling, information and referral and advocacy --both individual and systemic. To learn more, "google" independent living centers for people with disabilities. Also, to leatn where your nearest center is, "google" independent living centers in (your state).

Yes, there are some pretty awful people out there --ignorant, mean people. And we sure do have some work to do. We've come a long way since the late 1960's, and still have a ways to go.

Something to keep in mind ... is that being able-bodied is temporary. At some time in their life, most people WILL experience disability. I am hoping that the ignorant, mean letter-writer will some day better understand when disability visits her or him.

Take care and remember:\

Laurey Jaros
Durango, Colorado ...
and soon to be,
Tucson, Arizona

Phil Dzialo said...

Read the comments if you want to be overcome by a wave of nausea!

tigrlily said...

A cross burning on a lawn is symbolic of a system of violence against people of color and other minorities. So while the gesture appears on its face to be directed at one family, the implications are obviously globally directed against the race.

Yet the public and the law don't make the connection between a person who writes a letter full of exclamation points and insults, and the public policies that discriminate against and incarcerate people with disabilities in institutions, or further, that promote euthanasia and assisted suicide for those who "request" it. So last year, when Annette Corriveau proposed euthanizing her two adult disabled children, she got the full sympathy treatment on the Dr. Phil show and in the Canadian press, because she didn't use exclamation points and insults. But it's the same intent.

Proponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia use the word "choice" as both a bludgeon and a shield. And as long as the public doesn't acknowledge that favouring institutionalization, lack of adequate health and palliative care and ongoing discrimination deprive disabled and dying people of any effective choice, that tactic is very effective. Worse, it even works on people with disabilities.

We must recognize that advocating euthanasia for a specific class of people, whether on an individual or collective basis, is a crime against humanity.

Carwile said...

I admit I'm so numbed by things I only hope the better angels of that neighborhood get that disease of a person to move away ...

Unknown said...

I'm wondering if part of the problem is that the very idea of disabled people being an oppressed minority is refuted by the average person. I had a discussion about this today with someone, who truly questioned whether there was any systematic oppression of people with disabilities. I had to make a very detailed case, and even then, they clearly were unsure.

If this is the basic level of discourse around disability. Very disheartening.

Middle Child said...

I agree totally and I have had acquaintances (not friends any more)who have said some really bad things. not through ignorance I don't think - I think just because they can and they rely on your not being gutsy enough to take them on.

But here is something that was sort of funny because this bloke meant well - he just didn't understand. He was a friend who went to Hong Kong and bought a proper pair of UGH sheepskin boots - he didn't check inside the box till back in Australia - when he did he realised he had been given 2 left very generously bought them round to our place and thought Don would be able to use if it didn't matter that he visibly would have had two left boots - because he couldn't walk...he was so pleased with himself - they came in handy though a few years down the track when Don had an ingrown toenail and needed to just wear the one boot... so there are those who make a boo boo not because they are being hateful but because they just haven't thought it through, then there are those bastards who dig the knife in and know what they are dong - glad your son thinks like he does - so do our girls because of what they have seen people do to their Dad over decades.

william Peace said...

Dan, Glad to see you are writing again. When it comes to disability rights there always seems to be a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to make any sort of leap in logic. That is disability rights and civil rights are one in the same.
Tigrlily, Not sure I can add anything to your comment. You are spot on.
Jisun Lee, I never cease to be amazed at what a hot button disability is for those with no experience. When one espouses a civil rights approach r.e. disability people just shut down. The majority simply refuse to change their thinking. This is to the detriment of all.
Phil, Not sure I have the stomach to read the comments on the link. Comment sections tend to be horrible. Much hate speech can be found. Ugh.
Middle, Yes people can make errors based on ignorance. The cranky part of me thinks there are way too many ignorant people in the world. I must confess I am weary of educating people in day to day life. But I press on because I know all too well ignorance can be cured.