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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Ableism is Deadly: Mass Murder in Japan

The mass killing  of people with a disability in Japan is global news. International news sources have reported the basics. A 26 year old man, Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee who worked at Tsukui Yamayuri En facility for people with a disability killed nine men and ten women. The age of the murdered men was between 41 and 67. The age of the murdered women was between 19 and 70. At least 20 other people with a disability were severely injured and six others were not seriously wounded. Uematsu murdered the men and women with one of three knives he carried. According to various Japanese news outlets he slit the throats of his victims. The murders took place in the middle of the night when staffing was at its lowest. No staff members were injured. Uematsu was a former employee. He worked at the facility from from December 2012 to February 2016. Approximately thirty minutes after the killing spree Uematsu surrendered to the police. Nearly one third of disabled residents were murdered. These bare bone facts are sure to change as police in Japan investigate further.

There is no question this was a hate crime. Uematsu sent a letter to a Japanese lawmaker in Tokyo and explicitly stated "the elimination" of the handicapped was in the best interests of the disabled themselves and society in general. Multiple news outlets in Japan have quoted sections of Uematsu's letter:

As to my goal, with the daily lives of persons with multiple disabilities being extremely difficult in the home, I would like a world where [a disabled person] can be euthanized with the consent of a guardian". 

Uematsu signed this letter. He included his address on the letter. The letter was sent to the Kojimachi Police Station.  At this time it is not know what if any investigation took place. According to various news reports in and outside of Japan Uematsu claimed he could kill up to 470 disabled people in two facilities. He thought "mercy killings" could improve the economy and that he should be found innocent of any crime and be given a monetary award.Some news outlets state Uematsu was temporarily placed in a mental institution once his words were investigated but this may or may not be true.

This hate crime and mass murder led to a sleepless night for me. What took place could have happened in any nation. It could have taken place in Omaha, Nebraska, Cambridge, England, Paris, France, or Syracuse, NY. As I read story after story I felt a chill go down my spin, diffuse at T-3 when I read the following words:

He was just an ordinary young fellow.

I have no doubt he was an ordinary young fellow. That is what makes ableism so frightening. People, typical people, think life with a disability is worse than death. I plan to go out to lunch with my son, We will likely stop at a cross walk and wait for a light to turn. A biped will likely stand near me. That biped might be thinking "shit, if I were paralyzed I would prefer to be dead. That guy should be dead. He sucks up too much health care dollars". This is what scares me. The silence. How many silently wish we people with a disability did not exist. My concerns are shared by many who have a disability and more generally any person with an atypical body. Dave Hinsburger wrote:

when you read what he says, what he says isn't far from what most people have come to believe. His statement to the police upon turning himself in that 'it's better that disabled people disappear' isn't a deranged rant by someone out of control, it's a calm statement of fact that echos the sentiment of many in society. People with disabilities know this sentiment, we hear it, we experience it and we have come to fear what it will do. Our lives are devalued, are needs seen as special and therefore burdensome, our rights are declared to be gifts rather than guarantees. Link: http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com/2016/07/japan-hate-and-12-days.html

The killing of people with a disability is rarely if ever framed as a hate crime. No, typical others love us. They care about us. They always have our best interests in mind. It is out of kindness typical others soul that leads them to prefer we die. It is routinely couched in polite language and euphemisms. Read about Jerika Bolen and Tim Bowers and Christina Symanski. Read about any of the men and women killed by Jack Kevorkian. Read the work of any kind hearted utilitarian philosopher from the well-known Peter Singer to the more obscure philosophers located at prestigious universities across the globe. All things considered they say as part of a congenial discussion it would be better off for all if you were dead or allowed to die as a child. If you think I am exaggerating I suggest readers go and take a look at Harriet Mcbride Johnson's memoir Too Late to Die Young or her splendid essay in the New York Times about her encounters with Peter Singer.

Ableism kills. Ableism is lethal. Parents who murder their disabled children routinely are given light sentences when convicted of murder. Bonnie Liltz comes to mind. Sympathy rests with the parent and not the victim. Disability is ever so burdensome. Life is inherently less. This theme has not changed appreciably in decades. Indeed, the belief that life with a disability is a fate worse than death is spreading as the notion of a good death has gained popularity. The vast majority of young college age students I teach firmly believe death is a right and that the safe guards in assisted suicide legislation are more than adequate. Opposition to such legislation is perceived to be the product of extreme or unbalanced belief system such as an extreme religious viewpoint. When I state people with a disability have good reason to be concerned this point is dismissed. Not long ago I had a wide ranging discussion with my brother who told me "everyone is kind to the handicapped. I see it all the time. You are so angry". In other words I am not a reasonable person if not hopelessly unbalanced.

I realize I am preaching to the choir. But for those who want to dismiss my words think about what took place in Japan. I am sure the letter Uematsu will be released soon. Don't dismiss what this man wrote as simply part of a severe mental illness. What he did and wrote is very real. He was rational and followed through on a well thought out plan. People do in fact firmly believe the lives of people with a disability are less valuable. Some believe my life has no value. I can imagine some might refuse to believe this and might say "bull shit". Sorry but no. This is factually correct. It is not a belief. It is a fact. Twenty nine murdered people in Japan can attest to this. The people Jack Kevorkian killed are more proof. Jerika Bolen might be proof. Tim Bowers surely is proof as his family persuaded him to die because they firmly believed life with a  disability was a fate worse than death. Hence, I ask how many more people with a disability need to die before ableism is a concept every person in America is intimately familiar with.

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