Category Archives: violence

We Are Not Your Props

Last week, the Internet exploded over the case of Jody McIntyre, a wheelchair user who was pulled out of his chair during a demonstration in Britain in front of a shocked crowd. I saw the Tweets rolling out live as the incident happened, with people demanding to know why the event wasn’t being covered on television; as usual, the coverage slanted towards focusing on ‘dangerous’ and ‘unruly’ protesters, as well as framing the people involved as ‘middle class’ with the goal of writing off the seriousness of the events and erasing the participation of people from the lower class who were up in arms as well.

From the corner of my eye, I spotted one of the policemen from the earlier incident. He recognised me immediately. Officer KF936 came charging towards me. Tipping the wheelchair to the side, he pushed me onto the concrete, before grabbing my arms and dragging me across the road. (McIntyre writes about his experiences)

The case caught attention as a result of being caught on video and went viral; within days, McIntyre had been interviewed by the BBC and mocked in The Daily Mail. This particular incident of police brutality started getting significant traction in discussions about the protests.

Much of the narrative surrounding this incident was righteous outrage. Seeing footage of a 20 year old man with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair for mobility being hauled out of it and being left to sprawl in the street sparked rage, and my Twitter feed exploded. It’s wrong, most people seemed to agree, for police to abuse ‘the disabled‘ when they are exercising their rights to peaceful protest. People also emphasised McIntyre’s ‘weakness‘ and ‘helplessness’ although I think he pretty amply demonstrated in his BBC interview that he is far from helpless:

Interviewer: And why then, do you think– Are you saying the police picked on your twice. Why do you think they did?

JM: I have no idea. I mean, to make one suggestion, I think in the second incident at least, I think there’s a clear element of trying to provoke protesters into violence. Personally, I see myself as equal to anyone else, but I do understand that I could be perceived as more vulnerable, so I think there was an element of trying to provoke violence from others.

Numerous incidents of police brutality were documented during the London protests, but this particular case got a lion’s share of the attention because it involved a disabled man. Another protester experienced a head injury so severe that it required surgery.

Which is a curious contrast from the way the left seems to regard other wheelchair users exercising their free speech and assembly rights. Every time there’s a significant conservative demonstration here in the United States, I see people using mobility devices being singled out for special mockery by the left. The liberal ableism starts flying when it comes to people with disabilities doing things the left doesn’t like and we are reminded that we are considered pawns when we express views the left does not like, and heroes when we’re expressing views the left does like.

It’s Tiny Tim season, so of course this case hit a number of sweet spots, as it were. McIntyre was an excellent choice ofcause celebre for nondisabled people angry about the police response to the protests because he was a symbol. An object. Dare I say it? A prop. McIntyre was ‘the disabled.’ It’s generally agreed that being mean to ‘the disabled’ is one of the worst things a person can do and unlike those pesky nondisabled protestors who were abused by police, there is, of course, no rational way he could have posed a threat to police, making his abuse at their hands ‘unjustifiable.’

I don’t know how else to say this because I feel like I have been saying it for years, and no one is listening:

We are not props. We are not symbols. We are not rhetorical devices. We are human beings. We have free will and bodily autonomy.

Every protester in London had a right to not be abused by police. Not just the disabled protester. And every person has a right to express views, no matter what they are, no matter who agrees with them, regardless of disability status. Patting us on the head when we fit with your agenda and then telling us we’re ‘clueless’ when we don’t is patronising, it is dehumanising, and it is wrong.

Jody McIntyre attended that protest in full awareness that police violence had been ongoing at the student protests and he took a calculated risk, knowing it was a possibility, just like every other protester. He’s not a hero or a rallying point because he was dragged out of his chair and hit by police while disabled: He’s a person who experienced police brutality. He pointed this out in his interview:

I would say that it’s very important not to see this as an isolated incident. This is the police’s role at demonstrations. To incite and provoke violence. They’ve done it in the past and they’re continuing to do it now. I am not the real victim here. The real victims are the students, like Alfie Meadows, who is in hospital within an inch of his life after a policeman struck him on the head with a truncheon and he needed emergency brain surgery. Now imagine if it was Prince Charles, or Camilla, or a police officer who had been within an inch of their life.

He attended that protest because he had something to say:

“[The police] are out of control,” he said. “I have just as much right as everyone else to protest. My 16-year-old brother now believes he will be unable to go to university because of the higher fees involved.” (‘Footage shows protester dragged from wheelchair‘)

Every time our disabilities are used to leverage pity and other emotions, it’s a reminder that people think of us as consumed and defined by our disabilities. If McIntyre hadn’t been in a chair, he would have gone down with scores of other nameless protesters who were abused by police. If his abuse hadn’t been caught on video, a handful of enraged Tweets would have been the sum total of the matter. Instead, people are trying to leverage him to make political points.

This case is rare; usually when we are used as pawns to advance agendas, we are not allowed to speak for ourselves. McIntyre has been interviewed and given a voice and an opportunity to push back on some of the narratives surrounding him, breaking out of the prop mold people want to shove him in. Most of us don’t have that chance.

I’ll leave you with this:

As a result of events on the 9th December I will be pursuing legal action against the police. But I do not because I see myself as a victim. The real victims are the likes of Alfie Meadows who was hospitalised as a result of his injuries. We need justice not only in my case but also in Alfie’s case and anyone else who’s suffered in this struggle.

While this condemned government continues to promote values of inequality and attempts to widen the gap between rich and poor, I will speak up for those who do not have a voice. (‘Who’s apathetic now?‘)

“There’s a suggestion that you were rolling towards the police in your wheelchair”: BBC Interviews Jody McIntyre About His Assault By London Metropolitan Police Officers

I would like you to take a moment to imagine the look on my face when I realised that the BBC interviewer in the following clip (transcript below) actually asked Jody McIntyre, a 20 year old man who uses a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy, whether or not the fact that Jody is a “revolutionary” is reason enough for the police to have assaulted him twice during the London riots last week. The following interview is full of similar gems, including a rather pointed “appear to show” what the actual footage shows.

I want to salute Joey for his calm yet firm responses throughout the interview.

BBC Jody McIntyre interview

[This is an interview conducted by an unidentified male BBC reporter Ben Brown with Jody McIntyre, a man with Cerebral Palsy who was pulled by police officers from his wheelchair during the recent protests against tuition fee increases in the UK. There is repeated footage of McIntyre being pulled from his chair, which was being pushed by his brother. The footage shows multiple London police officers pulling McIntyre from his chair and dragging him across the pavement and away from his brother and his chair while outraged bystanders shout in horror at what they’re seeing. The clip shown is a cleaned up and enhanced version of the clip that went up on YouTube – the original is full of a lot of cursing and screaming from bystanders which has been edited out by the BBC.]

Interviewer: Pictures of a disabled man being dragged from his wheelchair by police officers during the protests in London over the tuition fees have emerged online. Now these pictures appear to show Jody McIntyre, 20 year old fiscal activist and blogger who suffers from cerebral palsy being pulled out of his wheelchair and dragged across the road to the pavement. While the Metropolitan Police have released this statement on that incident, saying

In connection with the incident shown on YouTube of of a tuition fees protestor in a wheelchair the Metropolitan Police confirm that the man involved, Jody McIntyre, has not launched an official complaint. The issue has been referred by the Metropolitan Police to the Directorate of Professional Standards and the Met Police say they will contact Jody McIntyre directly.

That is the statement from the police that we’ve received, and we can speak to Jody McIntyre now whose in our Westminster Studio.

Interviewer: Good evening to you.

Jody (JM): Good Evening.

Interviewer: Could you just explain what happened to you?

JM: Well, during the demonstration I was attacked by and pulled out of my wheelchair by the police on two occasions. The footage you have just shown is of a second incident. One of the police men who had dragged me down the road in the first incident obviously recognized me, came running over, pushed me out of my wheelchair on to the road, and then dragged me across the road.

Interviewer: The police say you haven’t made any kind of complaint, so why not?

JM: I haven’t made a complaint yet but I’m in contact with a lawyer and I will be doing so.

Interviewer: It’s been a few days since this happened. Why haven’t you complained before?

JM: Because I wanted to consider my options before taking that step.

Interviewer: There’s a suggestion that you were rolling towards the police in your wheelchair. Is that true?

JM: I think justifying a police officer pulling a disabled person out of a wheelchair and dragging them across a concrete road is quite ridiculous and I’m surprised that you’ve just tried to do so.

Interview: So that’s not true, you were not wheeling yourself towards the police.

JM: Well I can’t physically use my wheelchair myself. My brother was pushing me. I think it’s quite obvious from the footage that I was 100% not a threat to anyone.

Interviewer: In the Observer newspaper you were described as a cyber radical and you were quoted as saying you want to build a revolutionary movement and that can only happen through direct action on the streets. Do you classify yourself as a revolutionary? [Anna: I think this is the article he’s referring to]

JM: I don’t classifying myself as anything but I think we all have a right to fight against what the government are trying to do. They’re trying to tier education system whereby only the rich will be able to afford it. That is something that I think we should all be fighting against.

Interviewer: Now the police have said that they have referred this incident to the Directorate of Professional Standards… what’s your reaction to that?

JM: I don’t have a reaction to that but I will be making a complaint in the near future. I would say that it’s very important not to see this as an isolated incident. This is the police’s role at demonstrations. To incite and provoke violence. They’ve done it in the past and they’re continuing to do it now. I am not the real victim here. The real victims are the students, like Alfie Meadows, who is in hospital within an inch of his life after a policeman struck him on the head with a truncheon and he needed emergency brain surgery. Now imagine if it was Prince Charles, or Camilla, or a police officer who had been within an inch of their life.

Interviewer: But I have to say, I was in Parliament Square covering that demonstration and I saw protesters throwing lumps of rock at the police, throwing missiles, various missiles, at the police. Were you throwing anything at all at the police that day?

JM: I wasn’t throwing anything at the police during that day or during any [unclear] But what is clear is that the media are trying to distract the public from the real issue, which is the cuts that the government are making.

Interviewer: Were you harmed in any way in that incident with the police?

JM: Not in that … incident, in the incident that’s being shown. There was also another incident around 45 minutes earlier when a police officer struck me with a baton and yes that did cause some injury.

Interviewer: And why then, do you think– Are you saying the police picked on your twice. Why do you think they did?

JM: I have no idea. I mean, to make one suggestion, I think in the second incident at least, I think there’s a clear element of trying to provoke protesters into violence. Personally, I see myself as equal to anyone else, but I do understand that I could be perceived as more vulnerable, so I think there was an element of trying to provoke violence from others.

Interviewer: Did you shout anything provocative or throw anything that would have induced the police to do that to you?

JM: Do you really think a person with Cerebral Palsy in a wheelchair can pose a threat to a police officer who is armed with weapons?

Interviewer: But you do say that you’re a revolutionary.

JM: That’s a word, it’s not a physical action that I’ve taken against the police officers, a word that you’re quoting from a website. I’m asking you: do you think I could have in any way posed a physical threat from the seat of my wheelchair to an army of police officers armed with weapons? This whole line of argument is absolutely ludicrous because you’re blaming the victims of violence for that violence. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the way the BBC report on the Palestinian conflict–

Interviewer: When are you going to make your compalint to the police?

JM: I will be making my complaint very shortly, in the near future.

Interviewer: Okay, Jody McIntyre, thanks very much for your time, thanks for talking to us this evening.

JM: Thank you.

Further Reading: Jody McIntyre’s blog, Life on Wheels

[ETA: Thanks to various people for letting me know the interviewer is Ben Brown.]

Howard Hyde Inquiry Ignores Ableism As Cause of Death

Note: This post discusses police violence against people with mental health conditions.

The results of the Hyde Inquiry were released on Wednesday.

Some things about the Hyde Inquiry, since I don’t think it’s been widely covered outside of Nova Scotia. I wrote this summary several months ago:

Howard Hyde had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The treatments he was on were making him sick, so he stopped taking them. He became violent.

His wife called the mobile mental health team – a project in Halifax that will go to you rather than you needing to go to them. She then called 9-1-1.

Two days later, he was dead in police custody, having been tasered.

Various things went horribly wrong. Among them were -and continue to be – the police’s inability to deal with people who have schizophrenia, amongst other mental health related conditions.

What they should have done was taken him to the hospital. Which they did, for a bit, and then left, returning him to lock-up.

His wife had tried to contact them and make sure that he was okay, and that they were aware that he had schizophrenia.

“I really wanted him to be in the hospital and get the treatment he needed for psychosis,” she said.

He had been taken to hospital for assessment, and the hospital staff requested that he be returned to the hospital after his arraignment hearing. He was not.

Parts of the surveillance tape of the tasering itself are “missing”.

“Hyde began struggling when officers tried to cut the string from his shorts. Though images were not caught on tape, surveillance audio recorded sound of the scuffle. Edwards can be heard saying “Howard, sit down.” Fellow Const. Greg McCormack is then argued to have said “You’re going to be doing the f***ing dance next, Howard,” although his voice is muffled.

It was also revealed that more than 30 minutes of footage of Hyde in a cell waiting to be booked has gone missing.”

I’ve since learned that what was actually said to Howard as the police officers approached him with a knife:

A surveillance camera captured the moment when an officer told Hyde a utility knife would be used to remove a knot from the drawstring in Hyde’s shorts, saying: “I just have to cut off one of those balls there.”

Anyway, as I said, the results were back. After 11 months of looking into the death of a man who police were called to help, we’ve all been told that Howard’s murder was an “accident” and it had nothing to do with his mental health condition.

“The only useful approach is to understand that Mr. Hyde died because of physiological changes in his body brought on by an intense struggle involving restraint,” Derrick wrote. “He did not die because he was mentally ill.”

I suppose this is technically correct. Howard’s death was not because he was mentally ill, his death was because the police were ill-equipped to deal with someone having a mental health crisis. I don’t have statistics about the number of men having mental health crises that are murdered by police officers every year, but I do know that I can’t go a whole month without at least one report, and it’s an issue that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada feels needs to be addressed.

I think it is naive to state that Howard wasn’t murdered because of his diagnosis. I think it ignores a frightening history of people with mental health conditions being murdered by police officers. I think it ignores that the criminal justice system is not equipped to effectively deal with people with mental health conditions. I think it ignores that there are limited resources available for people with mental health conditions and their families to get the help they need to cope with crisis situations.

I think it completely ignores the fact that Howard’s wife called the police for help, and two days later he was dead.

So yes, Howard Hyde isn’t dead because he had schizophrenia. He’s dead because ableism kills.

Recommended Reading for 19 November, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

little light at Questioning Transphobia: clamavi ad te. Please note that the post discusses suicide, abuse, and murder of trans people. If you think you can handle it, though, it is powerful reading, as is everything little light writes.

When you have been told you are less than human–less than sacred–less than beautiful–your community has failed you. When you believe it, it is because your community has failed you. I do not intend to mince words. … You deserve better. Because you are not the problem. You are not broken. You are not worthless. You are not a problem and you are not a mistake.

Liz at Dis/Embody: Thoughts on World Usability Day:

Now, of course, usability is not the same as accessibility; it is focused on ease of general use, for a mass audience. And, usability doesn’t always incorporate a universal design perspective in which the needs of those who face the most challenges are centered, with the understanding that products designed for that group may also be more usable by others.

That said, usability and communication is an interesting theme, as it seems to implicitly tie back to media accessibility in particular.

Interviews conducted by Meena Bakhtash at the BBC: Voices: Disability and the Hajj to Mecca:

The annual Hajj pilgrimage – a religious duty that every adult Muslim is expected to do once in their lives – can be a tough challenge.

But the obstacles are infinitely greater for Muslims with disabilities, who choose to take the journey.

Melissa Jenkins at the Sydney Morning Herald: Disability package gets tick:

The Victorian government is taking the right approach by directing the majority of its disability package towards early intervention, advocacy groups and unions say.

Kirsty Whalley at This is Local London: Disabled girl from Norbury a “health and safety risk”, says school

A disabled 11-year-old girl has been rejected by an academy school because she poses a “health and safety risk” to other children.

That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

The Challenge of Mental Illness in the Justice System Part 3: Victims

This is the third in a three-part post about a talk given by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, about the interactions between people who are mentally ill (her term) and the justice system of Canada. Part 1 briefly discussed the history of the treatment of people with mental illness in Canada, and then described the current situation with regards to the criminal court system. Part 2 discussed the interactions between people with a mental illness and the civil courts. Part 3 will discuss the mentally ill as victims of the justice system.

This post will discuss violence against people with disabilities.

All quotes are from my notes and are not verbatim.

Many Canadians will be familiar with several stories of people diagnosed with a mental health condition being killed by police officers. Byron DeBassige, 28, was shot and killed by police officers in February 2008 (Toronto). Howard Hyde, 45, was tasered and killed by police officers in November 2007 (Halifax). Ashley Smith, 19, committed suicide in jail while prison guards watched in October 2007 (Kitchener). Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, 25, was shot and killed by police officers in August 2010 (Toronto). While Robert Dziekanski does not appear to have had a mental illness, his “irrational” behaviour after having been detained in the airport for 10 hours is the reason police officers gave for tasering him multiple times and leaving him to die in October 2007 (Vancouver).

The Chief Justice specifically focused on the case of Byron DeBassige, reading from the Toronto Star article I linked above. She went on to state that she believes that the police wouldn’t have shot DeBassige over two lemons and a knife had they known he was ill. In light of the other cases I’ve linked to, I don’t agree with her – in several of those cases the police were firmly and repeatedly told the person they killed was mentally ill. I don’t believe police officers as a whole have risen above the ableist prejudices that lead to psychophobia (fear of people with mental health conditions), simply because there’s been no real attempt in Canada to combat it.1

The Chief Justice went on to discuss how prejudice and fear can affect people with a mental illness: “I’d like to shift the focus to millions of mentally ill people who do not break the criminal law, who remain untreated or inadequately treated, and at liberty. Too often they are simply victims: Victims of discrimination, ignorance, societal inefficiency, and sometimes of violence that too often ends with their death.”

As a woman with a diagnosed mental health condition, I’m twice as likely as my non-disabled counterparts to be the victim of a violent crime, including rape. [Source is PDF] I’m also significantly less likely to be violent than my counterparts. And yet, even on FWD (in comments that are unapproved), it’s not rare for people to equate my diagnosis with abuse. It’s not uncommon for me to be sitting in a classroom of people who know that I campaign for disability rights and have talked a lot about the prejudices that face people with mental health conditions and have my classmates talk about how “crazy” people are violent. After learning I was going to this talk, one of my classmates told me that, should she ever murder someone, she’d claim temporary insanity and just spend a few months in care and then be released. All I could think of was Ashley Smith, who threw crab apples at the postman and died in jail.

The stark truth is too often we discriminate against the ill. We pass them lying on the street but ignore pleas for housing, reluctant to give them jobs even when they’ve struggled valiantly to overcome their illness. We marganilise them.

We need to know more if we’re going to avoid the specter of mentally ill as victims. Related to this is the lack of social coordination on behalf of the mentally ill. All who play a role in an ill person’s life must find ways to communicate and talk to each other. They fall through the cracks. There must be better communication between agencies if we are to prevent more mentally ill people from becoming victims.

This last quote is, in sum, why I felt a lot of frustration with this talk. Throughout, the Chief Justice talked about agencies, she talked about police officers, parole officers, and judges, she talked about what people can do. At no point did she quote an actual person with a mental illness. At no point did she suggest that people talk to those of us who have a mental health condition, and find out what we want and need. At no point did she talk about attempts by the justice system to include people with mental health conditions on tribunals or in the discussions about how the justice system can do better on this issue. Nothing about us without us really shouldn’t be a daring concept, but it seems it is.

Despite all of my complaining, I actually did enjoy this talk. It’s not very often that people admit that prejudice and fear play a strong part in the way people with mental illnesses are treated, by society in general and the justice system in particular. As a Canadian, it makes me happy that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is speaking about this, because her authority lends weight to what she’s speaking of, and because I know the Supreme Court is aware of the issues that she’s raising. I also appreciate that she takes the time to speak on this issue often. I was recently emailed the text of a similar talk she gave in 2005. Making law students and lawyers (as well as the general public) aware of these issues may help prevent future cases like Ashley Smith’s suicide.

I would obviously like that more awareness of these issues was addressed in a helpful and thoughtful manner in the newspapers, in classrooms, and on the internet. Chief Justice McLachlin is doing good work, and I’m very glad of the opportunity presented by Dalhousie University to see her talk in person.

Dal News wrote about this presentation as well.

  1. There is, however, an attempt to point out that “mental illness costs Canadians $51 Billion a year“. I don’t think we battle prejudice against mental health conditions by talking about how much it costs, especially since I think it would be more accurate to say “discrimination and stigma related to mental health conditions costs the economy $51 Billion a year”, but what do I know? I’m just a crazy lady.

Record of the Dead

Trigger Warning for discussion of abuse and murder of people with disabilities.

This list of September media reports about people with disabilities murdered or dying under strange circumstances is presented without commentary, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing people may want to discuss about it in comments. I do not believe for a moment that this list is complete. It is sorted alphabetically by last name. Almost all links are to news reports.

Joseph Abdo, 68, multiple sclerosis, Castleton Corners, NY. Died in a house fire.

Shah Amin, 19, “intellectually disabled”, Marsiling, Singapore, September 26. Found strangled in his hotel room after the body of his father was found in a nearby park.

Leosha Barnett, 17, epilepsy and undefined mental disabilities, Fort Worth, Texas, May 21. Starved by her mother and sister.

Deborah Boudreaux, 60, cerebral palsy, Houston, Texas. Strangled in her bed. 2 people have been charged, one of whom lived in the same building.

Jeffrey Bishop, 53, undefined physical disabilities, Louisville, Kentucky, sometime in the first week of September. Strangled by roommates/care-givers, who left his body in the basement so they could collect his disability cheques. [Indictment]

Kimberly “Kimmie” Daily, 16, developmentally disabled, Puyallup, Washington, August 17. Raped and murdered. A neighbour is charged in her death.

Jennifer Daugherty, 30, “mentally disabled”, rural Pennsylvania, February. Tortured to death by “friends”, one of whom wants charges dropped.

Payton Ettinger, 4, “mental and physical disabilities”, Greensburg, Indiana, May 17. Malnutrition and dehydration. He weighed 12 pounds at his death.

Earl Handy Jr, 39, Deaf, Conroe, Texas, September 24. Found dead in his cell from suicide. [He was in isolation to protect him because he was Deaf]

Ernie Hernandez, Jr., 37, “mentally disabled”, Modesto, California , August 14. Stabbed to death.

Gerren Isgrigg, 6, unstated “severe medical issues”, Wylie, Texas, April 15. Left exposed in a wooded area by his primary caregiver, his grandmother, he died two days later. “She felt like she was being punished by having to take care of the child.”

Albert David Jenkins Jr, 53, undefined disablities, Mobile, Alabama, May 2008. Shot in the back 7 times; the shooter plead guilty.

Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, 25, undefined mental illness, Toronto, Ontario, August 29. Shot by police called by family for assistance.

Frederick Jones, early 20s, “outpatient care”, Kansas City, Kansas, September 3. Fatally shot at a gas station, died in hospital.

David Lauberts, 50, “developmentally disabled”, Greeley, Colorado, September 2009. His brother pleaded “no contest” to charges of criminally negligent homicide. Cause of death included “active caretaker neglect”.

Teresa Lewis, 41, “She’s not mentally retarded, but she is very, very close to it”, Jarrat, Virginia, September 23. Lethal injection.

Tia McShane, age at death unknown (would now be 11), cerebral palsy, Pensacola, Florida, remains found September 30. “A disabled child’s remains appear to have been found in a Pensacola storage unit, bringing a heartbreaking end to a month long search for a girl whose absence raised no alarm for years.”

Darren O’Connor, 19, partially paralyzed, South Tyneside, UK, July 7. He was discovered with breathing difficulties while in police custody and died in hospital.

Jeremy Price, 18, “had an IQ at the level of mental retardation” and had escaped from a mental health facility, Mattapan, Massachusetts, September 6. Shot by police officers.

Richard Roy, Down Syndrome, St. Jude, Quebec, sometime before September 6. Starved to death after his brother and caretaker died. [More details]

Rylan Rochester, 6 months, “thought to be autistic”, Boulder, Colorado, June 1. Smothered by his mother.

David Skelly, 53, “learning difficulties”, Liverpool, England, September 14. Punched to death by an unknown assailant.

Rohit Singh, 7, “physically challenged”, Bathinda, Punjab. Hammered to death by his father.

Regina Wynn, 87, Alzheimer’s, Richmond, Virginia, Early September. Abuse and Neglect, she died in hospital with bruises on her chest, abdomen, arms, hands and on the front of her head.

John T. Williams, 50, deaf in one ear, arthritic, Ditidaht member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations of Canada’s Vancouver Island, living in Seattle. Shot four times in the chest by police officers. [Hundreds Protest police shooting of Native American Carver, Here is a petition you can sign]

Two unnamed men, 87 and 83, “wheelchair bound” and “senile dementia”, Madrid, Spain, September 18. Died after being left in a hot van for 11 hours.

By 6 October, 2010.    deaths, domestic violence, news, Record of the Dead, violence   



Betty Anne Gagnon and Murder Most Foul

Content note: This post includes discussions of the murder and abuse of people with disabilities.

Betty Anne Gagnon was 48 years old when she was found curled up in the front seat of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a petrol station near Edmonton, Canada, in November 2009. Her face was heavily bruised and her body bore clear evidence of abuse.

She was dead. The coroner determined that blunt force trauma to the head was the likely cause of death. That was, in the literal sense, the cause of death, but what actually caused her death was ableism.

Betty had developmental disabilities. For 14 years, she lived independently with a caregiver in Calgary, but later moved in with her sister and brother-in-law. During the almost five year time period before her death, she was confined in a cage made of chicken wire, and forced to sleep in a tent smeared with her own feces. Or locked in a dog run in the yard. Or in a decommissioned school bus. Her ‘caregivers’ openly admitted this at the inquest into her death, where they described leaving her in the unheated bus with no toilet facilities, and they talked about the events in the hours before she was left to die in a parking lot, about how she was cold and struggled to breathe. Oh, but they called emergency services for help after they dumped her.

They are being charged with manslaughter, ‘unlawful’ confinement, and assault. I understand how the law works, and how the statutes are organised, and I understand why they cannot be charged with murder, but this was murder. It was murder after years of dehumanisation and abuse. It was murder. It was the complete and utter, total devaluation of human life.

Last week, a vigil was held to honour her, and to draw attention to the abuse of people with disabilities. As attendees at the vigil pointed out, caregiver abuse is common, it’s not commonly addressed, and sometimes it ends in cases like this.

The thing about cases like this is that they are endless. Every week, it seems, I am reading about another person with disabilities being murdered by ‘caregivers,’ and these cases drop off the radar very quickly, but I remember them. We remember them. We also remember the narrative that surrounds most of these cases, where we are reminded that caring for people with disabilities is such a burden and there must have been circumstances involved that we don’t know about, because how could we, it’s so hard to be a caregiver.

Of course, none of us are caregivers. It’s either/or, right? You are either a person with disabilities, or you are a caregiver.

I always thought, personally, that it’s pretty hard to dehumanise people, but apparently the media has no problem doing that. Very rarely do cases like this stress that there was a person involved, a human being, who is now dead. Dead because of social attitudes about the value of disabled lives, dead because of narratives reinforcing latitude in circumstances, dead because no one reported the abuse or because if someone did, the report wasn’t taken seriously. Dead because, sometimes, the media treats murderous ‘caregivers’ like misunderstood heroes.

It is sickening, and I mean that in a physical sense, to read article after article about people killing people like me, and getting away with it. And it is enraging to see how little coverage these cases get, a throwaway that happened to pop up when I happened to look at the screen, and would have missed otherwise. How many other devalued lives have been snuffed out without any awareness on the media’s part at all?

Betty Anne Gagnon was a human being. She had feelings, memories, experiences, and life. And that was taken from her because of her disabilities, because people determined that she wasn’t a person, and therefore didn’t need even the minimum standard of care you would give to a human being: A bed, a warm room, food, a place to use the toilet. She was locked up in an outdoor dog run in Alberta in the winter.

The media reported on the vigil, but didn’t really provide hard statistical information about the abuse and murder of people with disabilities, beyond making vague references to the fact that we are more likely to experience abuse. Many of those articles were specifically framed to focus on caregivers, not actual people with disabilities. Caregivers to ‘speak for those who can’t,’ reminding us, yet again, that those of us who cannot communicate in a way that satisfies others are deemed ‘silent.’

When we talk about ableism, about social attitudes, this is what we are talking about. We are talking about the fact that Betty’s life was deemed worthless because of her disabilities, and that every mainstream narrative reinforced that, right down to the complete lack of interest in her death on the part of anyone other than a handful of disability rights activists.

I remember the Bettys of this world, because so few people will.

Tracy Latimer is dead because her father is a murderer

It’s always hard for me to write a post about Tracy Latimer’s murder, especially in a space that’s got a lot more traffic than my own blog does. Where do I start? How do I express to a new audience the significance this case has in Canada, and how the murder of a 12 year old girl by her father 17 years ago changed drastically how Canadians talk about disability, and how disability is treated in Canada? Where do you start with that?

This post is going to talk about the murder of children with disabilities by their parents. I would recommend avoiding comments in most of the news links, because the comments generally turn into a referendum on whether or not it’s okay to kill disabled children.

Tracy Latimer, who had Cerebral Palsy, was 12 years old the day her father, Robert, waited until the rest of their family was at church and then carried her out to the garage, stuck her in the cab of the truck, ran a garden hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab, and left her there to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Whenever I talk about this case, I feel the need to remind the reader: this is a means of killing we have made illegal when killing dogs, because it is considered to be so painful. This is the murder people would like you to believe is a “mercy killing”.

Tracy Latimer’s murderer, Robert, then put Tracy to bed, burned the hose that he had used to murder her, and lied to the police about how she died.

This case went to trail twice, and both times Tracy’s murder was found guilty of murder and sent to prison. He has done the bulk of his prison time according to Canadian law, and is currently doing a form of parole where he spends five days in a half-way house, and two days in his own apartment in Vancouver. This is how the law works here – in fact, I would agree with critics that Tracy’s murderer is being treated harshly by the parole board, but I also understand they want Tracy’s murderer to admit that maybe killing a child and trying to hide the evidence is a crime and that he should show some remorse. But we don’t really send people to prison here in order for them to show remorse. It’s done, let him go home.

But let’s talk about how Tracy Latimer’s murderer and the court cases around him are typically treated by the press, since Robert is in the press again, having been denied a loosening of his parole.

You’ll notice, I’m sure, that I keep referring to this as “Tracy Latimer’s murder”. If you read the newspapers from across Canada, you’ll instead see it referred to as “Robert Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer, who was convicted of second-degree murder of his severely disabled daughter”. You will also find it referred to as a “mercy-killing”. Often Tracy’s name will only appear once, as “his 12 year old severely disabled daughter, Tracy”.

May 21, 2010: The Vancouver Sun: Latimer mercy-killing inspires new Ozzy Osbourne song: “The 10th track of Osbourne’s solo album entitled Scream, due out June 22, is Latimer’s Mercy which describes what Latimer may have felt in putting his daughter to death. The lyrics are poetic yet brutally graphic.”

July 28, 2010: The Montreal Gazette: A Wise and Sensible Verdict (This article is actually about an entirely different case, but felt the need to compare it to Tracy Latimer’s murder): “One need only remember Robert Latimer’s killing of his severely disabled 12-year-old daughter. He did it, he said, to release her from her suffering, to mercifully end her life.

Does anyone believe Robert Latimer was a cold-hearted killer?”

July 29, 2010: The Victoria Times-Colonist: Mercy killing can sometimes be honourable: (Same case as the one discussed above) “Similarly, Robert Latimer had no moral choice but to end his daughter’s agony at once by one means or another.”

August 19, 2010: The CBC: Robert Latimer wins parole review “Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1993 death of Tracy, his severely disabled, 12-year-old daughter, an act he described as a mercy killing.”

August 20, 2010: The Globe & Mail: Give Latimer More Latitude in his Day Parole: “The board needs to accept that he has paid his debt to society. He killed from compassion, according to a jury and a judge, who knew all the details of Tracy’s life and death, and was punished as a deterrent to others.”

The case is fairly consistently presented to the Canadian public as a “mercy killing”, and as the end of Tracy’s suffering. Often Tracy’s life is described as unbearable. Sometimes she is referred to as a “vegetable”. The only person who’s “side” of this story is consistently told is the man who murdered his daughter, and he is painted by the press as a man struggling against impossible odds, doing the only thing he could.

This is not what you read in the press:

In the trials, both Robert and his wife Laura claimed that Tracy was experiencing constant and uncontrollable pain. If this were true then why were they allowing Tracy to suffer when her pain was medically controllable? Their testimony conflicted with the writings in Laura’s own diary pertaining to the daily condition of Tracy. Laura’s diary stated that Tracy was often happy and smiling, and lately she had been eating well. Tracy’s teacher described her as a happy and loving person who did not show signs of extreme and uncontrolled pain, even though she had a dislocated hip. Tracy was scheduled for surgery to repair her dislocated hip which would have alleviated the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. In fact, Robert Latimer was charged with homicide on the same day that her surgery was scheduled to happen (November 4, 1993).

Many people are under the impression that the Latimers were overly burdened and lacking in support and respite service to care for Tracy. In fact, Tracy had lived in a respite home in North Battleford from July until early October, 1993. Tracy had returned home because she was scheduled for surgery. Tracy was also at school everyday. On October 12, just twelve days before Tracy was killed, Robert Latimer was offered a permanent institutional placement for Tracy in North Battleford. He rejected the placement because he said he had ‘other plans’. At this time, he had already decided to kill Tracy.

I harp on the way Tracy’s murder is treated in the press for one simple reason: The number of murders of children with disabilities by their parents has drastically increased in Canada since the Latimer case.

December 5, 1994 – Ryan Wilkieson, 16, Cerebral Palsy, Carbon monoxide poisioning similar the Latimer murder, which was in the news at the time.  Friends of Ryan’s murder, his mother, said she was distraught by the Latimer case. Murder/suicide.

May 28, 1996 – Katie Lynn Baker, 10, Rett Syndrome, starved to death. She weighed 22 pounds at her death. No charges were laid, as no one believed they could get a conviction.

November 6, 1996 – Charles-Antoine Blais, 6, autism, drowned in his bathtub by his mother. Charles-Antoine’s murderer was publically offered a job fundraising for the Autism Society of Greater Montreal, and and the head of Canada’s national autism society described her life as a total misery before Charles-Antoine’s murder. Suspended sentence.

November 21, 1996 – Andrea Halpin, 35, cognitive disabilities – shot to death by her father in a murder/suicide. He didn’t think she could live without him.

December 11, 1998 – Cory Moar,  29, cognitive disabilities – years of abuse by family members. I couldn’t find any more details after the lengthy description of the long-term injuries he sustained, because I had to throw up. You can read the inquest results in this handy PDF. Trigger warning.

May 19, 2001: Chelsea Craig, 14, Rett Syndrome, lethal dose of prescription drugs (attempted murder/suicide) Rachel Capra Craig, diagnosed with paranoid delusional disorder, later killed herself. She had been found incompetent to stand trial.

December 30, 2001 – Reece Baulne, 34, “learning difficulties”, carbon monoxide poisoning. In the suicide note that his parents wrote, they said they were killing themselves and Reece because they couldn’t care for him anymore, having been turned down for government funding.

July 12, 2004 – Jia Jia “Scarlett” Peng, 4, autism, drowned in bathtub by her mother who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Scarlett’s murderer was initially sentenced, but the sentence was put aside due to an error on the part of the judge. She was recently sentenced to 5 years, but was released because of “time served”.

July 31, 2004 –  Ian Carmichael, 11, epilepsy and undefined “learning difficulties”, choked to death by his father who was diagnosed as having psychotic delusions as a result of side-effects from taking Paxil incorrectly. You can read David Carmichael’s webpage in which he discusses (briefly) how he murder his son (most of the page is about how Paxil made him do it). Trigger Warning.

September 25, 2004 – Charles Fariala, 36, “assisted suicide” – he first took a dose of medication and then his mother tied his hands and covered his face with a plastic bag. Wikipedia says his mother had Borderline Personality Disorder and this was a factor in her light sentence (3 years probation), but I haven’t found any other reference to her having a mental health condition, just that there were “extenuating circumstances”.

These names are part of the reason why I think Robert Latimer should always be referred to as a murderer, why I think think Tracy’s death should never be referred to as a “mercy killing”, and why I will invite Robert Latimer apologists to kindly find their way to the Globe & Mail website, since they obviously will welcome your comments far more than I will. They will not be published here.

We convict and vilify people for murdering their children all the time. Unless their children are disabled. Then, then, then, it’s “mercy killing”, and they should be defended at all costs.

Quick Hit: Parents of Disabled Children

This is gonna be short ’cause I hurt and it’s hard to think and type and all that shit what’s good for writing.

Another parent of disabled children has killed ou children. Ou regrets having done it and immediately notified police of ou actions. Responses of shock and horror from media and across internets.

But. It doesn’t take long before there are articles like “Parents of Children With Autism: We Struggle Alone” at the Dallas Morning News. This is bog-standard parent of autistic child shit and not worth reading. (Y’all may consider yourselves warned about clicking through and especially about reading any comments that may be present.) It is easily summarised: Parents say, “Oh that was so horrible I’d never ever never even think for a moment of harming my autistic child. But…” There’s a lot of subtextual sympathy for the person who murdered ou children. Just as there always is. In the midst of all the parents-are-on-their-own there are blithe assumptions that help is available. It costs a lot of money but is available. All the accompanying photos are of apparently white people in nice homes.

Nothing we’ve not seen before.

It’s notable because I happened to come across it in the print edition of the paper and its placement there. On the front fucking page of the Sunday fucking paper. Below the fold and tucked into the bottom right corner but still. Being parents of disabled children is so hard that killing them is an option many people will sympathise with is news big enough for the front page. Of the Sunday fucking edition. This is prime newspaper real estate.

The Dallas Morning News uses it for this shit. And my wife wonders why I’m so ‘hypercritical’ of news about disabled people.

…And At This Point, I Don’t See It Stopping Anytime Soon

Courtesy of amandaw I bring you this stellar article that once again rubs in my face how brilliantly miserable the VA is scratching the surface of realizing what is wrong with they way they even see women veterans. If you read along carefully you can even see the lightly sugar-coated condescension artfully woven in TIME writer Laura Fitzpatrick’s story. It really is a piece of work, from the dismissive way she re-counts the testimony of the “presumed” treatment of a victim survivor of sexual assault at the hands of a medical professional (because they NEVER do THAT) down to the detailed description of the very girlie attire of the staff at the impressively mostly women-run facility in Palo Alto. I crave to read the way a man’s shoes click-clack on a hospital hall’s floors in such a manner. But it is a very cliche description etched in the halls of descriptive-writing history, INORITE, so who am I to argue with the laws of good writing. I am, after all, only an amateur.

The news isn’t that the VA is failing women veterans. I’ve known that for quite some time. Really, I have. I have encountered some of the treatment described to some degrees first-hand:

I remember having to hunt around for a toilet in an ill-fitting paper gown at my own exit screening, past several other open, occupied exam rooms. I was the only woman there. They had no sanitary napkin to offer me and it was an embarrassing scene trying to find a place where I could insert a tampon. I was fighting back tears when I finally found a (presumably) unisex bathroom.

So My Dear Friend Ms. Fitzpatrick’s dismissal of Anuradha Bhagwati’s story, the one she gave as testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is ill-received. It isn’t too far-fetched for me to imagine the way she recounts “the ham-handed manner in which a male gynecologist, upon being told by a patient that she had been sexually assaulted, left the exam room and — presumably to beckon a female staff member — yelled down the hall, ‘We’ve got another one!'”. I can easily see the inept professionals at the inadequate facilities just stumbling over how to even grasp a way to provide basic courtesy to a patient who isn’t like them. And failing. Miserably.

The news here is that they seem to have no idea how to fix it, and no set, immediate time line in mind for seeing progress. Sure, Secretary of the VA, Eric K. Shinseki recently, at a forum at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, has said that he hopes to have the VA ready to serve 100% of veterans in 25 years, but what is going to happen to this generation of women veterans who are already being ignored? To the women veterans of the wars past who have been fighting for help all along already?

Because their concerns are already being swept aside. You can already see as things like their urinary-tract issues being categorized as simple “gender differences”, because women react to the desert differently. Sure, possibly. I’ve seen this intimated a few times. People looking to explain away womanly behavior in high stress situations. Oh! They didn’t want to stop the convoy! Well, why is that? Maybe because we know that women are far more likely to be killed by their fellow servicemembers than by combat in combat zones that they learned defense mechanisms, as confessed to by Col. Janis Karpinski. Women tended to drink less water, as little as they thought they could get away with, to avoid using latrines or having to stop roadside alone with men out of fear of sexual assault. And it killed some of them. If you remember, though, Karpinski was even dismissed as a woman scorned because of the Abu Ghraib scandal, anyhow, so we can’t win for losing. She was just ratting out her old boss because she got in trouble.

Some of it is true, though. Most of the VA’s 144 hospitals do not have the proper facilities to even offer privacy to non-men patients, let alone provide gynecological care, or as I mentioned above, pads. The TIME article notes a hospital in Salt Lake City which announced that it delivered its first baby this past October (the article mentions that its average patient is 78 and male), but the day after the little girl’s arrival they didn’t know how much she weighed (I cringe to think how much more they couldn’t provide) because they didn’t even have an infant scale.

Women veterans are spiking in numbers. They, funnily enough, are not the same as men. That means they are not the same as the average patient, such as that the Salt Lake City hospital are used to dealing with, and their health care with be different. Even if you line up the matching parts, the treatment for heart disease and blood pressure, to my lay knowledge, is not the same. The numbers have been growing since The Great War, and surged after we had the need to call the next one World War II. It took until 1988 for the VA to start providing even limited care to women veterans.

Today, women veterans in need of help from the VA are of an average age far younger than the average male veteran (for obvious reasons) and have different needs. They are at least twice as likely than civilian women to be homeless (with only 8 facilities in all the U.S. available to help homeless women veterans with children). They are likely to be mothers when they are. Many of them returning from combat zones — yes, combat zones, why do you ask? — are coming home to families and are more likely than their male counterparts to get divorced following combat connected tours. They are really damned likely to get asked if that is their husband’s or boyfriend’s shirt they are wearing, or asked for their husband’s social by a thoughtless agent on the phone. They are the forgotten in war. Doubly so if they served in a branch of the military that isn’t on the forefront of the public’s mind as “really the military” (as slave2tehtink has said, Aircraft carriers tend to not be zipped around by civilians, yo). Extra-specially so if you had a thinkin’ job, like “nuke” or “spook”, and your Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Military Sexual Trauma (MST) didn’t happen “In Country” (Iraq or Afghanistan), the only sanctioned places where these things can occur, you know.

It’s frustrating as hell. And while I don’t believe that the VA is intentionally forgetting about us, I don’t believe that they are doing everything that they can to make sure that it gets better faster.

And honestly, I don’t think writers like Ms. Fitzpatrick are helping. But maybe I am jaded and have been at this for too long. But the VA needs an overhaul, stat. Pretty words from the Secretary of the VA and promises that it will be better in a couple of decades just aren’t good enough.

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