Votes, Violence, and Value: A Plea to Recognize the Basic Worth of the Lives of People with Disabilities

I voted today. It was no big thing, really.  I went out my back door to my polling place, located about 1000 feet away.  I was looking around for the entrance and saw another gentleman in a wheelchair approaching the building, and asked him if he knew where it was.  He said I was in the right place, and that I could follow him in.

As we rolled in together, chatting amiably, he said “and it’s fully accessible.  We don’t ask for much, just to be able to get in.”  Once I did get in, the experience was very smooth.

My polling place has this handy touch screen machine that filled out my ballot for me, far more convenient and less intrusive than the cumbersome process from my polling place in New York where two poll workers, one Democrat and one Republican, would have to sit with me while one marked my ballot.

I used the machine, handed over my ballot, and came home planning to write a blog post about progress, contrasting the New York process and the Massachusetts one.

Then, I remembered a Facebook post from my wall this morning, and autistic activist friend who wrote, in in response to the horrific murder of the six-year-old autistic boy thrown off of a bridge by his mother “You want to know the most basic thing you can do for autism acceptance?

STOP F****** KILLING US.”

Accessible polling places are important.  The franchise is fundamental to our acceptance as citizens.

A basic right not to be murdered, though, is fundamental to our acceptance as human beings.

Now, you will argue with me that the murder of people with disabilities is already illegal, that the seemingly endless stream of grisly murders, especially of people with autism and intellectual disabilities by parents or guardians, is already illegal.  You will say the same about the fairly frequent stories of law enforcement officers using excessive and sometimes deadly force on people with sensory or psychiatric disabilities who react to approach or arrest in ways that surprise the officer.

There is that.

But every time one of these stories is reported, some subset of voices, hopefully a minority, talk about how it is justified.  They tell us that we can’t understand how hard the perpetrators of these crimes had it, what they were going through.  Some will even label this a tragedy, but not a crime.

Homicide doesn’t occur in a vacuum.  Almost every homicide has precipitating factors, which can range from horrific abuse, to unspeakable provocation, to a systematic socialization in an unacceptable moral paradigm.  There are very few killers who have no answer to why they kill.

Sometimes our justice system allows these factors to mitigate sentences.  Sometimes we recognize that circumstances might temper punishment.  As far as I know though, nobody ever tries to argue that these factors obviate the criminal nature of the homicide.

Yet, certain disabilities, like autism, seem to be fair game for this argument.

How can that be?  To me, it can only be with a subconscious degradation (I’m deeming it subconscious to give all who hold this perception the benefit of the doubt) of the humanity of the victim.

Many would agree with the statement that self-defense or the immediate defense of another are the only justifications for the murder of another human being.  If the same person can entertain a gray area around people with certain disabilities, they are applying a different standard.  Certainly, the media discourse seems to imply such a standard.

I voted today, and that’s important.  I’m glad to be enfranchised, and I salute the work of all of those that push to expand the franchise to the many Americans, with disabilities and other minority statuses, functionally or actually denied the right to vote.

But, it’s easy for a privileged professional with a physical disability, a definition that fits me and which I believe would have fit the individual who showed me to the polling place, to lose sight of how low the bar is set for many of our less privileged brothers and sisters.

The gentleman who showed me to the polls said that all we are asking for was to get in the door.  For many of us, the goal is so much simpler, “stop F****** killing us.”

Stop killing us.  No matter how many times I repeat it to myself, it doesn’t lose its powerful simplicity.

Most of my readers can’t directly stop any killers.  But you talk, and you write, and you vote.  You, too, can influence the changing perceptions of society.  So, the next time a tragedy like this comes to light, and, sadly, there will be a next time, change the dialogue.  Let us not let compassion for the difficulty of others eclipse the fundamental value of a human life brutally taken, which is never okay.

Call people on the attitude.  Get them thinking.  When there is the opportunity to influence change agents, get candidates to commit, and exercise your votes for those who recognize the value of the lives of people with disabilities.

From my electronic voting machine, it can feel like we have come very far.  From these news stories, it can feel like we are nowhere at all.  So let’s take the first step.  Recognize that humanity is a basic attribute regardless of disability, and demand that people, “stop F****** killing us.”