Note: I noticed it's actually Issy (with a y). I wrote Issi (with an i). I apologize for my inability to spell.
This is from a letter that I wrote to an editor of People magazine who is also a Georgetown alumn:
I am currently writing regarding People's coverage of the Issy Stapleton case. Issy's mother is currently facing charges of attempted murder, and is being held without bail in the case while Issy is hospitalized with injuries sustained during the attempted murder.
The magazine currently on news stands across the country contains a blurb on the cover that reads, "Autism, Violence & Despair: A Mother's Breaking Point." It breaks my heart and those of so many people in the autistic and disabled communities to continually see such rhetoric in the news, in popular media, and in public discourse.
It is incredibly common for journalists and policymakers alike to assert directly or imply through their reporting and language that when parents kill or attempt to kill their disabled children, it is because the child was a burden on the family, because the child didn't receive services -- any reason other than that the parent decided to harm their child.
The disparity is very striking when you read coverage of killings and attempted killings of non-disabled children by their parents. Right or wrong, headlines decry such parents as monsters and their actions as evil. Yet when the victim is disabled, as in Issi's case, we are urged to be sympathetic to the aggressor rather than to the victim. The media so often plays directly into this attitude by reporting on all of the reasons that the parents were supposedly overwhelmed and stressed and therefore justified in harming their children.
These cases happen all the time. They are not novel or isolated. They are connected by a powerful and pervasive set of ideas that form the public attitude toward disability -- that disabled people are burdens on society and their families, that disability means less quality of life and less ability to be happy, that it is better to be dead than disabled, that when disabled people are murdered, it is out of mercy and love, and it is our lives that are tragic and not our murders.
These stories should be talked about. We don't want our victims to be forgotten. But I am continually appalled and profoundly saddened to see that the pattern of reporting about these cases remains the same -- always offering justifications and excuses for murder while suggesting, horrifyingly, that if I object to this type of coverage, I am somehow lacking in empathy. I think it is not unreasonable to believe that victims of violence deserve empathy, but the kind of rhetoric exemplified on the cover of People right now only serves to constantly reinforce that I and people like me are not in fact worthy of the same consideration as non-disabled victims of murder and other types of violence. Instead, it is the perpetrators who should receive sympathy.
Only this week, yet another case following the same pattern has hit the news. Two children, Jaelen and Faith Edge, were found dead after their mother killed both of them and made an apparent attempt at suicide. One of the children was autistic, and much of the reporting around this case too has fallen into the same old pattern of blaming autism and the supposed burden of living with an autistic child as the cause behind the violence.
I cannot go more than a few weeks without hearing of another case in which a disabled person -- child, youth, or adult -- somewhere in the world has been murdered, raped, or assaulted because of the attitude that disabled means less than. The media has a particular power to shape and influence rhetoric, and therefore ideas and attitudes. With this power comes great responsibility. I urge you to do everything that you can to combat this insidious and deadly trend in popular news reporting.
We deserve better. We deserve nothing less.