23 March 2013

This Is Why I Am Angry

Trigger Warning: Extreme violence, ableism, dehumanization, heterosexism, homophobia, hate crime,  murder, liberal usage of the f-word and other profanity, and a graphic and detailed description of violence leading to murder.


This Is Why I Am Angry

To the people who say that I am too angry, too bitter, too harsh, and too unforgiving --

I read three things this week that made me furious enough to want to hurl my laptop across a room and into a conveniently placed wall.

These things infuriate me. 

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network published a report (PDF) finding widespread discrimination against disabled people in need of organ transplants. Cases like those of intellectually disabled Mia Rivera (who was eventually granted a kidney transplant) and autistic Paul Corby (whose request for a heart transplant was ultimately denied) provide damning evidence to support an indictment of ableism that kills.

The United Kingdom sponsored a three-year study entitled Confidential Inquiry into Premature Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities, that found over 1200 avoidable deaths of mentally disabled people, more "rapid" and "premature" life and death decisions in the cases of mentally disabled people, and issuance of do not resuscitate orders because of a person's disability. The title of this news article is "Doctors put lower value on lives of the disabled, study finds."

In other news, the Earth revolves around the sun and Barack Obama is the President of the United States.

We already know how little our lives matter, if indeed, they matter at all. This is not news to us. 

Steven Simpson is dead and his murderer will be serving a paltry term of three and a half years in prison.

On 23 June 2012, it was Steven Simpson's birthday and he was throwing a party to celebrate with the people who were supposedly his friends.

Eighteen-year-old Steven was autistic and gay, and had a speech impairment and epilepsy. He was bullied horrifically at school. He lived in his own apartment and went to school at Barnsley College.

Twenty-year-old Jordan Sheard knew Steven, but not well. He and two other friends showed up at the door uninvited, but were let inside anyway.

Sheard dared Steven to strip down to his underwear. Steven did. He was doused in tanning oil.

Partygoers chanted, "Light it, light it, see what he does!"

Sheard retrieved a cigarette lighter and set Steven on fire--specifically, he held the lighter against Steven's body and he flicked it on beside Steven's genitals.

According to another partygoer, Sheard had written homophobic messages of "gay boy" on Steven's forehead and "I love dick" on Steven's body while he was drunk, before he was set on fire.

Steven's neighbor, Shaun Banner, came by to check on him. Instead he found himself ripping off the young man's burning clothes, injuring himself in the process, and dousing him in a cold bath while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

Steven died two days later in the hospital from his burns, which covered 60% of his body. His father was with him.

Sheard tried to blame Steven for setting fire to himself.

The prosecutor wanted Sheard to be charged for hate crime. The judge disagreed.

Sheard was charged with manslaughter.


An infinitely lesser charge than the charge of murder.

And he was sentenced to three and a half years.

Three and a half fucking years.

For murder.

For cruel, hateful murder in which the victim was targeted specifically because of his disability and his sexuality.  

For murder. 

For fucking murder.

This, this is why I am angry. This is why I am fucking angry.

There is no room for dialogue or polite, civil discussion about murder, and the only justifications you could possible claim for why such "civil discourse" is necessary lie within the nexus of your own privilege, the privilege that means you don't have to worry about someone attacking and murdering you at your own fucking birthday party and then receiving a slap on the wrist.

If you are straight, if you are able-bodied and neurotypical, and one of your supposed "friends" were to murder you so viciously at your own birthday party, you can bet everything you hold precious that the perpetrator would be charged with murder and sentenced accordingly.

But you don't have to worry about that happening to you.

You don't.

I do.

I am angry not because I want to be, not because I enjoy it, not because it somehow makes me feel good that I could at any moment be the victim of a half-dozen hate crimes, but because the society in which we live has decreed that these things are simply part of life. That these things are acceptable. That these things, indeed, must be accepted. And I say, fuck that noise.

What does legal progress mean when we can still be murdered and our murderers receive sympathy for "a mistake," for "a prank gone wrong?"

The news coverage of Steven's death and Sheard's sentence has noted that representatives of the National Autistic Society and UK-based LGBTQ rights organizations have condemned what happened as a travesty of justice, have condemned his murder -- and let's make sure that we call this what it was, and it was a fucking murder -- as a hate crime worthy of punishment and prosecution as a hate crime.

But what if Steven were poor? What if he weren't a university student? What if he were a person of color? What if he were trans* in addition to being gay? What if he hadn't been a white man?

I would hope, I would hope that those same condemnations would be happening. But reality tells me otherwise. I know that his case, that his life, that his death, that his murder, would not receive half of the attention that it has from the media were these not also facts.

And even so, even despite the privilege Steven had as a result of being white and male-identified and male-presenting insofar as we can determine, his murderer, the piece of human filth who stole his life in a calculated act of cruelty heaped upon other cruelties, has essentially been exculpated by a legal system that won't recognize what he did as a hate crime, let alone punish him accordingly.

If you aren't outraged, there is something wrong with you.

If you aren't devastated, there is something wrong with you.

I am accused all the time of being too angry and too brash and too harsh.

I am told every day of my life, both explicitly and implicitly, that my life is not meaningful, that my life is not valuable, that I should be grateful for having been allowed to live.

To be dead is better than to be disabled.

"I'd rather die before letting that happen to me."

"If I got paralyzed, I'd kill myself."

In the wake of the Steubenville rape trial, what does it say about our society, about the perverse pervasion of rape culture, that the mainstream media has worked long and hard to mourn the loss of opportunities and a future for the rapists without making any mention of the potentially life-long catastrophic consequences on the woman they fucking raped?

When our murders are rhetoricized as accidents, as pranks gone wrong, our murderers are exculpated for fear of the privileged, non-disabled majority that the offenders won't have another chance, won't have other opportunities if we condemn them so much for these things.

But murder is murder, isn't it?

If you are white, straight, upper-class, Christian, college-educated, neurotypical, and able-bodied, (and particularly if you are a man, male-identified, or male-passing) then you have every reason to trust the justice system. To trust that the police will be there to support you and investigate crimes committed against you. To trust that prosecutors and judges will take your seriously and bring appropriate charges against people who have harmed you.

As you change each of those attributes to some other quality, the likelihood that you can trust this system exponentially decreases.

Why do missing white children receive a plethora of media attention, while missing Black children receive hardly any at all?

Why are mothers who murder their non-disabled children vilified roundly in the media, while those who murder disabled children are romanticized and excused from blame?

This is why I am angry.

This is why you should be, too.

I am not exaggerating or hyperbolizing when I say that our lives are at stake.

For as long as disabled people can be murdered by their doctors, by their family members, by their supposed fucking friends, and these horrific crimes merit at most a slap on the wrist and usually hardly any consequences at all, I will continue to be fucking angry.

Their lives deserve absolutely nothing less.