Edit (30 June 2016): I have removed a small section of this post that overall was not relevant to its main points of discussion and did not need to be included.
I haven't written nearly as frequently for Autistic Hoya in the last two years or so as I did for the first few years that this blog existed. It seems that the few times I interrupt my long absences here now are most often for devastating news -- for writing flowing straight from my pain, and sometimes my anger, and often quite a bit of both.
Today, there is too much. Too much.
Today, the top news story in the U.S. is the hours-long mass shooting at the embattled Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The Inland Regional Center is responsible for providing and coordinating community-based services to over 31,000 people with developmental disabilities (likely including many autistic people) in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties east of Los Angeles. At last count, 14 people are estimated to be killed and 17 additional injured. The shooting went on for hours. So far, we know that the shooting happened inside one of the buildings, at a county-wide event honoring healthcare professionals. We don't know who specifically the attackers targeted because the victims haven't been publicly identified yet. Police have counted three suspects -- two men and a woman.
I learned about the shooting while it was still happening. I was in class.
TASH is hosting its annual conference in Portland, Oregon right now. A friend told me the conference is reeling.
My email inbox has exploded with messages on disability lists reacting in real-time to the attack.
Every time I glance at my phone, I see more news updates scrolling across the mobile browser, telling me police have killed two suspects, are searching an apartment for possible explosives, won't release identities of the dead until next of kin are notified, are speculating about motive.
My Facebook news feed is equal parts horror and disgust and fear and sorrow and anger and brokenness and fragility from this community, these many fractured communities, where I have learned to live and love and suffer and often, to cry.
I was going to use "Anti-ableist ways to respond to today's ongoing tragedy in San Bernardino" as the title for this blog post. But it sounds too artificial. Too prepared. Too hollow.
I wanted to write this because I can't stay silent. I can't. Not when those struggling alongside us, those attempting to practice allyship, those not directly impacted by ableism want to know what to say or do. How to react.
We have a saying in culturally autistic spaces -- "I need help reacting to something."
I do. It's nameless things dismantled all over again.
Minneapolis. Chicago. Beirut. Yola. Kano. Baghdad. Paris. Colorado Springs.
Now San Bernardino.
I can't. I just can't.
The trouble is, it's less that I can't react than that I'm crashing from trying to react to too many things all at once. Made it home from school in the rain. One load of laundry done. Dinner for four made, eaten. Dishes washed, put away. Old exam questions pondered, discussed with fellow classmates. Emails sent. All while forcing myself not to feel too much. Not to think. Just to act. Follow a script. A routine. Forget I am real. Forget I inhabit this taut and trembling flesh.
This is empathy overload. This is emotional shutdown. This is autism.
There was a news article earlier today quoting someone from the FBI describing the attackers as "Americans, not terrorists." Somehow totally missing the complete irony of just how full of terrorists the U.S. always has been and continues to be, in both state sanctioned and individual forms.
Our country is steeped in violence. For the vast majority of us in the U.S. who are not Indigenous or Native, we live on stolen, colonized, occupied land.
In our Property class in law school today, a student objected to the concept of adverse possession (when someone can gain ownership of someone else's land/real estate simply by occupying it for a long time without the owner's permission), saying, "But this is America!" And a number of us responded that, well, nothing could be more American than taking someone else's land. After all, that's how this country was built.
Not too far from our school, there was a rally today at Ruggles Station against police terrorism targeting low-income Black and Brown communities, as we have learned of the police murders of more unarmed Black men -- Jamar Clark in Minneapolis last month and Laquan McDonald in Chicago last year, whose death was videotaped and covered up by not only the police department but its commissioner and the city's mayor.
President Barack Obama described himself as very good at killing people, as the number of Brown people killed by remotely operated drones has risen higher under his administration than under the George W. Bush one.
Transwomen of color face routine violence in the streets from strangers and police alike. Women who dare criticize men or even acknowledge misogyny risk terrifying, brutal retaliation. My psych disabled and mad, neurodivergent friends live with constant terror of possible incarceration in the name of treatment and public safety. While my light skin and educated words lend me some measure of protection, my Black and Brown friends risk their lives upon encountering a police officer for so much as existing.
But of course, the term "terrorism" is steeped in a particular racism that attaches it only to Brown people and those racialized as Muslim.
My friend Maddy Ruvolo says, "So many people talking about how they can't believe shooters would target disabled people like they're not complicit in the violence disabled people face every single day. If you're surprised by violence against disabled people, you haven't been paying attention."
This narrative is superficially sympathetic, but it's plied with the pity endemic to pathologizing ways of thinking about disability. It depends on understanding disabled people through pity/charity frameworks, on infantilizing us as eternally untouched by reality (negativity, fear, violence, malice) on the presumption of incompetence.
Expecting disabled people to be angels, innocents, somehow specially exempt from reality -- similarly to the misogyny in the idea that hitting women is somehow especially wrong, but hitting men is normal, if still wrong. Thinking about us as objects, not subjects, not agents of our own destinies. Treating disabled people as some specially innocent population, as readily available charity/community service projects here for abled people to feel good about themselves for being nice to us -- for not calling us retarded, for not refusing to let us in the room, for not staring. Relegating us to a constant position as objects for the edification of abled people.
(Sign up for Best Buddies. Be friends with a person with a developmental disability once a week and occasionally at group events with all the other people with developmental disabilities. Give yourself a pat on the back. Grow some warm feelings. Make the person with the disability smile and believe you are really their friend. Never or rarely include them in your other outings with your regular friends. Never confide in them your trust. Never think of them as simply another person you know. Consider yourself a do-gooder. Don't wory; the disabled person won't notice.)
Wondering who could hate disabled people.
Believe me, plenty of people do. Hate is nothing new. And no, pity and hate are absolutely not mutually exclusive. Sometimes they depend on each other.
Over half of people killed by police are disabled. I think of Stephon Watts, Steven Eugene Washington, Natasha McKenna, John Williams, Mohamed Usman Chaudhry, Kajieme Powell, Freddie Gray, all disabled and Black or Brown.
One study found that 83% of women with developmental disabilities will be raped at least once in their lifetimes, and that more than half that number will be raped at least ten times before the age of eighteen alone. That almost 40% of men with developmental disabilities will be raped at least once in this lifetime.
What terrifies me is that these numbers are probably conservative estimates.
This is ableism.
The Los Angeles Times announced that police named Syed Farook as one of the shooting suspects.
Of course the first person named a suspect in the shooting has a name racialized as Brown and Muslim -- and when the articles begin to appear, his neighbor discusses how he became more outwardly religious (or was perceived that way), predicated on the presumption that of course, this is relevant. Of course it matters that he grew a beard. That he began to wear non-Western clothing. We are expected to read these details and assume the rest of the narrative -- young Muslim becomes a terrorist by becoming more Muslim.
(They say the second shooter is Tashfeen Malik, now giving the public two identifiable Muslim names.)
How soon will the FBI's earlier description of the shooter as a U.S. citizen be forgotten? How soon will news coverage shift to obsessive nitpicking over Syed's religious identification and practices, speculating about connections to Daesh (ISIS) or Al Qaeda or some other such group? How soon will the rhetoric shift from the ever-familiar refrain of "we need to fix the mental health system" to "this was possibly terrorism-related?"
Congressman Tim Murphy's pet project, House Bill 2646, is moving rapidly through Congress. We know it as the Murphy Bill. You might know it as the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.
He began pushing this bill right after the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2013.
It's the kind of measure that sounds superficially nice and potentially worthwhile. He cloaks it in the rhetoric of public safety, greater good, better mental health services. The lie that these mass shootings are the product of mental illness.
Here's what the bill does: Pumps funds into involuntary, coercive treatment through both inpatient and outpatient commitment. Incentivizes states to increase use of involuntary, coercive treatment. Cut funds from community-based programs, services, and supports. Slash funds for the national network of protection and advocacy systems that work to promote the rights of people with psych disabilities -- a network created in large part because of horrifying revelations about the all-pervasive abuses in institutional settings (the psych ward, the mental hospital, the long-term residential institution). Weaken doctor/patient confidentiality protections for people with psych disabilities.
Its supporters will tell insist that mental health reform is necessary to stop gun violence.
We know we need better mental health services. We know the existing system is riddled with failures, is a frequent source of (re)traumatization for so many of us.
But these issues are so separate from gun violence.
Stop pathologizing violence. Violence is not a mental illness, but psych disabled people, like all disabled people, live with the constant possibility of violence and abuse in this profoundly ableist world.
They will tell you that jails and prisons are now the nation's largest mental health care providers. That people with mental illness don't belong in jail or prison, but instead in specialized facilities. That they need treatment instead.
Don't believe the lie that new asylums, new mental institutions are anything other than a different --and often, far less regulated -- form of incarceration than the penal institution.
Disrupt the pattern of disability hierarchy. The Inland Regional Center's clients with developmental disabilities undoubtedly include many, many people who also have psych disabilities. We will find these narratives -- that (1) people with developmental disabilities are innocent angels incapable of understanding violence, and (2) people with psych disabilities are unstable, potential murderers waiting to happen. We will find these narratives everywhere.
This is ableism.
(And often, in the wake of gun violence by white people, it's also the racist effect of white supremacy. No matter whether the murderer writes a terrifying manifesto against women or repeatedly espouses white supremacist causes before targeting Black people at prayer, white supremacy insists on exempting whiteness from violence by scapegoating the specter of madness instead.)
These lines have well-worn grooves in our newspapers and frequently-visited websites. They provide a familiar refrain, one that rips and breaks and tears at me.
Here, where those dead, injured, and left surviving, left reeling may well be disabled like me, I can't begin to respond. I don't understand this pain. But I know it. It's written all over me.
We have to hold space for each other.
Make space for us to relax. To heal. To dream. To mourn. To cry. To scream. To not have words. To feel empty. To process this jumbled fucking mess. To recover. To find new scars.
Ask us what we need.
Remind us that we are valuable, that we matter, that we deserve to exist, and more than that, that we deserve to exist in a world where we genuinely care for and about each other. Where our wobbly, sick, lopsided, drooling, asymmetrical, neurodivergent, mad, crip bodies are welcomed and loved and honored.
Join us in our struggles.
Morning, with its promise of familiar routine, waits for us.
"I want to believe in peace. I want to believe we can unlearn violence & affirm our interdependency. I dream of a community of lovers, who navigate pain, joy, laughter and grief together, collectively & with care; experiencing endless beauty. I think I am dreaming of a modern day heaven, or perhaps I am dreaming of the good we were meant to be."
Ki'tay Davidson, Why I Quit Philanthropy