Dear Disability Community,
Let's face it, we suck when it comes to being good allies!
I am referring to the recent murders of two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
The vast majority of our community is silent on injustice to members of other marginalized communities unless the person has a disability. Barring that, if a disability isn't present, we'll make it all about us, thus derailing a critical conversation that needs to be had about how this must end and that Black lives matter.
Worse, when police murder someone Black, many in the disability community are complicit in the character assassination that follows. We'll justify why the police had no choice but to kill them -- they shouldn't have resisted arrest, they shouldn't have ran, they shouldn't have talked back -- until it comes out that the victim had a disability. Then, we care. We're no longer silent, but expressing outrage at the killing of "our people". The person's Blackness is all but erased because it is only the disability that matters to us.
It seems to be almost impossible for disabled - particularly White disabled folks - to focus on injustices to the Black community without chiming in, "Me too, me too. Half of those killed by police are disabled!" There hasn't been one time that I haven't encountered that statement or others like it in the midst of us Blacks mourning our dead at the hands of police. Yes, it is very important to know and understand the fact that half of people murdered by cops are disabled, but not in response to the fact that Black people are being killed by police at an alarming rate. The disability and intersectional issues are critical conversations that must be had, but let's not derail the conversation at hand.
Black lives matter! When I say that, I don't mean that Black lives matter more than others, I mean that Black lives matter as well as other lives. That's the reason for the movement and the hashtag - our lives matter, too!
The time has come for the disability community take this square on, be good allies and speak openly about police brutality in the Black community. I don't mean hushed conversations with a couple of folks, I mean openly addressing and weighing in on this at the organizational level.
The face of the disability community and disability organizations is White, which is most likely why this isn't being talked about at the level that it should be. Organizations hide behind the fact that they work on one or two national issues and in an effort to not "muddy the waters", refuse to speak publicly about the extrajudicial killing of Black people by the police. Individual members may care, but the organization as a whole, takes a neutral stance.
Even organizations that occasionally make statements on other tragedies have been strangely silent on this issue. Two years ago, when Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri, some disability organizations wrote a letter of "solidarity" that made it all about disabled - mostly White disabled - people killed by police. I'm still furious about that because while good intentioned, it was a slap in the face and erasing of the Black community at the height of our mourning and outrage.
Now is the time to do better. For once, put aside the view that this is something that has nothing to do with your organization and it's goals or mission statement and speak up! Some of you - ADAPT and National Council on Independent Living - have Blacks in your organizations. Doesn't this matter to you? I'm positive that some of the Blacks in your organizations worry that they may be the victim of police violence ending in murder. Full disclosure - I am a proud member of ADAPT for 30 years and know that individuals have spoken out, but I'm addressing ADAPT as an organization.
Even if your organization is lily White, speak out! American Association of People with Disabilities, why are you silent? National Council on Disability, are you not tasked with giving feedback and recommendations to Congress and the White House? Will you not weigh in on police brutality against Blacks and police reform?
Many of you service organizations have Black clients and their families. Speak out against this! Surely some your client's families have someone who has experienced police brutality. Easter Seals, The Arc, and others, will you speak out?
If your organization wants to speak out or address this, but doesn't know what to say, put it out there! Ask how you can speak out while centering Black voices and experience on this. There are some Blacks in our community who are very open about our feelings; our extreme rage, our deep sadness, our profound fear.
My beloved Disability Community, be silent no longer on Blacks being murdered by police! Our silence and neutral stance unless it involves those who look like us, or who are disabled, sends the message that we don't care about what doesn't touch us. We cannot hide behind silence and neutrality. Elie Wiesel said, "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Desmond Tutu put it even stronger - "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
Let's not, by our silence, choose the side of the oppressor.
I wrote this piece after attending the 1 year memorial of the death of Esmin Green in New York City. I'm sharing it again because today is the 8 year anniversary of her death. We must not forget!
Esmin Green's death by neglect at a Brooklyn, NY psychiatric emergency room is symptomatic of the widespread and systematic injustice often perpetrated against people with mental health disabilities.
On Friday, June 19, 2009, I went to Brooklyn, NY, to attend a rally and candlelight vigil in memory of Esmin Green. Ms. Green's story is but a symptom of the widespread and systematic injustice often perpetrated against people with mental health disabilities.
Esmin Green was 49 years old. An émigré from Jamaica, she was a hard worker who'd recently lost her job, and was about to lose her home. Like many of us in such circumstances, this was not an easy time for her.
A well-meaning pastor decided that perhaps Ms. Green should get some help, and had her taken to Kings County Hospital Center Psychiatric Emergency Room. There, she changed into a hospital gown, and went to the waiting room so that she could be seen.
Ms. Green waited a very, very long time, and still was not seen. She did not receive a physical exam, nor did anyone speak to her. She just sat there waiting. People came and went about their business, and Ms. Green waited.
Twenty-five hours later, Ms. Green was still waiting when she suddenly collapsed. Did anyone come to her aid? No! People came and went about their business. A security guard came and took a quick peek. Did he summon anyone? No! A nurse scooted by on her stool, glanced, and whizzed away, not once getting up. Ms. Green lay on that floor for an hour before another nurse decided to come over and take her pulse. By then, it was too late. Esmin Elizabeth Green was dead.
According to a report by the New York City Department of Investigations (DOI), her neglect was not the result of overcrowding or of overwork. The report also indicates that hospital staffers lied and falsified records. If not for the fact that the emergency room's security video captured the horrible sequence of Ms. Green's waiting and her death, the hospital would have had the perfect cover-up.
Why did Esmin Green die? Frankly, the reason was the fact that she had a psychiatric label. I'm not the only one who believes this. There were many psychiatric survivors and advocates at the rally in Ms. Green's memory, which took place exactly one year after she died. Several of the survivors were former patients at that very hospital. They told horrible stories of neglect and abuse that happened to them there. Sheila Hill, a mental health advocate who attended the rally, said "If a person has a psychiatric label they don't have credibility and they complain, well they're just mentally ill." Sarah Berman, a psychiatric survivor said, "It is not unusual at all. It's something that could have happened to any of us. The sad fact is, when you have a mental health diagnosis, you have no credibility. Anything you say or do is suspect, so if you complain about ill treatment or discrimination, you're simply dismissed as being crazy".
I know. I, too, am a psychiatric survivor. I remember some years ago, having terrible stomach pains. Sometimes, it was so bad that I found myself in the emergency room. As soon as the doctors looked through my records and found that I had a history of depression, they would tell me that the pain was "in my head" or "from my depression", and they would pat me on the back and send me home. This happened several times until finally, I was sent for an ultrasound. To make a long story short, I required emergency surgery.
What is really infuriating about Esmin Green's story is that discrimination on a number of levels is what led to her death. Her involuntary placement at Kings County Hospital was a violation of Olmstead, a Supreme Court ruling that states that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities have the right to live and to receive services in the most integrated setting possible. The neglect that she endured from health care staff and hospital workers was indicative of a pervasive prejudice against people with mental health disabilities.
Too often, those of us with psychiatric disabilities endure injustice at the hands of others. Ignorance and fear seem to be the driving force behind this. People hear the stereotypes, and believe, as well as act upon them. Some are discriminated against in housing, work, health care, school; their basic human rights violated. Some are unfairly locked away for the crime of having this disability. Some, like Esmin Green, even die.
Early Sunday morning I woke up to some horrible news. A gunman had entered Pulse, a popular Gay bar in Orlando, Florida, and began shooting. It took police three hours to get to him because he created a hostage situation and apparently, they were trying to negotiate with him.
When it was all over, 50 people, including the gunman, were dead and at least 53 were injured.
I offer my deepest, most heartfelt sympathy to the victims, the injured, the traumatized, their families and friends as they deal with a tragedy beyond reckoning. My heart is with you!
As soon as I heard the story, I knew 2 things: if the shooter was a Muslim, Islamophobia would rear its ugly head and eventually, someone would blame a mental health condition for his unspeakably horrific act.
Unfortunately, I was right on both counts. The shooter, Omar Mateen, was an American-born Muslim and his ex wife claimed that he was mentally unstable. That led to people, including the racist, hateful Donald Trump, fanning the flames of hatred and Islamophobia, while others jumped on the bandwagon of scapegoating and blaming this on mental health issues.
Another thing I knew that would happen was people would attempt to back away from the fact that this was an attack on the LGBTQ community, as well as people of color and frame it as radical Islamic terrorism.
The Pope and several politicians have spoken about this horrendous outrage, while purposely failing to say that it was LGBTQ people at a Gay nightclub who were attacked. If that isn't erasing, I don't know what is!
This hit way too close to home for me. Like the victims of this horrible massacre, I belong to the LGBTQ community; I'm a proud lesbian. In addition, I'm Afro-Latina and Choctaw. It was Latinx Night and a celebration of Indigenous peoples, so most of the over 300 people there were Latinx. I love going to Gay bars and had I lived in Orlando, could easily have been chilling at Pulse.
For some reason, this mass shooting, the worst in U.S. history, has triggered old memories and I am not feeling so safe.
This made me think about an incident that happened to me. Shortly after I came out back home in Chicago in 1986, a friend and I were attacked (gay bashed) as we left a Gay bar on Chicago's North side. Four young men pushed and hit us while hurling anti-LGBTQ slurs. They even followed us on the bus and continued the attack while people watched and did nothing. We managed to get off of the bus and walk home and call the police. As soon as they saw us, two young Black wimmin, it was clear that they, two White cops, gave less than a damn about us. We had to force them to make out a police report.
Our experience with the police mirrors the experience of many, many, many LGBTQ folks. 30 years later, not much has changed for us, which is why I have major problems with the length of time it took the police to bring the carnage at Pulse to an end.
Whatever the reason, most in the LGBTQ community know that the police judge us by our so-called "lifestyle" and "preference" and for the most part, don't really care for us as human beings.
Gay bars and spaces have always been seen as safe spaces for us, but what happened at Pulse proves that there really aren't safe places for us in the LGBTQ community, or anywhere, for that matter.
I'm guilty of almost being lulled into a false sense of security because I hadn't been gay bashed in quite some time. Almost, because I always had it in the back of my mind that it could happen again. I'd breathed a sigh of relief when the dude in Colorado Springs who saw me leave a concert alone with my Pride shirt on, only followed me and yelled stuff at me and didn't beat or rape me.
I started to feel like things were getting better because I could hold my wife's hand, or give her a peck on the cheek without people making comments, but maybe I am safe because my wife looks "manly". Still, I'm no femme; I, too, get mistaken for a guy. I think I've just been lucky. Others, particularly trans folks, especially trans wimmin of color are brutalized and murdered almost with impunity and suffer further indignity by being misgendered by police and reporters.
What happened at Pulse has brought all of this back to me, though I know that even though we have marriage equality and can serve openly in the military, that means nothing when our lives are so devalued that we can be slaughtered on the street or in what we think is a safe space and people celebrate our death. We can still get fired from our jobs, LGBTQ teenagers are killing themselves in record numbers due to bullying and people are still afraid to come out for fear of this, as well as being disowned by parents, who have no qualms about putting their preteen or teenaged children out on the street.
I keep wondering what the clubbers at Pulse were thinking. Were they feeling safe because they were there and could be themselves?
And, let it not be forgotten ever, ever, EVER that this hate crime was not only against the LGBTQ community, but also against people of color. Almost every single person murdered in cold blood that early Sunday morning was either Latinx, Black and/or Indigenous. Let's not whitewash or erase this!
And for folk wanting to believe that this was radical Islamic terrorism and wondering where the guy got radicalized, that radicalization took place right here in the good old U. S. of A., but the massacre at Pulse had nothing to do with Islam or religion! It had everything to do with the fact that the shooter was an angry, violent individual who hated the LGBTQ community, whose hatred caused him to plan an act of unspeakable evil.
This guy was an American, born and bred. He was a wannabe who ran his mouth, but law enforcement found no ties to Islamic terrorists. That 911 call was his last attempt to make himself seem bigger than he. He wasn't really religious. If any radicalization took place that would lead him to plan the massacre at Pulse, it was society's overall views on the LGBTQ community and people of color. It was his hatred of himself as a gay man.
I hear people saying that the shooter had mental health issues because his ex wife claimed that he was mentally unstable. Don't fall into the trap of blaming this on mental health issues! That seems to happen after every mass shooting. All this does is stigmatize folks with mental health conditions; as as someone who lives with depression, I can say with certainty that this is not good for us. Those of us with mental health conditions are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
As for gun control, yes, we need it, but not at the expense of, and on the backs of folks with mental health disabilities. We need to make it harder for anyone to get guns, especially assault weapons.
What we really need to do is to address the underlying reasons and causes of mass shootings.
Sometimes it's hard to figure out why people go on mass shootings, but sometimes, injustice is the root cause. I'm not trying to make excuses, but it is well-known that if some people are systematically abused and marginalized, they will turn violent.
For me, though, the thing foremost in my mind is that my people were slaughtered. I'm in deep mourning and I am angry! Angry that people are trying to make something out of this that erases the glaring fact that these beautiful people were LGBTQ and people of color. They were targeted for being who they were. They were from groups that it is very easy for people to hate on. They were enjoying and celebrating their culture - my culture - in what was supposed to be a safe space, only to have their lives ripped from them by someone who saw himself as being of the dominant culture and therefore, better than them.
I'm deep in my feelings right now, so I'm asking y'all to bear with me. I'm afraid to leave my house. Don't come at me with that don't-give-in-to-fear BS. Let me work this out on my own. I'm also having flashbacks of the gay bashing my friend and I endured. I don't know why that's happening, but it is.
My thoughts are scattered and I'm doing my best to put these thoughts down while they're still fresh and raw, so pardon me if this sounds disjointed.
I call on my friends and allies to honor these beautiful people, lift them up and speak out against homophobia, transphobia and racism. Write blogs, articles and statements of support and solidarity that center us. If you run an organization, mainstream or no, please make public statements in solidarity with our communities. While I have seen a vast outpouring of support from individuals on social media, I haven't seen much from straight, White-led organizations, including mainstream disability organizations. I thank those organizations and individuals that have made statements of support.
Some have asked specifically what the disability community can do, since some of the survivors may acquire disabilities as a result of the shooting. As someone with disabilities, I think that there needs to be some healing first. I also think that we in the disability community need to be really careful that we don't make this all about us and forget that this is about an attack on the LGBTQ community of people of color.
Perhaps we should concentrate on being good allies, embracing their LGBTQ/POC identities before we sweep them under the disability umbrella, lest we be seen as only caring because some may now be disabled.
I also ask that you remember that those of us who are LGBTQ and Latinx, Afro-Latinx and Indigenous are grieving hard. Please don't come at us with stuff about radical Islamic terrorism. The guy may have been a Muslim. He may have wanted to be involved with terrorists. He may have did and said things just before the massacre at Pulse, but this had nothing to do with Islam! There is homophobia and transphobia in the Muslim community, just as there is in all the major religions and society at large. But his religion was not the cause of this hate crime. His hatred and anger is what brought this about.
Also, please don't send us pics, tweets or other stuff about hateful people celebrating the bloodbath at Pulse. There are some of us who are still struggling with our feelings about our orientation. We don't need to see that mess!
Take heart for, and remember that there were, and are people who were outed without their permission. They may face reprisals from family members or may even get fired from their jobs.
Understand that this is not the first time that LGBTQ, Indigenous people and folks of color have been killed en masse, nor will this be the last. A man was arrested in California with guns and bomb materials headed to a Pride parade. I am hearing about public attacks on trans people since Orlando. This is extremely frightening, given that trans people, particularly trans wimmin of color are targeted and preyed upon.
Finally, while I know that allies are angry, as well, please don't make this about you. It's about a hate crime against LGBTQ people of color. Also, if you get called out by one of us for making this about you, understand and step back. Don't get angry. Remember to lift up and center us and don't talk over us. Don't straightsplain or Whitesplain to us about our experiences. Be good and conscientious allies.
It's going to take me a long time to get through this; long after they stop talking about it on the news. Long after the memorials have gotten faded and dusty and long after everyone has forgotten us and moved on to other concerns.
As a disability rights activist, a critical part of disability rights advocacy and activism is, for me, the fight against assisted suicide and euthanasia.
I have been involved in this aspect of the movement for quite some time, upwards of 15 years. I am a member of, and sit on the board of Not Dead Yet, a national, grassroots disability rights organization opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination.
I've always noticed, but it has never really hit me until now, that very few Blacks are a part of the movement.
While we do get support from other Blacks, and there may be a token Black or two at local Not Dead Yet events and protests, as far as I know, I'm the only Black person in the country who is consistently active in this movement. I could be wrong. I hope I am.
Why is this? Why don't more Black folks get involved with the anti assisted suicide movement?
It is well-known that the face of the anti assisted suicide movement, indeed, the disability rights movement, is White. It is well-known that often, contributions of Blacks to the disability rights movement are erased or unacknowledged. Even if Blacks are seen as leaders, the ones in front of the cameras or receiving the awards and accolades are usually White.
A 2013 Pew study showed that 65% of Black folks are against assisted suicide. Still, there is scant involvement of Black folks in campaigns to stop legislation that would legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.
I have some ideas why there's almost no Black participation in this movement.
1. This isn't a part of our culture.
Frankly, assisted suicide isn't something that is discussed in the Black community. I'd never heard of it, even though my birth mother lived with chronic illness and lived to see the end results of her condition. Not once did she complain. Not once did she ask to die. None of the folks in my church or community wanted to die because they were sick or disabled. I'm not saying that suicide doesn't exist in the Black community, but in my experience, it was due to depression related to situational issues, such as the loss of a job, a spouse or loved one or something else entirely. When we get sick or become disabled, we or our families often turn to prayer or the church.
2. Assisted suicide is considered a White thing.
Many Black folks who I talk to about the anti assisted suicide movement say "that's a White thing, we don't do that stuff". They ask me why have I devoted myself to a predominantly White issue.
3. Blacks with disabilities have enough specific issues to work on without working on an almost exclusively White issue that doesn't affect us.
Some Black activists have told me that I'm wasting time on a movement that has nothing to do with us and that I should be involved in working on issues that directly affect Black folks.
The reasons above are valid but I've never let my race be a reason why I don't do certain forms of activism. I have always been a pioneer, being the first or only Black in my class or my town to do something.
When I first got involved with the social justice and change movement at age 16, I was part of the anti nuclear movement. Yes, I was the only Black person in my group, and that would be true of every group I was a part of until I discovered ADAPT.
I joined the anti assisted suicide and anti euthanasia movement because I felt that it was important to fight against the devaluation of the lives of people with disabilities. Physician assisted suicide and euthanasia of people with disabilities is a deadly form of discrimination resulting from the fact that doctors and others do not see the lives of people with disabilities as valuable. This mirrors society's beliefs that our lives are not worth living and that it is better to be dead than disabled.
The legalization of assisted suicide sets up a two-tiered system where if a non-disabled person is suicidal, they will receive treatment sometimes against their will, while people with disabilities experiencing the same get assisted suicide as an "option" or "choice". Society frames the suicide of a non-disabled person as, at worst, a very selfish act or at best, the act of a sick person, while suicide by someone with a disability is considered to be brave and considerate, rather than a tragedy.
Assisted suicide legalization supporters see it as a choice to end their lives when they want to, but there are already options available without legalization.
Sometimes it feels odd as a Black person to be involved with the anti assisted suicide movement. It feels lonely to be the only Black face in my local group. I know that many people feel that I'm only a token.
It has only been very recently that there has been any form of conversation about the involvement of Blacks in the anti assisted suicide/anti euthanasia movement. I can only guess at the reasons for this. There needs to be far more conversations with, and outreach to the black community.
My presence as part of the movement is important and valuable. As we fight potential ballot initiatives in our state that would legalize euthanasia by lethal injection, Blacks will get caught up because due to medical racism, the lives of Blacks are already seen as less worthy than Whites. That's even more so with Blacks with disabilities. Our families are pressured to withdraw life support for loved ones or we fall under state's futility laws.
If euthanasia and assisted suicide laws that aren't restricted to terminally ill folks goes into law here in Colorado, Black folks will surely join the movement as more and more of us are coerced into dying by the medical establishment.
Even if we win the fight in Colorado and defeat those ballot initiatives, groups like Compassion and Choices, formerly, The Hemlock Society, and other groups won't stop until there is assisted suicide, at the very least, in Colorado.
As more states try to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, we Blacks, especially those of us with disabilities, will have to stop seeing this as merely a privileged White people's issue and see that this touches us too. We can't afford for the only voice in this to be White. We bring a unique and valuable perspective to the movement that cannot be understated.
I call on both the Disability and the Black community around the nation to come together and work on how we amplify Black voices and Black participation in the anti assisted suicide movement. We must be in solidarity with each other. Too many lives are at stake.
I am SO angry and disgusted that I'll burst if I don't speak out about this, so hang on for the ride - it's going to get brutal!
What the actual HELL is wrong with some of you disability activists?
I'm referring to a small, but vocal minority of disabled folks who have the infernal GALL to assert that the right of trans people to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity is nothing in comparison to the right of people with disabilities to have wheelchair access to public restrooms. They say that since trans people make up less than .03 percent of the U.S. population and there are at least 54 million disabled folks here, trans people shouldn't matter.
Really? Are you kidding me?
For those who don't know, let me give a quick definition of the term, trans. Trans refers to people whose assigned gender at birth does not match the gender that they actually are. I am cis. That means that the gender that I was assigned at birth matches the gender that I actually am.
Some may wonder that if I am cis, why do I care about trans people and their rights? Because that's who I am! I care about and fight for the rights of all marginalized groups. I grew up with a trans sibling when I was in foster care. There are trans people whom I love and trans folks who are my friends and colleagues. I cannot sit by while trans people are dismissed, disrespected, discriminated against and murdered for who they are!
When I called out someone with a disability a couple of weeks ago for making the assertion that disability rights and wheelchair access to public loos are more important than the rights of trans people to pee where they feel safe, I thought that it was just an isolated case of one obtuse, ignorant person. I didn't expect to hear any more of this foolishness.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Each day since then, I have heard and seen more and more hatred and vitrol spewed at the trans community by people with disabilities, especially since that horrible law passed in North Carolina that says people must use the restroom of the gender noted on one's birth certificate.
So, disabled folks and activists, what the hell is the problem? Why are members of our community, who ourselves experience hatred and discrimination, perpetrating that same thing on the trans community? Why are some of us playing the "our rights versus theirs", Oppression Olympics game? Are we that petty and jealous that trans people are, for now, in the spotlight over the bathroom issue?
Apparently, those of you hollering about trans people getting rights that disabled don't have don't get it that there are disabled trans folks. Hello, intersectionality is real, folks!
Look, we should be allies fighting for each other's right to pee and do our business with access and in safety. We have commonality in that we aren't always able to use the restroom where we want or need to. Sometimes, we can't get into public restrooms, but trans folks can be, and are murdered for using the "wrong" restroom!
This hatred and violent rhetoric from folks in the disability community towards the trans community needs to stop! NOW! There are trans people with disabilities actively and passionately fighting for disability rights and what do you do? Throw them under the bus! Indeed, in the past few days, I've seen some disabled folks throw every marginalized community under the bus, making insensitive, inappropriate comparisons, playing the "we've got it worse than you" game, and asserting that disability rights are more important than other's rights because there's more of us. Then, when people from other marginalized groups, including trans folks, call you out, you have the unmitigated nerve to respond with unparalleled arrogance, hostility and tears! Really, y'all, really???
All of you disabled folks talking and writing smack about trans people and why their rights aren't as important as ours because "they choose to be trans, but we don't choose to be disabled" need to stfu and sit the hell down! Trans people DON'T "choose" to be trans and their rights and safety are EVERY BIT as important as us disabled folks!
Let's stop this ish NOW, ok? Hating on, comparing and playing Oppression Olympics doesn't help either of our groups; in fact it hurts, even destroys us both. Both of our communities live with oppressions of different kinds that, due to intersectionality, sometimes overlap. We must be allies and fight for each other or we'll both go down!
One last thing. If there is ANYONE on my social media who thinks that trans people shouldn't have the same rights as others, delete and block me! I don't care if we're family, friends or colleagues. I don't play that!
In the past couple of years, there's been much attention given to police violence against unarmed, mostly, Black folks.
What's disturbing about this is the reaction of the mostly White disability community. I noticed that when the victim was White and the disability known (Ethan Saylor), people were very sympathetic; he was seen as innocent. When the victim was Black and the disability unknown, that person was seen as a less than good person, or a criminal. Even when the victim was a child (Tamir Rice), doing what little boys do, he was blamed for his own death because he didn't follow instructions. When it came out that he was killed less than two seconds after the cops came on the scene, Tamir was still seen as responsible for his death.
What got to me was how people, including again, mostly White disabled and disability rights activists, believed the police accounts of what happened. When it was discovered that in many of the cases, the police lied and covered up their wrongdoing, people, including folks with disabilities, still found reasons to vilify those folks.
That is, until it was found that they had disabilities. Now they're trying to claim folks like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown. Disabled folks who talked mad smack about them and others now want me to forget what they said now that they've been found to be one of us.
Frankly, I think that's hypocritical. Perhaps, because I'm a compassionate person, I embraced all of them from the beginning no matter their race because they were murdered by out of control, sometimes racist, cops. The fact that some of them turned out to have disabilities changed nothing for me because I already valued their lives.
What's up with this? It's infuriating to me that these folks' lives seem to matter more to some disabled people now that it's come out that they lived with disabilities. It also pisses me off that the White victims were presumed innocent while the Blacks, without exception, were victims of character assassination. None of them were innocent, not even the child.
Now I know that not every White disabled person or activist has behaved in this fashion. An amazing sister in the Movement has been putting her body and life on the line in Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri, with Black Lives Matter since the murder of Michael Brown. She has been assaulted and tear gassed/pepper sprayed by the cops in addition to being arrested and her property stolen or destroyed.
So, if what I've been ranting about doesn't apply to you, you have no need to be offended by what I'm saying.
Now, what about the others who aren't disabled, like Akai Gurley and John Crawford, III? Are their lives worth less to us disabled because they aren't one of us? I understand, and am outraged that half the folks killed by police are disabled. Still, I get angry when that fact is brought up almost in competition, to the fact that every 28 hours, someone Black, often unarmed, is killed by cops. Both facts are horrible. Neither trumps the other. Let's stop being apathetic or hostile to these folks unless they are disabled. Their lives matter either way.
Often, I read about disability rights activists in other countries and marvel at how fortunate we are as disability rights activists here in the United States.
We, as a movement, are treated remarkably well by police, especially if we're one of the respectable groups doing a march or rally.
I am a member of ADAPT, which needs no introduction when it comes to disability rights groups. We are well-known, in fact, most known, for our willingness to do non-violent civil disobedience, up to, and including arrest, in our fight for disability rights and justice. Back in the day, police brutality happened fairly often to those of us who walked on our hind legs (because we were presumed to be leaders) and those of us in wheelchairs who wouldn't shut up.
These days, police violence is extremely rare at ADAPT actions. Yes, some cops may try intimidating some of us, but they rarely go past that.
What would happen if police treated us like they do activists in other countries? Hell, what would we do if we were treated like the civil rights activists of the '60s or the Black Lives Matter activists of today?
As someone who got her ass kicked on the regular by cops in the early days of ADAPT, activists in other countries are truly kickass and badass for what they are willing to go through! We disability rights folks here are spoiled. We compare ourselves to civil rights folks knowing full well that we didn't go through a tenth of what they did on the front lines and in the trenches! We don't go through a tenth of what disability rights activists in other countries go through. We have it very easy in comparison. How many of us would put ourselves on the line if cops behaved here like they do in other countries or as they do here to BLM folks who protest?
We here are fortunate that we don't go through what other activists go through. Sure, occasionally, we get cops in riot gear and gloves at ADAPT actions, but I went to a BLM protest in Denver and was literally millimeters away from cops with GUNS taller than me and nightsticks that came to my shoulders! They fired teargas at us AFTER we dispersed. As I was pickin' 'em up and puttin' 'em down trying to get out of Dodge, feeling like the world's biggest coward, I wondered what we in ADAPT would do if we were faced with that (or worse) kind of police violence? I know that I was scared to death! We were nonviolent, but they came at us with military gear and were prepared to use it.
So, ADAPT, and other disability rights activists, what of it? If real violence was used against us, what would you do? Would you put it on the line? Would you continue to fight nonviolently for freedom? Are we that desperate? Do our rights matter that much to us?
I'm NOT trying to shame anyone. Many of us can't get in the trenches. Many folks do activism online and endure trolls who bully and try to destroy them. They're badass because they stick around and don't give up. Some of us can only do things behind the scenes, but that doesn't make us any less badass.
My question is for those of us disability activists here in the United States who can and do go into the trenches because whether we realize it or like it or not, we have it easy. I ask because at the rate things are going, we're going to start enduring what others already are. If we are smart, we will consider this carefully and prepare for it. If we want to be treated equally, we'd better understand that equality means both the good and the bad, and one of these days, the cops are going to decide to stop giving us special treatment and treat us like other groups.
If we are prepared, we will survive. If not, who can say?
So, again, I ask: Would you continue to put it on the line of the cops got real with us? I know what my answer would be.
Ugh, why must we sow division in our efforts to do disability advocacy?
I'm referring to using another group to make a point, such as, "you support LGBTQIAA rights, why won't you support disability rights?" Or, "you wouldn't support discrimination against Black people, why do you support it against LGBTQIAA, disabled, insert marginalized group here.
I used to be guilty of this, but as I've grown older, I've become mature and my views have changed. I've become aware of how divisive this tactic is.
When groups, particularly marginalized groups do this, the message is that the group that you're comparing your group to doesn't deserve rights, support or validation, but your group does, or, at the very least, your marginalized group deserves more consideration than others.
This is a form of Oppression Olympics, something that doesn't help or benefit marginalized communities.
I'm seeing this a lot within the disability advocacy and activist community. If someone points out that every 28 hours, someone Black is killed by police, inevitably, some disabled person will point out that half of people killed by police have some type of disability. That is a very valid point that needs attention and action, but bringing that up in the context of Black folks is erasing. That's a separate conversation.
The same goes for what's happening in Washington, DC this week. Disability activists (most of them are friends whom I love dearly) are demanding support for disability rights of the Obama administration, just as it, and the President, supports LGBTQIAA rights. With all of the compelling and valid reasons to support disability rights, there shouldn't have been any reason to bring another marginalized community's issue into the mix. The lack of support and action on disability issues and the profound harm it is doing to us is more than enough to make a point and demand action.
Most who know me know that I speak my truth and say the uncomfortable things. I don't always agree with those whom I love, but I try always to be respectful in my disagreement. Had I been with my friends, I would have shared my feelings with leadership, but I'm not with them, so this space is the only place that I can express my dismay over the strategy and tactics that were chosen.
Look, it's one thing for marginalized groups to demand of the dominant White, male, cis, straight, nondisabled society the same rights that those groups enjoy, but when those demands are made at the expense of other marginalized groups, all it does is pit us against each other when we should be united.
It has not escaped me that in the case of this week's activities, the decision to employ this tactic most likely was made by LGBTQIAA members with disabilities. That doesn't make the decision a good or correct one, just as it wouldn't be good or correct for Black disabled to assert that the Obama administration supports the rights of Blacks, so why doesn't it support disability rights?
As a Black lesbian with disabilities, I understand the desperation of our disability community. Because of policies and practices in place, many of us feel that no one gives a damn about us. We die of abuse and neglect every day in nursing facilities and other institutions. Programs designed to keep us at home are viciously cut. Laws that are supposed to protect us from discrimination are ineffective. I get that. I, and my family have gone through and been very negatively affected by all this. I can understand why some of us feel that our plight is the worst and that other groups have it better than us.
Still, we must not fall into that trap! When we do that, we hurt others. We Blacks see disability and LGBTQIAA as White, we LGBTQIAA see disability as straight, if anything, and we LGBTQIAA and disability see us Blacks as always pulling the "race card", which actually doesn't exist. Do you see how absurd this is and why we must come together and fight this and see the commonality within our communities?
We disability rights activists and advocates must denounce tactics that divide us from other marginalized communities, especially since many of us also belong to those communities. Our civil rights and support of them are no more important than the civil rights of other marginalized groups.
So, let's put an end to this, ok? We can do better than this! We ARE better than this!
My friends who are Black and people of color everywhere: if you plan on going to a Trump event, please be careful! You know he and his minions are violent! Trump canceled an earlier trip to Denver, but now he is coming today, July 1st. Some of my ADAPT sisters and brothers are going, but I refuse to go.
Yes, I understand that there are Blacks and people of color who are Trump supporters. I don't understand why, when Trump hates us and sees us as criminals. If you haven't heard the filth spewing from The Donald's mouth about Mexicans, Muslims and Blacks, your head has been stuck very deep into the ground!
Beware folks, Blacks, in particular, are not welcome at Trump events, even if we are peaceful. He has ordered us kicked out and beaten and even promised to pay the legal fees of someone if they beat up a Black man.
Even if Trump is nice to individual Blacks or has them do his dirty work, pay attention to his words and actions! Don't be fooled because he's saying nicer things or appearing to backpedal on statements he's made previously. He is the Republican nominee precisely because he said and did things that appealed to racists, bigots, xenophobes, homophobes, transphobes, ableists and misogynists. He has not changed his stance. He is the same mean, nasty ogre that he has always been!
If you think he likes disabled folks, think again. He openly mocked a disabled journalist at one of his rallies. I can't imagine what he'll do to disabled activists who raise hell at his events!
I understand for disabled activists, it's all about freeing our people and fighting for our civil rights, and if you want to go, that's fine. That's your choice, if you want to take that risk.
But, if chapters and leaders are forcing or shaming Black and POC disability activists to go to a Trump event knowing what he does and condones to Black/POC activists, you've proven that you care more about the cause than the people in it, and that is despicable!
I say this because I can see that happening in some places. Look, if you're White and disabled and feel strongly that you want to go, because you want to call him out on his stance on disability, feel free. If you are a White-led disability group and you want to have a meeting with Trump, go ahead. He'll probably be very cordial to you and say all the things you want to hear.
But if you, as an organizational or disability rights leader, expect Black disability activists to attend Trump events and shame them if they won't, you really need to rethink your role as a leader!
Look, I'm passionate about disability rights and social change and justice, but I am selfish - I'd rather live than die for a cause! I've been beaten and roughed up countless times by police and angry bystanders at ADAPT actions over the years and have been arrested 120 times. I would do anything for ADAPT and the cause, but I draw the line at Trump rallies. As I grow older, I have become far less reckless and place great value on my life and my safety because I want to be around for a long time to continue the fight with as little trauma as possible. Taking care of myself is of the utmost importance because as Wade Blank, one of the founders of ADAPT, used to tell me all the time, "Anita, you have to take care of yourself or you're no good to the movement!"
Besides, if you haven't figured out that Trump enjoys this; he gets his jollies off of being violent, you are truly unaware. Even if you don't get your butt kicked, you'll be totally and publicly disrespected for even showing your face in his space. Why be fodder for his goons? Why buy into their claims that they don't go disrupting Hillary or Bernie events so that they can justify jacking with protesters who come to Trump rallies?
So, you won't find me at any Trump events and I advise Black folks with disabilities, as well as people of color to stay away. If you want to go because you feel it's worth it for the cause or if you're a Trump supporter, please beware and be careful!
I'm aware that if Donald Trump or his supporters sees this, they'll brand me a terrorist and have the FBI at my door. Bring it on! I'm totally nonviolent and do not practice or condone violence of ANY kind. Besides, I've been spied on before for my nonviolent activist activities and have the redacted paperwork to prove it. I'm not afraid!