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.