This last week I changed my profile picture on my social media accounts for the first time. A seemingly common reaction to world events these days, I have never before been motivated to do so. Not that I have not grieved over horrible events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the terrorist attacks in Paris or Nice or any of the other atrocities that seem sadly to be all too common these days. I have.
But on July 26, 19 intellectually disabled men and women were executed as they slept in a pre-dawn attack upon a care facility in Sagamirihara, Japan. Aged from 19 to 70 years, there were also 26 others who were injured in the attack.
The media characterised the attacks as 'senseless' and 'incomprehensible'. At one level, this attack on innocent defenceless people by a lone madman is, indeed, 'incomprehensible'. But for my many friends in the disability community it is, perhaps, an extreme and example of the kind of prejudice that they experience all too often; a chilling and visceral reminder of the subtle and not so subtle discrimination that is never far from them and that echoes through history.
The killer was clearly deranged. But to dismiss the reasons he gave for what he did on that basis would be an implicit endorsement of his actions, silence is consent, compounding the grief. In a letter the killer sent to the Japanese Parliament some time before his henious actions he wrote:
I envision a world where a person with multiple disabilities can be euthanized, with an agreement from the guardians, when it is difficult for the person to carry out household and social activities.
I believe there is still no answer about the way of life for individuals with multiple disabilities. The disabled can only create misery.
He also cited an economic benefit to the destruction of disabled people and went on to describe precisely how he would go about his crimes.
Syracuse NY disability activist and academic, Bill Peace wrote on his blog:
This hate crime and mass murder led to a sleepless night for me. What took place could have happened in any nation. It could have taken place in Omaha, Nebraska, Cambridge, England, Paris, France, or Syracuse, NY. As I read story after story I felt a chill go down my spine, diffuse at T-3 when I read the following words: 'He was just an ordinary young fellow.'
I have no doubt he was an ordinary young fellow. That is what makes ableism so frightening. People, typical people, think life with a disability is worse than death. I plan to go out to lunch with my son, We will likely stop at a cross walk and wait for a light to turn. A biped will likely stand near me. That biped might be thinking "shit, if I were paralysed I would prefer to be dead. That guy should be dead. He sucks up too much health care dollars". This is what scares me. The silence. How many silently wish we people with a disability did not exist. My concerns are shared by many who have a disability and more generally any person with an atypical body.
Canadian blogger and disability activist, Dave Hingsburger touched on what I know many disabled people will also have thought. Thoughts based on experience, thoughts that twist the gut with dread:
The discussion of and public endorsement of the concept of mercy killing of people with disabilities had taken root in this man with alarming ferocity. No doubt he will be spoken of as someone who has mental health issues, and maybe he does, but when you read what he says, what he says isn't far from what most people have come to believe. His statement to the police upon turning himself in that 'it's better that disabled people disappear' isn't a deranged rant by someone out of control, it's a calm statement of fact that echoes the sentiment of many in society. People with disabilities know this sentiment, we hear it, we experience it and we have come to fear what it will do. Our lives are devalued, are needs seen as special and therefore burdensome, our rights are declared to be gifts rather than guarantees.
Peace calls out the killing as a 'hate crime' and broadens the context:
The hate crime in Japan graphically and horrifically demonstrates that people with a disability are prone to being the victims of violence. That violence includes murder. How many more people need to die before ableism is acknowledged as a global problem. The violence I refer to takes many forms. Hollywood knows films that kill disabled characters for their own merciful fend of life resonates well with audiences. Police in the United States have killed a host of people with a disability. Parents who murder their disabled children are given light sentences for their crimes. Donald Trump openly mocked a disabled reporter from the New York Times. Most recently the video of a man trying to help an autistic client of his was shot. The police bemoaned the fact they missed the man with autism. They tried to kill him. Yes, their intent was to kill a man from a group home with autism that was playing with a toy truck. This sort of violence is spun in a myriad of ways. It also appears as if the massacre in Japan has lost the media's attention. There is no live coverage on CNN.
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Paul is also Vice Chair of the International Euthanasia Prevention Coalition