Day of Mourning – 3/1/2015

Every year on March 1st, the disability community gathers to mourn people killed by their parents and caregivers. We mourn all untimely deaths, of course, and there are far too many deaths by accident, stranger violence, police violence, and more.

But there is something specific to the disability community in which caregivers kill and then are forgiven in the media. The media rhetoric explains away the violence by making disability itself the culprit.

We reject that narrative.

Here is a statement by Autistic Self-Advocacy Network president Ari Ne’eman

Memory is an important part of how we define our communities. When we think about the history of the disability rights movement, there are so many moments at which we stop and think to ourselves, “But for the actions of those who came before me, I might not be here with the chances and opportunities I have today.” From the heroes of the 504 Sit-In to the modern day struggles to free our people from institutions and nursing homes, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. We are bound together by the memory of those who fought on our behalf.

But the memories that tie us together as a community aren’t just the happy moments, the victories where our cause takes a great step forward. We bond over our sorrows as well. Today, we are gathered together to remember members of our community who had their very lives taken from them, for no other reason than because they were one of us. Because they were disabled.

For George Hodgins, for Melissa Stoddard, for Daniel Corby, for Nancy Fitzmaurice, for London McCabe, for Katie McCarron and Tracy Latimer and Alex Spourdalakis and countless, countless others, there will be no opportunity to share in our community’s moments of celebration. There will be no chance to experience the sweet sense of belonging that we’ve each come to together after long years of fear in our time apart. There will be no chance even for the everyday joys of existence itself.

Here is a list of vigil sites for 2015. I do not know whether I will be able to attend the Chicago event, but I hope to do so.

I wrote an article on the death of London McCabe, quoting Ari, on this issue. My motto is that we should write victim-centered narratives, not killer-centered narratives. This was, I think, the hardest piece I’ve ever written in terms of its emotional effect on me. And I received criticism on it for not talking about the killer’s mental health issues in an appropriately sympathetic way. It’s not my goal to demonize the killer, it is my goal to remember London. This is the paragraph that gutted me.

London McCabe did not want to die. London liked big hats. He liked fuzzy stuffed animals. He made a wish on his cupcake for his sixth birthday. In September, his father wrote, “London is pleased as punch. He lays on our laps and puts our hands together. Last night he made the ‘mmmwha!’ sound and gave his Mommy a kiss. Then he made the same sound and pushed our faces together. He’s all smiles.”

Wherever your body is tomorrow, spend a few minutes remembering those we’ve lost. Vow to remember them. Try to tell their stories.

I will continue to use my blog and, to the extent I can land pieces, my contacts in journalism, to tell victim-centered stories and to call out those reporters who do otherwise. That’s my promise.

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