Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Police Violence, Gender Norming, Dissertations

It's been a busy week of writing and I hope you are enjoying this holiday weekend.

Most of the week was spent on the cult of compliance and police violence. I started with a piece on CNN on 4 police killings of people with mental health issues. I argued that we need to think about psychiatric disability - disability comes with protections and the need for accommodation - rather than illness. As usual, I added some blog followups.

I also wrote a post about four stories of police violence for "Living while Black." Black men attacked for sitting, not walking, raising hands, and keeping hands in pockets. One of the story also involves autism. Thank you to everyone who read it here or one of the sites on which I shared it.

I published an essay called "Save the Dissertation" (it saved me) on Chronicle Vitae, with a followup on the blog. There's a lot of talk in Higher Ed about reshaping graduate education, and no doubt a lot of reform is needed. But for me, the dissertation process, in all its turmoil, is how we become scholars. If we want to come up with new ways to do this, that's fine. We don't, however, get to test it out on grad students. Senior scholars at R1 schools - you go first. Then apply for grants, sabbaticals, chairs, etc. with the results and let us know what happens. 

I had two essays. The fun one was on Huffington Post and was about my approach to "parenting against the grain."  My daughter got an Avengers backpack. Some boys doubted it was hers. I also wrote a blog about my son and gender norming, and the complexities there (due to Down syndrome).

I also published a book review. It's got 2 errors I'm trying to have fixed. Overall, publishing blogs on HuffPo has been fun, but I'm not sure I get a lot more out of it than writing here. More on that next week.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

#CultofCompliance - Living while Black

Here are four stories literally just from last night (they happened at different times, but made news yesterday). They illustrate the way racism enables and is enabled by the cult of compliance. The cult provides an intersectional lens in which race and class dominate the middle, with disability not far behind. When these categories overlap in a single individual, trouble beckons.

Incident 1: Sitting while black in a public space. 

The African-American man was sitting outside a store, waiting for his kids to get out of school. The store clerk got nervous - a black man sitting! For ten minutes! - so he called the police. When the police arrived, they demanded his ID. He didn't comply:
The man in the video tells the officer he was sitting in front of the store for 10 minutes as he waited for his kids to get out of school, and that the area is public and he had a right to sit there.
“The problem was —” the female officer begins.
“The problem is I’m black,” the man fires back. “It really is, because I’m not sitting there with a group of people. I’m sitting there by myself. By myself, not causing a problem.”
Eventually a second male officer approaches the man in the video and attempts to restrain him.
“I’ve got to go get my kids,” the man tells the second officer, pulling his arm away. “Please don’t touch me.”
“You’re going to go to jail then,” the second officer says.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” the man replies.
At this point, both officers grab the man.
“Come on brother,” the man says, “This is assault.”
“I’m not your brother,” the second officer replies. “Put your hands behind your back otherwise it’s going to get ugly.”
Eventually the officers start to cuff the man and he drops his cellphone and the video goes black.
“I haven’t done anything wrong!” we hear the man yell. “Can somebody help me? That’s my kids, right there! My kids are right there!”
“Put your hands behind your back!” the male officer screams.
Then they tased him.

UPDATES (8/29/14) - More on the Chris Lollie story from the City Pages in the Twin Cities. Charges has been dropped. Police defended their actions. Lollie is filing a complaint and considering a lawsuit. Lawyers weigh in. MY QUESTION - Who called it in at the bank. Do you use that bank? Can you talk to the manager?

Incident 2: Hands in pockets while black and autistic

This was from three years ago, but I just heard about the story yesterday when the judge dismissed the lawsuit. A boy was in his yard when the cops pulled up.
According to Yearby, her son was standing in front of their apartment on Southampton Road minding his own business when two officers on patrol approached him and questioned him. The officers later said they thought he looked suspicious.
"I ran outside and the police pushed me back and I asked him, 'what was going on?' and [the officer] was like 'I asked your son to take his hands out of his pockets,'" recalled Vicky Yearby.
Yearby said she and a neighbor told the officers her son was mentally disabled but they ignored them and continued to yell at Isaac Yearby and frighten him.
Video captured from the Taser camera shows Yearby removed his hands from his pockets then flailed his arms. Seconds later the Taser fired and he fell to the ground. The lawsuit claimed the fall caused Isaac Yearby to suffer seizures which continued periodically.
And of course, there's no accountability.
College Park Police Chief Ron Fears declined an interview but city spokesman Gerald Walker issued a statement which reads, "The City of College Park's Police Department respects the rights of all citizens and visitors, and pledges to maintain a safe community."
It goes on, "[t]he situation in 2011 with Mr. Yearby was unfortunate; however, Judge Marvin Shoob's summary exonerated our officers and their actions. The College Park Police Department continues to protect and serve, and hopes for the best for everyone involved in this case."
This is not what protecting and serving looks like.

Incident 3 (from Digby and Rawstory): Not Walking While Black 

There was a foot chase and the man, an African American named Gregory Towns, was exhausted, but caught. He wouldn't walk, so they started tasing him, driving him with electric shocks as if he were an animal. He died.
But Police Benevolent Association lawyers representing Weems continued to insist that the officer’s actions did not cause Towns to die.
Attorney Dale Preiser issued a statement saying that the “use of drive stun to gain compliance is permitted under federal and Georgia law
Read that again. Under federal and Georgia law, it's fine to use a taser to "gain compliance."

Incident 4 - Not Resisting While Black

Stop Trying to Take My Gun!" The cop shouted this as he was attacking a black man with his hands up.

Cameras have lately been touted as a major solution to police brutality. And they are definitely a HUGE help. What's interesting to me, and upsetting, is the way that police are beginning to game their speech so that they'll have an excuse for the camera.

As we've seen in the Michael Brown case, "he was reaching for my gun" is the excuse that police use when they shoot someone unarmed. Here's a case where the video catches the whole thing.
All the criminal charges against Marcus Jeter have been dismissed, and two Bloomfield police officers have been indicted for falsifying reports, and one of them, for assault.
A third pleaded guilty early on to tampering. It's all thanks to those dashcam tapes. It's the video that prosecutors say they never saw when the pursued criminal charges against 30 year-old Marcus Jeter . In the video, his hands were in the air. He was charged with eluding police, resisting arrest and assault. One officer in the video can be seen throwing repeated punches.
His hands are in the air, because he's a black man, and he knows that if he looks  threatening, he can be shot with impunity.

The video, starting around 2:30, is terrible. Listen to the cop screaming, "Stop Resisting! Stop Resisting! Why are you trying to touch my fucking gun! Get off my gun!"

They are faking resistance for the camera.

Good news: The cops have been charged. There may be justice in this case.
Bad news: How many other people have gone to jail while the cops screamed, "Stop resisting!" to an unarmed man with his hands up. They are learning to play for their cameras. 

Here's one final link. This is a white man in Florida. His son, who is autistic, was pulled over and the father drove to help, but the cops didn't want his help. This is their command training - a civilian interfering is a threat to their command presence, so they don't allow it. The man calmly asserts his rights, he tells the officers that the boy is autistic. If you watch the video, you can see them look at the camera being held by the son, move to block a little. They grab him, throw him to the ground, tase him, and shout, "GET ON THE GROUND! STOP RESISTING." That, they hope, will provide them with the excuse they need.

Of course they charged him with resisting arrest.

The Cult of Compliance provides our intersectional lens. We know these cases are wrong. We know about them because of video, because of disability, because of luck. Most of the victims are people of color. Most of the victims never get any publicity.

Here's one vital lesson for white folks like me. When Michael Brown was killed, a lot of white people, mostly but not exclusively conservatives, said, "He should have just complied when the police told him to get out of the road." Maybe. Maybe it would have saved him. But as we can see here, there is no correct behavior that will protect a black man from police brutality. All behaviors - standing, sitting, walking, not walking, showing your hands, hands in your pockets - are suspect.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Backpacks, Gender norms, and My Son

Yesterday, I had my first piece published on the Huffington Post. It's about my daughter's backpack.
The boy came down the hall just as I was arriving at preschool with my daughter, Ellie. In a voice filled with excitement, she said, "Michael [not his real name], come look at my new backpack! It's the Avengers!" Indeed it was, or at least the four male heroes. Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk, in vivid color, charging forward to fight evildoers.
Michael responded with far too much skepticism for a 5-year-old boy. "You mean, you like Avengers? Or is that your brother's backpack?"
Ellie completely missed it. "No," she said, "My brother got Minions. I got Avengers!" Then she raised her arms in the air, blasting laser beams out of her hands at the bad guys, and ran off to her classroom. Evil doers, beware.
In the essay, I talk about parenting against the grain. It's not enough, I argue, to just provide choice, because all of society is telling children that they must conform, conform, conform. The process of gender norming accelerates once they start school. There is no free choice. Instead, we push gently against that dominant message, hoping to create enough space for Ellie to choose whatever she likes.

The clever reader will have noticed, "My brother got Minions." I've been repeatedly asked - what about boys? Do you push Nico towards Hello Kitty or whatever? Do you push boys against the grain too?

Off to school, backpacks rampant!
These are good questions. I, like my questioners, have the sense that a lot of people push girls towards boy stuff and push boys towards boy stuff too. Boy stuff is powerful! Girls wearing boy clothes are powerful! Boys wearing girl clothes ...?

The lack of balance reflects and intensifies the patriarchal nature of our society, rather than fighting it. On the other hand, I could never advise a parent to push a boy into a dress, because that's not a gentle parenting against the grain. That's trying to smash the barriers. The problem is that a girl in "boy clothes" is pretty standard. A boy in a dress is a target. How far should we go?

I have two thoughts.

First - "Against the grain" is about gentle pushing, not creating targets for bullying. For boys, I think, the key is to focus on behaviors. Soraya Chemaly, one of my favorite writers, writes about these issues a lot, such as in "the problem with boys will be boys." We need to enable our sons, we need to push our sons, to exhibit behaviors not typically associated with masculinity. When they cry, we need to comfort and love, not say, "boys don't cry." I think that's what parenting a boy against the grain looks like.

Second - I have no idea what parenting a boy against the grain looks like, because Nico has Down syndrome.

People with Down syndrome are by no means immune to gender norming, but Nico has very limited verbal skills. He's not getting the kind of language replication of gender norms that our daughter has been showing for years now. "Pink is a girl's color," she says. Nico is as likely to pick a pink, blue, purple, or orange bowl. Moreover, when he picks a bowl, our goal is to get him to say a two-word sentence like "purple bowl," rather than focusing on gender issues.

Moreover, our primary goal with Nico is to find things that stimulate him, and then push push push for reaction, speech, enjoyment, development, engagement. So whatever it is that grabs him, that's what we go for. We have played with baby dolls. We have played with trucks. Right now, though, it's a pretty equal balance between Frozen and Minions. You should see him stand in the middle of the room, swooping his arms around, singing to "Let it Go." I think the gender issues are going fine there.

Would I send my son to school in a Hello Kitty backpack? Absolutely. But I confess I'd be very nervous about it. Nico is already so marked as "other" by his disability and we - teachers, parents, Nico, his friends, his sister - work very hard to make sure that otherness doesn't become too pronounced. If he had picked one with Elsa, he'd be wearing it today.

But right now, Nico really likes minions.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cult of Compliance - Psychiatric Disability with Weapons

"They reacted based upon the training that they've been given from the academy. We were thankful that no officer was injured from protecting themselves from risk of great bodily harm."
I have a new piece on CNN today about police killings of people with psychatric disabilities. I argue that we need to view these cases through the lens of disability, a word that carries with it certain rights, the principle of accommodation, and a different cultural response than "illness" (let alone crazy).

This is not like the case of Ezell Ford, where the man was unarmed. Each of these five featured a person with known psychiatric issues holding a weapon or seemingly holding a weapon. Each ended with in police gunfire. In only one case was there a highly dangerous weapon - a combat knife.

In my CNN piece, I describe the four most recent cases, four killings in two weeks. 2 in California, 1 in Arizona, and of course Kajieme Powell in St. Louis. I filed on Friday.

On Saturday, there was another killing, this one in Ottawa, Kansas.

Joseph Jennings was struggling with depression and anxiety. He left a suicide note on facebook and swallowed pills, but he survived, in part thanks to two officers who showed up at the house in response to emergency calls. A few hours after leaving the hospital, though, Jennings seems to have gone to a Walmart, puchased a BB gun or water gun, and then got the cops called in order to commit suicide by cop.

The parents arrived in time to try and deescalate the situation, but were ordered back (warned they would get shot if they didn't comply). "Bag him," the officers said, and they started shooting. First beanbag rounds, then real bullets (at least 16 shots by report). Jennings died.

There are three stories here that I want to emphasize.

1) Jennings had just survived a suicide attempt and then was released from the hospital. We need better mental health care that is accessible and affordable for all.

2) I believe that quote with which I started this piece is true. Police followed their training. It is time to demand new training. CIT training alone isn't going to cut it, and I hope to have a piece on its limitations (Lawrence Carter-Long and I are working on something) within a week or two, but it's a start. We need to totally rethink the way that police engage with people who have disabilities of every sort.

And then we will all be safer, disabled and abled alike.

3) In the video (linked here) of the police chief, he says a slightly different version of the quote that everyone is running. He says, "We were thankful that no police officers or sheriff's deputies was injured while defending themselves from the potential threat of serious bodily harm.”

Look at that justifying language. There was a potential threat of serious bodily harm, the boy didn't comply, and so the police were justified in their actions. Except there wasn't really a threat, since he had a BB gun, his parents were there (the dad was about to tackle him to take him down, he was in arms reach).

According to this police officer, just a potential threat justifies deadly force, and surviving a non-existent but potential threat is something to be thankful about. 

We are all in danger. When the police think we are dangerous, whether we are or not, they believe themselves to be justified in using lethal force.

Now I am a middle class white guy. I'm not likely to be seen as dangerous, unless my behavior turns erratic due to any number of factors - alcohol, illness, confusion. So my personal stake is pretty low. As we've seen in Missouri, any black body, especially male, is regarded as a threat by police. The potential threat is always there, so they can always use lethal force and justify it.

A known-disabled-mind, in a way that is similar, though not tied to centuries of institutional racism, when acting in an "erratic" (that's a cop incident-report word) fashion, also raises the "potential threat" level.

And when, like Kajieme Powell, you have a black body with a psychiatric disability, there's basically no hope.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I've got a crush on your dissertation

Today in Vitae I have a piece that runs a bit against the grain of my other writing, at least on the surface. I believe we need to do a lot of things differently in terms of graduate education. I believe in change because the status quo - long graduate trainings, little professional experience, the enduring belief in the meritocracy - these things enable adjunctification and the damaging aspects of the academic prestige economy.

But I love scholarship.

I wrote the first draft of today's essay in mid-June. I was neck-deep in copy-edits, going through my 90000 word book (a pretty standard length, for those readers not in higher ed), line by line, working closely with a smart and meticulous copy editor from Penn State Press.

A few days before, I had spoken to my mother, also an academic (yes, I'm one of those kids). She was just trying to get the shape of a new project, thinking about how to craft the book.

And just before that, I had read a chapter draft from a friend. The chapter was packed with new information to me, but it still needed some conceptual shaping. It was a gorgeous work-in-progress, with the work so visible to the reader, but with plenty left to do.

And I thought, I love research.

As you'll see from the essay my road through graduate school was never smooth. What I leave out from my narrative is a year of writers block. I had a first marriage and she left me on Friday and I mostly lost the ability to write. I found it again while in the archives. But even before that my road was rocky and my current position as a working professor was never assured - because it's not assured for anybody. But for all the things I might change in graduate school, the process of the dissertation, no matter how hard it was (and it was very hard), is not really one of them.

Having recently read the MLA Report, I thought - yes, we might be able to make a stripped down degree and award PhDs - but right now, the way we train scholars is through the dissertation process. There might be a better way. We could definitely build new patterns of collaboration, new ways to publish, all sorts of different kinds of approaches to respond to the shifting nature of the publication economy and academic hiring practices, and so forth. The dissertation could be shorter, maybe, or more of a draft towards a book and less of a finished project.

I just want to see other models work before we test them out on the most vulnerable.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Roundup - Disability and Compliance

It's been quite a week. Since the publication of my Al Jazeera America piece on the cult of compliance, I've done a bunch of press, written a few new essays, prepped for the start of classes (tomorrow!), and pitched some long-term projects. More news on that when there's news.

I was so swarmed with topics that I never even blogged about my latest from the Chronicle of Higher Education - "Don't Speak Out, the message of the Salaita Affair." For those not following, Steven Salaita is a professor who tweeted many angry things about Israel this summer, right when he was moving to Illinois. The Chancellor invoked a rarely (or never) used clause in his contract to void the hire. A huge amount of legal and rhetorical wrangling has followed, and I do think this case reveals conflicting visions for the future of the university. Or, perhaps, the Chancellor is lying, and it's just about Israel. I wrote:
I come to this topic not as a partisan in the specifics of Salaita’s situation but as an advocate for faculty engagement with the public. Over the last year, I have written periodic columns for The Chronicle about the ways that academics can and should write for general audiences. Recently, I even suggested that "sustained public engagement" of any sort should count for hiring, tenure, and promotion.
When I write about this topic, I often get told that the real problem is that academics are snobs. We like living in an ivory tower, goes the argument, and we look with disdain on getting our hands dirty in the public sphere. There’s plenty of snobbery to go around, it’s true, but the Salaita affair shows a different, and I think more powerful, force that keeps many academics from commenting on important contemporary issues: fear.
For more on this topic, I recommend Corey Robin's blog, where he's been active in collecting arguments and organizing action.  I will likely have more to say on the topic as we go forward, as it relates to corporatization and public engagement, two of my "beats."

Now here's the blog:

  • I wrote 2500 words or so on This American Life and their practices of using (or not) trigger warnings. As near as I can tell, they warn for racism or the existence of sex, and sometimes violence. Never disability issues.
  • I had a couple of pieces on the #cultofcompliance (hey look, a hashtag. You could use it on twitter!) - Two reactions to my writing from New York writers, a comparison of the police in Chicago during the NATO riots and those in Ferguson, and then a blog on Kajieme Powell. I wrote - it's possible that police needed to kill Powell, but I have some questions. As I've learned more in the days that followed, it's more and more clear that the police put themselves in a position in which killing Powell was the only option. I will have a CNN piece on this tomorrow (probably).
  • I mentioned that Dawkins is trolling families like mine, by linking to a piece on him by Amanda Marcotte.
  • I talk about Nico escaping from the house, or seeming to, and my babysitter calling the police. As I write about police violence, these are the stakes for me and my family on a personal level. We need the police to be better on disability issues.
  • Finally, I wrote a post on "The pencil test" for disability, in which I talk about Takei, Bieber, and Tampa Police throwing a quadriplegic out of his wheelchair to see how disabled he really was.
Have a great Sunday. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The "Pencil Test" For Folks in a Wheelchair

The apartheid government of South Africa had a problem (well, it had a lot of them, but bear with me). It wanted to discriminate by race, but how does one deal with mixed-race people? It came up with the infamous "pencil test," in which a pencil is pushed through a person's hair, and how easily it emerges determines the classification. The pencil test is penetrative, with overtones of the state's control over black bodies medically, sexually, and in so many other ways. For me, it's always been a symbol of the whole evil apartheid construct.

It's been on my mind lately because of a broad discussion about disability and fakery. How disabled must a person be to qualify as "disabled" under the law? Being disabled comes with certain civil rights protections. Being disabled to a certain degree entitles one to a check from Social Security every month. Being disabled, as Justin Bieber knows, can enable one to skip lines at Disneyworld (instead of linking to Gawker or TMZ, why not read the great Emily Ladau on Bieber). Being disabled, in the eyes of the abled world anyway, comes with advantages (great parking!), sympathy (oh, your son is cute), and money.

This is, of course, nonsense and tracks to the ways that other privileged groups envy the perceived benefits of those who experience discrimination. In the disability world, this often tracks to "how disabled are you really?"

We saw it recently with George Takei's ill-conceived posting of a picture showing a woman standing on her wheelchair to get down a bottle of alcohol in the grocery store. The caption, "There's been a miracle in the alcohol isle," suggested that this woman wasn't /really/ that disabled if she could stand on the wheelchair to get some booze. Disability advocates protested and Takei initially told them to lighten up, which is the first response of so many comedians when called on humor that replicates stereotypes. I was first alerted to it by a friend who can walk about 100 feet before using her wheelchair, and she told me that she lives in fear of being accused of faking and having to defend her disabled state.

There were a /lot/ of articles about the meme and Takei. I thought this one from Scott Jordan Harris at Slate was especially good when he offered an alaternative read of the scene. He wrote:
"Someone with the Twitter handle @Andy00778. wrote that the picture shows how “much fraud there is today,” adding “Hope insurance company see it!”

The picture does not show fraud. What it shows is a disabled person using a tool—her wheelchair—to live independently. If any judgement is to be made about the photo at all, it should be celebrated for showing that independence."
Eventually, Takei apologized, at length and sincerely, and the story faded.

I'm writing about this because a 2008 story just made its way to my feeds. I've been working hard on the issue of disability and police violence, but I don't claim to have a master database or anything like a total set of examples. In 2008, my son was one and I was just beginning to apply my training as an academic to disability issues. I wasn't even on Facebook yet.

Here's the story and the post. In it, a cop doesn't believe that someone arrested on a traffic violation is /really/ disabled, so he decides to conduct his own test, dumping him on the floor (and breaking some ribs). This is the extreme case, but it's the same as the Takei meme in its origins (eventually there was an apology and probably a lawsuit).
Our language and our actions around disability and fraud matter. They ripple through the culture, shaping behaviors and ideas beyond. Language - comedy memes - have power. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Slouching Towards Soft Authoritarianism - Cult of Compliance in New York and Brooklyn (magazines)

As most of you know, last week Al Jazeera America published my essay on the "cult of compliance," something I've been working on for a long time. Thanks to everyone who read it and shared it. The response has been thoughtful and wide-ranging, just as I would have hoped.

Today I am sharing two pieces by other journalists who use my concept to draw connections for their own subject.

First, Matt Zoller Seitz, at New York Magazine, writes "Watching Ferguson in the Stream." It's a piece that's really about the consequences of watching violence, real violence, rather than the fictionalized violence that already dominates our airwaves. He writes [my emphasis]::
As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes... put it last night, “You end up expecting drama from these situations, because everything is always heading toward a heightening point.” Al Jazeera America’s David M. Perry described the clashes between police and citizens in Ferguson as an example of “the cult of compliance” that has normalized state violence against unarmed U.S. citizens. “The significance of the events in Missouri extends beyond the very real and terrible pattern of police killings of African-American men. It is an intensification of years of cultural shift in which law enforcement and other authority figures have increasingly treated noncompliance as a reason to initiate violence.”
Noncompliance can mean anything from a young man resisting a policeman’s order to move from the street to the sidewalk — the inciting incident that, we’re told, might have ended in the shooting death of Michael Brown — to a reporter understandably chafing at police edicts to stay penned into a particular area or turn off his lights and cameras. The cult of compliance was on display during the Occupy protestsremember the UC Davis pepper-spray incident? — but there’s something singularly unsettling about watching it rumble through the flat streets of a small Missouri town, its streetlights and signage blurred by tear gas.
Obviously, I agree with Seitz' analysis (read the whole thing!). He talks about the disjunction when there's a cutesy internet meme on feed right next to the picture of someone having milk poured in their eyes because of gas. He notes that we're a culture screaming about First Amendment rights every time someone calls for a boycott of a rude website, but that now we're seeing what real state media control feels like. A reporter was overheard saying, "An officer put his weapon in my face and threatened to shoot me if I didn’t quote-unquote get the fuck out of here." Compliance runs deep and wide, and it's on display in every aspect of the Ferguson story.

Meanwhile, over at Brooklyn Magazine, Phillip Pantuso has linked the Ferguson to Rikers using the cult of compliance as one of his analytical tools. I'm pleased to see this, because one of the essays I couldn't get published in July did exactly the same thing. It took Ferguson to make my "cult of compliance" framework seem true to mainstream media editors, I suppose.

He writes:
If recent events in Ferguson are any indication, something like a culture of violence has permeated some of America’s local police departments, too. Cops and prison guards occupy different places on the hierarchy of corrections enforcement, but the primary interactions of both groups are with similar populations: the poor, the mentally-ill, and the non-white. In Ferguson, the majority-white police force has mishandled not only an encounter with a young black man but with the scores of majority-African-American protestors who’ve demonstrated in the aftermath of that man’s murder.
He then quotes a key line from my piece, and continues:
The consequences of this are not felt equally. The cops have weapons of war and the psychological empowerment that comes with them; the prison guards have a code of silence and institutional advantage, a tacit reinforcement of power and privilege that serves to Other the inmates under their keep. The people of Ferguson have tweets, photos, video, and rapidly-eroding Constitutional rights.
The note that this is not felt equally is very important. The cult of compliance coordinates events, it's a way of seeing links and trying to identify root causes (always plural), rather than focusing on symptoms. But the consequences fall heavily on, as he says, "the poor, the mentally-ill, the non-white."

A week after my piece went live, I am more sure than ever that the cult of compliance provides a useful conceptual tool to unpack the ways in which we are slouching towards soft authoritarianism. We can stop this slide.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dawkins and Down Syndrome - He's trolling us. Don't feed him.

Today, the disability social webs are packed with irate tweets, posts, essays, and diatribes against Richard Dawkins. I'm not linking to his twitter account or the reports, but he said that the only moral decision was to abort foetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome, that such wasn't eugenics, and otherwise ranted on for hours.

I'm glad you all are on the case and pushing back. There's nothing with that. I am not criticizing anyone for tweeting, writing, or posting about him. I'm just not going to engage with the content of his tweets, because basically, he's trolling us.

I don't want to talk about it. What I want you to do is to read this Amanda Marcotte essay on Dawkins' recent comments on rape. Dawkins is saying, "I'm just explaining a principle," and the interweb goes crazy. Here's what she wrote [my emphasis]:
This is bad writing, if Dawkins was setting out to create clear-cut examples of the principle he’s trying to illustrate. When explaining a principle, it’s unwise to go straight for examples that the public is legitimately confused about because other people are trying to muddy the waters. A concise, clear writer would do what I did, which is use clear examples to illuminate, instead of clawing at something that is actually contentious in our culture.
Of course, Dawkins is not actually a bad writer. This was not a mistake. Dawkins picked rape and pedophilia not because he’s trying to clarify a principle, but because he is needling his feminist critics who were angry with him for statements where he seemed to imply that there’s a “correct” amount of hurt to suffer from a specific incident of sexual abuse, which could easily be read as the suggestion that people who had serious trauma reactions to what he considers “mild” incidents are somehow wrong to feel how they feel.
This is the analogy that I think is useful to understand Dawkins. He takes an idea and promotes in the way that will generate the most noise. He is fully aware that by saying these comments about Down syndrome, he will spark mass controversy. Parents, self-advocates, disability writers will go nuts, pitch op-eds, post pictures of their beautiful kids, and say, "this life is worth living!." And damn right, it is.

But we don't need to engage someone who is basically trolling us. Block, mute, ignore and make the argument about life with disability for its own sake, not in the context of Dawkins. This is not a troll that I, at any rate, want to feed.

And now, a picture of my happy son, ready to head off to school.






Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Stakes: Parents need Police

At about 9:30 AM yesterday I got a series of texts from my babysitter. She had been tidying toys with my daughter in one of the rooms, and suddenly Nico, my son, was gone. She and Ellie searched the house, looked outside, and gradually panicked. They called the cops. They ran around. They shouted. They found Nico sitting inside the back door with dirty feet. The police showed up and everything was fine.

I did three things. I reassured my babysitter that it was ok, that it had happened to me, and that I would take steps. I called a handyman to install door chains so we can better secure our home .

Later, I called the police to talk about registering my son with them. I need to send them a picture, some ideas about where he might go if he were lost, ways of interacting with him, and so forth. I felt re-assured.

There's some irony here. I've been writing for a year about police violence and disability, usually in tones highly critical of police actions. In the meantime, I'm relying on the police to help take care of my son in case he wanders.

And that's the point. I write about police violence and disability BECAUSE my son is vulnerable to all kinds of dangers, and I need them to be there for him. 

Those are the stakes.