Friday, July 29, 2016

Black Lives Matter Pin = Jail. Speech Threats Still Top Down

Ever since "political correctness" jumped into mainstream public discourse as first a threat against higher education, then against free speech everywhere, and - with Trump's campaign - a threat against the very security of our nation, I've been making one argument: Power matters.

  • Mostly, it's not a problem when marginalized people ask for others to use less pejorative language.
  • Mostly, it's not a problem when people ask to be warned before confronted with traumatic or upsetting words and images.
  • When it is problematic, or even just annoying, it only becomes a speech issue when coupled with a power dynamic that enforces language edicts.
  • Such power is most likely to reside among conservative (political and cultural) forces in our society.
Example: Professor Melissa Click at Mizzou was way out of line confronting a reporter. But power resides in the conservative legislature that attacked her and got her fired.

Example: The Dixie Chicks get blacklisted for saying they are ashamed of President Bush, but conservative country folks (or rockers like Ted Nugent) seem to be doing fine, no matter how much obscenity they fling at Obama.

Attorney Andrea Burton was defending a client in court this past Friday, when JudgeRobert Milich of the Youngstown Municipal Court noticed her wearing a Black Lives Matter pin the size of a nickel. He asked her to remove the pin but she refused, resulting in Milich instructing the bailiffs to take Burton into custody for contempt.According to a news report from WKNB First News, Burton was forced to leave her client behind.
That's what censorship looks like - the power of the state being used to limit freedom of speech.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Questioning Trump's Sanity - Fair Game?

Donald Trump is an erratic man with poor impulse control, a temperament that belong nowhere near the White House, and self-centered to a degree unusual even among politicians. He lies routinely.

But does he lie pathologically? Are his lies related to a mental health condition which makes it difficult for him to tell the truth? Is his erratic and bullying conduct related to a psychological condition which could be diagnosed? Plenty of "Twitter psychologists" (not as many armchairs any more) have wondered if he has dementia, which sounds terrible, but we did have a president whom many people believe was entering early stages of Alzheimers while still in office.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I want him soundly defeated. Do we have to call him crazy to accomplish that?

For months I've been saying no, and that's still basically my position, but last night I had a long conversation on Twitter with, among others, the brilliant political writer James Fallows, science writer and professor Emily Willingham, and philosopher and disability rights journalist Elizabeth Picciuto. We all agree that Trump doesn't have the temperament to be president. We disagree over whether we needed to frame temperament-issues in terms of mental health.

Here's the storify of the whole thing. I keep thinking about Thomas Eagleton, the VP candidate booted from the race because he dared treat his depression. The use of casually stigmatizing pathological language as a way of criticizing Trump's conduct still feels to me like it's out of bounds.

Please pay particular attention to Deanne Shoyer, who identified herself as having a mental illness, and her objections.
But the key here is the word "casually." If there are genuine concerns about Trump's conduct that suggest mental health issues - and of course he's not releasing contemporary medical records, unlike every other presidential candidate in recent history - Willingham made the argument that we can't simply take mental illness out of the frame of discussion. Silencing, she argues, is also stigmatizing. 
So we end up, as so often, looking for nuance. When Trump wildly contradicts himself, flies in and out of rages, says things that are patently untrue, and so forth - I don't think I can flatly tell reporters: Any discussion of mental health is forbidden!

What I'd like is for reporters, and all of us, to be intentional about the way we use language related to disability (and everything else). Being thoughtful about language will solve a lot of these issues related to stigma and discourse, and then we can just focus on beating Trump.

UPDATE: Read Finn on "Wrong does not mean crazy."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Progressivism as seen through Disability Policy

In my second piece for Playboy (safe-for-work but might mention the existence of sex in the click throughs), I wrote about the details of Clinton's disability policy. I wrote:
When Donald Trump took to the stage in South Carolina last November and made fun of a disabled New York Times reporter, he won my vote…for Hillary Clinton.
It wasn’t just that Trump’s behavior was appalling. No, what turned me over to Clinton is that, in the aftermath of Trump’s insult, she began running the most progressive presidential campaign on disability rights issues in U.S. political history. What’s more, once you start looking at her policies across the board, a pattern emerges. Hillary Clinton believes that government can help vulnerable and marginalized individuals. She listens to how such individuals describe their needs and then supports the best policies to meet those needs. It’s a progressive vision worth cheering, but it’s also a truth about her campaign that you might have missed.
So there's two points here. First, Clinton's policies are the most progressive in US presidential political history. In the piece I lay out the details of the policy, compare her to Trump's terrible record (beyond the moment of mocking a disabled reporter last November), and credit the movement for its advances - and, for that matter, the efforts of the Obama administration - as part of the reason Clinton's plans are so well developed.

It's worth celebrating having a presidential candidate who talks about community integration, for example. That's a big deal!

But it's also worth thinking about what this set of policies say about Clinton's progressivism more generally. On foreign policy, I find her pretty hawkish, but when it comes to thinking about how the government can serve vulnerable people, I have to say I've been impressed. She listens (see Ezra Klein's interview and Rebecca Traister's feature on her campaign). She find experts. She develops and supports complex policy solutions to complex problems.

To me, this is what progressivism looks like - a vision of government as helping the most vulnerable achieve equality of opportunity. Not everyone likes progressivism as a governing philosophy, and that's fine, but this is what it looks like when providing the core philosophy for a presidential campaign's domestic policy.

Monday, July 25, 2016

DC Comics' Cyborg: Disabled Black Hero with a New Writer

Superhero (and related) comics are packed full of disability narratives, both good and bad, whether it's the analogy between mutation and disability within the X-Men  (not Professor X, but mutation as disability) or characters who have "real" disabilities of various sorts, though they often deal with them in high-tech ways. I wrote about Daredevil and blindness, here's a top-10 list, and here's a list of lots and lots of disabled comics characters.

Among those characters is Cyborg. He's black and disabled and an important character to many people in my community. Here's some coverage from 2015 of the direction the storyline went and how disability was included. Here's also a really interesting essay on the ways that black disabled superheroes tend to be physically altered to the point that they have trouble fitting in society, whereas white disabled superheroes get to remain fully included.

Last week, the writer Son of Baldwin alerted me to an interview from San Diego Comic Con with the new writer of the series, John Semper. As I read it, he downplayed the disability context of Cyborg.
Kanalz kicked off the presentation with "Cyborg," introducing writer John Semper. The first issue of the series arrives in September, and Semper called the issue "so spectacular you won't want to read anything else." He recounted a conversation he had at the show, where an interviewer called Cyborg disabled. "I've never thought of him as being disabled," said Semper. "He's a superhero. You never think that Kryptonite makes him disabled. I think the biggest change for me in terms of the way I want people to perceive him. He's not crippled in any way. He's going to be doing superheroic thing. We're going to focus in on his personality and his life and in doing so I think that will augment the notion of him as someone we admire. I did this 20 years ago when I reinvented Spider-Man for animation. You take a hero and you find his good qualities and you make him as interesting as possible."
I was concerned about this. It seems to say that "good qualities" would not include disabled. Moreover, it suggested that he saw disability only as impairment - not an unusual position - rather than a core marker of identity. I reached out to him and, to my pleasure and surprise, he wrote back. I've quoted some of our conversation below, with permission.

It turns out that Semper was really talking about the previous Cyborg run, in which he felt disability was used to weaken the character. He wants to shift directions WITHOUT erasing disability.
My comments were actually an extension of my disagreement of how Cyborg has been handled in the previous 12 issues of his comic book.
If we consider him as "disabled," then as a representative of disabled people, he was constantly being portrayed as someone for whom his disability was a major LIABILITY.
What I want to have happen now is to change that perception of him. I want him to be seen as someone for whom his disability is just a given and in no way prevents him from being a true HERO.
I don't want his disability to stigmatize him as being "weak", as it often was in the previous issues.
Semper then talked about his sister, who was blind, and her life of advocacy work. He also acknowledged that his words at Comic Con might not have come out the way he wanted them to, writing:
I'm sorry if my words on the panel seemed to imply the opposite of what I meant. Sometimes under the hot lights, the words don't come out exactly as you want them to. And I appreciated the young woman's question which gave me a chance to clarify my meaning. She and I also spoke immediately after the panel.
The good thing that came of this is that I am now more cognizant of Cyborg's role as a symbol for people with disabilities and will certainly pay better attention to his representing them.
I wrote back to talk a bit about disability as identity, referring him to a piece I wrote about Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, and the current state of assistive technology. Alice frequently likes to say, "We are all cyborgs." I hope Semper reaches out to her and others I recommended as resources, as needed..

Semper finished:
The only thing I can add is that, after thinking about our interchange, it occurred to me that in my second issue of Cyborg, which I wrote many weeks ago (I'm currently writing issue four), I created and introduced a brand new character who is blind, and I didn't even think to mention it to you. And he's somebody who gives Cyborg great advice on how to live with the fears and insecurities that his condition has engendered within him.

In fact, last Monday I had a meeting with Geoff Johns, and Geoff is so excited about this character that he wants to see him become a recurring "mentor" to Vic.
Perhaps, from this dialogue of ours, I might have Vic realize that Cyborg is a symbol for people with disabilities and begin to take that role more seriously.
So that's the interview. I'm enthusiastic about the future of Cyborg.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Abuse of Arnaldo Rios - #CharlesKinsey Shooting

Content Notes: Abuse of an Autistic Individual

On Monday, a police officer shot Charles Kinsey, a black therapist who was trying to help his client - a young Latino man named Arnaldo Rios - not get shot. Rios had walked away from his group home and someone called 911, claiming that a man was suicidal and armed with a gun. Rios, in fact, autistic not suicidal, and was carrying a toy fire truck.

Kinsey got to the scene around the same time as the cops, lay on his back with his arms in the air to show the police he wasn't threatening, and was trying to get Arnaldo to do the same when the police shot him. That's the story we've known. I covered it here for CNN and in two blog entries.

Now here's some new information. UPDATE: Important piece from Miami Herald based on interviews with Rios' family.

First  - The officer was identified and his commander suspended for trying to falsify evidence. No further details yet available.  Notice this rhetoric though, as one of my friends on Facebook pointed out:

Second - The Rios family has a lawyer, disability rights expert Matthew Dietz, who shared a picture of Arnaldo (below) and spoke to me over the phone. Dietz told me the following.

  • Rios left the home holding a truck and Kinsey, with whom he had a close relationship, followed to help.
  • After Rios saw Kinsey get shot, the police handcuffed Rios and put him in the back of a police car for THREE OR FOUR HOURS, handcuffed the entire time. Dietz told me that Rios, as is typical of many autistic individuals, calms himself by stimming - rocking his body and shaking his hands and arms. During those three or four hours, therefore, Rios was both upset at seeing his friend and therapist shot AND prevented from calming himself AND denied any immediate assistance despite everyone knowing they had taken custody of an autistic individual.
  • NOTE FROM ME: If you want to know more about stimming and the abuse of being kept from doing it, from an autistic perspective, read Julia Bascom's essay Quiet Hands
  • Rios was eventually taken to a mental health ward of a local hospital, where he remains, despite them being completely unequipped to address Rios' needs. Rios cannot return to the group home, as earlier attempts left him showing signs of trauma. There are no other suitable facilities in Miami-Dade County to Dietz' knowledge.
Here's the picture, which shows a smiling Latino man holding a teddy bear, sitting on a bed.

Friday, July 22, 2016

911 Call and Charles Kinsey

I have a new piece up at CNN on the shooting of Charles Kinsey, protected a Latino autistic man named Arnaldo Rios [Edit: See below for correction information] and the intersections of racism, ableism, and the #CultOfCompliance.
Kinsey later told reporters, "I was really more worried about him than myself. I was thinking as long as I have my hands up ... they're not going to shoot me."
Then they shot him.
While the specifics of this case are unusual, the general pattern is not. Compliance-based policing -- when police treat noncompliance with their instructions, on its own, as a threat -- puts everyone at some risk.
The piece is about racism and ableism, compliance-based policing like ask-tell-make, and exploring the broader pattern that led to the inexplicable specifics of the incident.

Two things are missing from my CNN essay. First, after I filed, the officer, through his union, has claimed he was shooting at Arnaldo to protect Kinsey. I do not think this is credible, but is rather an attempt to create an "objectively reasonable" standard from which to defend his actions. It's astoundingly brazen but again plays on the ableist idea that people with disabilities, especially non-white individuals, are erratic and prone to violence.

Look at this picture. It's just not objectively reasonable to conclude there was imminent danger and I hope both the department and the legal system agree with me.
Second, though, why did the police arrive at the scene believing there was danger? That's the 911 call which, according to our best information, claimed there was a person armed with a gun contemplating suicide.
  • We don't know who made the call, but we do know that Arnaldo is relatively non-verbal and was holding a toy truck when he wandered off from his home. 
  • Given those facts, how did someone decide he was suicidal and dangerous?
  • I'm guessing - and that's why I couldn't put it on CNN - that this 911 caller was afraid of a Latino acting "odd" who was holding something in his hand, so made the call. 
  • It's possible of course that they were maliciously trying to get someone killed
I don't know how we build systems to prevent this kind of 911 call. There's got to be protections so that callers are safe to phone in suspicions without fear of reprisal, but we've also got to protect civilians from being targeted like this because their race, disability, or other markers of identity make someone uncomfortable.

Reminder: Both John Crawford and Tamir Rice, to pick two names you know, were killed after 911 calls indicated threats where none existed (though Rice's called said 'probably fake').

Correction: The individual's name was widely reported as Rinaldo, but is now reported as Arnaldo Rios. Changed in this and previous posts. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump and his VP as Predicted by Montesquieu

Yesterday, this New York Times story went around on Trump's plans to empower his Vice-President. 
'One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?
When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.
Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?
“Making America great again” was the casual reply.'
In an interview, Mitch McConnell showed he fancied himself, as I put it, Trump's Cardinal Richelieu.
As a historian, I know the story of the foolish but headstrong king surrounded by courtiers fighting for influence. On Facebook, in a discussion on the NYT piece, in fact, Craig McFarlane pointed out that Montesquieu described this pattern exactly in The Spirit of the Laws. The first thing a despot does, Montesquieu says, is appoint a Vizier to run everything, so that the despot can hang out and enjoy the luxuries of power. 
Spirit of the Laws, Book 2, Chapter 1: "a despotic government, that in which a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice."

ibid, Book 2, Chapter 5: "From the nature of despotic power it follows that the single person, invested with this power, commits the execution of it also to a single person. A man whom his senses continually inform that he himself is everything and that his subjects are nothing, is naturally lazy, voluptuous, and ignorant. In consequence of this, he neglects the management of public affairs. But were he to commit the administration to many, there would be continual disputes among them; each would form intrigues to be his first slave; and he would be obliged to take the reins into his own hands. It is, therefore, more natural for him to resign it to a vizir, and to invest him with the same power as himself. The creation of a vizir is a fundamental law of this government."
Meanwhile, Ezra Klein has penned an excellent piece about the dangers Trump poses to the country.  

Charles Kinsey: Cops shoot Black Therapist Protecting Latino Autistic Client

Last night, a new story in the ever evolving evidence for the #CultOfCompliance and the dangers it poses to marginalized people when they encounter police went viral. A police officer in the Miami area shot a black man lying on his back with his hands in the air. The man, Charles Kinsey, is a mental health professional who was trying to keep his client, a Latino autistic man (Arnaldo), from being shot. There's both audio and video. Kinsey is going to be ok.

Note that Arnaldo's ethnicity has not been identified and I am making assumptions.

News coverage with video, from the local station (ABC 7) that broke it:

My tweetstorm starts here:
Here's how I parse this incident.

1. "Someone" calls police because there's a big Latino guy with a gun contemplating suicide.

But the man was in fact just out in the street with a toy train.

2. Kinsey, a mental health professional, knows this is potentially a deadly situation for the autistic man, because a) police are likely to perceive brown-skinned people (especially but not exclusively) with disabilities as not complying properly in the face of police commands* and b) police are trained to take non-compliance as a threat.  So he goes to his client and lays down on his back, raising his arms in the air, both as a signal to the officer AND as a way to show Arnaldo** what to do to survive this.

*Sentence edited lightly for clarity that this is about police perceptions. 7/21 8:20 PM CST.
** Correction: The individual's name was widely reported as Rinaldo, but is now reported as Arnaldo Rios. Changed in this and previous posts. 

But also the officer comes in loaded with stigma that people with disabilities are unpredictable and dangerous, likely to lash out. 

3. And then the officer shoots Kinsey. Kinsey asks why and the officer says he didn't know, and that's likely to provide some legal accountability in this rare case, as the officer won't be able to retroactively claim he felt reasonably threatened (esp with video and audio).

And then what lessons will we learn? Unless this is a pathway to reconsider compliance-based policing as a norm, nothing will change except for getting one officer off the street.

4. After shooting him, Kinsey was put in handcuffs. Why? I have no idea - is it policy to put people you accidentally shoot in handcuffs to see if later you can construct a scenario in which shooting him was reasonable? Here's where the "threat" argument will go:
Police said the autistic man had something in his hand, but Kinsey's lawyer said it was a toy fire truck and could not be mistaken for a gun.
"It is not silver. It is not shiny. It is not black. It doesn't look like a gun," Napoleon said. "In fact, you can see the autistic guy playing with it."
5. The language around autism itself in this is pretty indicative of the ways that Arnaldo was pre-emptively constructed as a dangerous threat:
Clint Bower, who runs the group home, told Local 10 News that Kinsey was shot three times in the leg and that the man he was caring for is non-verbal and has "relatively low function."
Function-discourse is a problem. But also this from the cops:
“Arriving officers attempted to negotiate with two men on the scene, one of whom was later identified as suffering from autism,” said North Miami Police in a statement. “At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon, striking the employee.”
Arnaldo does not "suffer" from autism. He was suffering from police officers threatening him.

From Gawker's coverage, here's a still of the video. It shows a black man lying on his back with his arms in the air next to a man dressed in grey clothing, sitting cross-legged. Critically, no one is near them. As near as I can tell, there's no reason for the officers to even have their weapons drawn, though clearly I don't have a sense of the whole tactical situation.

See above for image description

This is not like any case I've seen before in its specifics. I've never read about police shooting the mental health professional who was clearly identifying himself AND telling the officers that the client didn't have a gun. But the generalities, the ways in which the #CultOfCompliance feeds into this incident, those I read about every day. 

Follow the "cult of compliance" tag at the bottom of the post for more.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wisconsin Senate Race: How Does the ADA apply to Private School Special Ed Programs?

There's a disability-related twist in the Wisconsin Senate race.

Ron Johnson, as I understand it, has advocated both for special-ed private-school vouchers and keeping the federal government from inspecting such programs. Russ Feingold is against vouchers and, if we're going to have them, at least advocates for them being regulated.
Wisconsin U.S. Senate campaign rivals Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold disagree over Johnson’s plan to limit federal enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act at taxpayer-funded private voucher schools.
Johnson, the incumbent Republican, said his proposed amendment to a spending bill would curtail U.S. Justice Department probes into disabled students’ rights at the voucher institutions. The plan comes after a four-year investigation of Milwaukee's voucher program... 
Johnson denied his measure would harm disabled Children. But Democratic challenger Russ Feingold accused Johnson, in effect, of saying disabled students at voucher schools don't deserve equal protection.
If this develops, I might take a trip across the border, eat some cheese curds, and try to learn more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Melania Trump does not advocate respect for people with whom she disagrees

By now you've heard about Melania Trump plagiarizing Michelle Obama. Omissions are as telling as inclusions. Consider the following:

Here's Michelle Obama. Absences highlighted, instead of copying.

"Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them."

Here's Melania Trump:

"From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect."

Notice how Trump cuts the part about "even if you don't know/agree with them."

Now that's a tell. 

Common Words: How does Trump's Plagiarism Happen

Last night, as you know, Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama. Here's a link.

How does this actually happen? I'm assuming no speechwriter conspiracy. I'm also assuming Trump didn't write it herself, despite earlier claims, because the campaign has since talked about her "team of writers."

When my students end up plagiarizing, it's usually not due to attempting to sneak something by me, but through a combination of ineptitude and panic. The deadlines are approaching, they aren't sure what to write, so they skim the internet for ideas. They start grabbing a sentence here, a sentence there, and then they change some verbs around to make it "original." When it shows up in their final essay, it rings out to the professional grade as not having been written by a student.

Why wouldn't Melania Trump, or really any writer, begin the process by reading the speeches of previous potential First Ladies introducing their husbands? If she came to me to write a speech, it's what I'd do! You gotta get to know the genre first.

But then as a writer, you need to put that aside and create a draft wholly independent from the source material, because you're aware of how easy it is to plagiarize. And you check and re-check.

Today, like a student called into my office, the Trump campaign will spin this as unintentional, using "common words," claiming it's sexism, and otherwise try to move past it.

Honestly, the plagiarism doesn't matter. What does matter is the additional evidence of the utter ineptitude of the Trump team.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#CultOfCompliance - Autistic Boy Tasered by Police

The White House is hosting a forum today on disability and criminal justice. They are announcing the "AVID prison project." Here's a press release with live-streaming information. Here's a useful summary from the Center for American Progress. I'll write more tomorrow, plan to watch the stream as much as possible, and will be engaged on Twitter.

Over the weekend, I've been following the case of an autistic teen who was tasered in Burbank, CA. His mother was pulled over in a traffic stop (no reason for the stop has been announced, to my knowledge) when the officer noticed the teen wasn't wearing a seatbelt. The officer demanded compliance and the situation escalated. Here's coverage from the LA Times and an interview with Tawnya Nevarez, the boy's mother.

Lots to unpack. Overall, my take remains: Compliance-based policing endangers people with disabilities.  People of color are at much higher risk of encountering police and being forced to comply. The #1 reform I propose for policing is to teach officers NOT to take non-compliance as justifying escalation absent other threat indicators (and to hold them accountable when they ignore this training).

Here are the details:
In an interview earlier this week, the boy’s mother Tawnya Nevarez said through tears that she repeatedly warned the officer that her son was autistic while apologizing for his unresponsiveness.
“How is it that this routine seatbelt traffic stop turns into a parent’s worst nightmare?” said attorney and autism advocate Areva Martin. “Son on the ground, pepper-sprayed and tased, despite her consistent pleas about his developmental disorder.”
So let's start here: This is a Mexican family. An officer noticed there was a teen in the car not wearing a seatbelt, so pulled them over. Would this happen to a white family? It's hard to prove the counterfactual, but I instantly engage such incidents through the lens of the routine use of traffic stops to over police minority families. As we saw in the Philando Castile killing, such moments of contact can easily escalate into violence. When disability is involved, moreover, the demands for compliance rapidly become incredibly dangerous. I'm glad the boy wasn't shot.

Moreover, I'm struck by the seatbelt issues. My son has had a hard time with seatbelts at various stages of his development, often - we suspected - related to sensory discomfort of the belt pressing against his chest. I don't know whether that's in play here, but it could be.
According to Burbank police, the officer stopped Nevarez just before 4:30 p.m. near Burbank Boulevard and Hollywood Way after noticing the front passenger, the teenage boy, was not wearing a seatbelt.
The teen told the officer that he forgot to put it on, while his mother, the driver, said she was in a rush to get somewhere, police said.
During the stop, the teen began to argue with his mother and the officer, at one point indicating that he wanted to fight the officer "hand-to-hand," said Burbank Police Sgt. Claudio Losacco.
Nevarez said Wednesday that during the stop, she asked the officer to step back so she could calm her son down, but the officer would not move.
According to police, the officer, who's been with the department for four years, explained that everyone is required to wear a seatbelt.
We need to hear the audio recording. I'd like to know when the mother said "autism" and how the officer reacted.
After the boy interrupted him with “inflammatory dialogue,” the officer decided to "deescalate" the situation by returning the driver's license to the mother with a warning instead of a citation, Losacco said.
The officer then asked the teenager to put his seatbelt on. He reportedly responded that he would only do so when the officer walked away. When the officer stepped back, the boy put on his seatbelt.
According to police, sometime after the boy put his seatbelt on, he removed it and told the officer he was going to "fight him right now," kicking the car door open into the officer's knees. He then reportedly dared the officer to call for backup while his mother tried to keep him in the car.
Things get out of control.
Eventually he got out of the car, police said, took off his sweatshirt and approached the officer in a fighting stance, telling the officer to pepper spray him.
The officer used pepper spray, but it didn't have an effect on the teenager, who then punched the officer multiple times, knocking off his glasses, Losacco said. At that point, the officer shot him with a Taser and handcuffed him.
Nevarez, a single mother of three, said that her 14-year-old daughter was also pepper-sprayed, and her 3-year-old niece was also in the car. Police said the teenage girl got out of the car during her brother’s confrontation with police and was struck by residual pepper spray.
After the incident, we have the following:
After the boy was medically cleared at a local hospital, he was admitted to a mental health facility, police said. Police said they have not independently verified the boy’s disorder.
On Friday, the teen was reportedly booked on suspicion of assaulting a peace officer, fighting in public, obstructing a peace officer and battery of a police officer.
“The goal with the charges is not to prosecute this child, it is not to incarcerate him, it is not to cause him further grief,” Losacco said. “It is to actually to get him some services.”
"Was admitted" is a very euphemistic way of saying the child was incarcerated in a mental health facility.  It's not a jail, but it's still incarceration. And then this "get him some services" line - Is there any reason to think he's not receiving all the services he needs, and that absent this police officer, he'd be fine?

Bottom Line: We need the audio recording. There's likely going to be a lawsuit, so it'll come out. Often, police escalate in the face of non-compliance, which doesn't seem to be the case here. Instead, it seems that the officer made a stop (for legal reasons) and, even when informed of the child's diagnosis, ordered compliance. When the child got belligerent, the officer did try to disengage, but by then it was too late. I suspect he'll be exonerated in any suit.

But even without knowing the details, we can know this: Compliance-based policing endangers people with disabilities.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ken Burns' Historians on Donald Trump: Old white guys mostly

This all started because noted cranky scold Stanley Fish wrote a New York Times piece chiding historians for having opinions about Donald Trump as historians. Here, read Erik Loomis take it apart over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Honestly, the original essay makes no coherent argument about why it's not ok to use one's expertise to make arguments and is best dismissed as another example of Fish's mastery of the fine art of concern trolling.

Fish wrote his piece because Ken Burns, the filmmaker and historian, started a Facebook page called Historians on Donald Trump. It presents 21 history professors, mostly via video, assessing Donald Trump. The video currently at the top, by David McCullough, has 2.7 million views. Others have views ranking from around 5K to 500k or so. This is not a minor endeavor. Each post begins by listing the credentials of the interview subject (which is what irked Fish), and they are super impressive. Pulitzer prizes. Best sellers. Distinguished titles at elite universities.

There are only 3 women, one of whom is a Latina (Vicki Lynn Ruiz)*
There is one Latino (Albert Camarillo)*

There is not a single African-American historian (not to mention an Asian-American historian, anyone identifying as a Muslim, or anything else to diversify this collection of scholars).

Ken Burns is a savvy, rich, well-connected image maker. While the profession skews white and male, especially in US presidential history, there are in fact many people with superb credentials at elite universities who are 1) not white men and 2) would be powerful voices speaking against Trump. I hope, if Burns continues this project of lending his platform and expertise to historians seeking to make public comment, he'll diversify.

EDIT: Historian Leah Shopkow pointed me to the "Trump syllabus" at the Chronicle of Higher Ed which a  brilliant letter to the editors called, "As white as the man himself." A very analogous situation and, from the letter, links to resources for more diverse comments on the Trump phenomenon.

* Note: I don't know these two historians and am making assumptions about how they identify.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Class and the Flipped Classroom

There's a new pro-lecture article in The Atlantic that, I think, makes the classic mistake of focusing on means (lecturing) rather than ends (what learning is taking place). Rather than rebut it, I once again recommend Derek Bruff's "In Defense of Continuous Exposition" (P.S. He's not actually defending it).

There is, however, an argument that lectures are better for non-elite students. Here's what the author, Christine Gross-Loh, says:
“There is a lot to the concept of a ‘flipped classroom,’ but it is also very much an elite-institution idea,” says Hacsi, referring to a model in which students view lectures outside of class and focus on homework elements inside of it. “You are assuming the students are full-time students who can spend a lot of time outside of class working on what they are working on. We have students who could do well pretty much anywhere if they didn’t have a 25-hour-a-week job. You don’t know going into a class who will have time outside of class to work on the material.”
Gross-Loh is quoting Tim Hacsi, a prof at U-Mass Boston. This notion that flipped classrooms are only for elites is, I believe, exactly wrong.

Elite college education remains focused around the seminar and the discussion group. Elite families can afford to encourage their child to acquire a broad and stimulating liberal arts and sciences education, knowing that the habits of mind and learning skills they acquire will enable them to compete in nearly any field of study. Students with less means get pushed into pre-professional programs where they acquire useful skills for the jobs of today; it's less clear to me about whether they are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. Article after article cites the importance of critical thinking, rather than specific job skills, in climbing the job ladder. It's not because poetry or medieval history or philosophy are, in content, so important to life-long learning, but that working in these disciplines develop the skills to adapt to new circumstances - whether in personal life or in the job market.

By flipping a classroom, you take the content acquisition out of the class and push students to work on that on their own, then do the critical thinking and analysis in active ways within the classroom.

Vast numbers of studies show active learning works best. Other studies show that lectures are only effective for students who have already learned how to learn - i.e. elite students. I'm a good student with a powerful memory. I always was. I'm dyslexic and had issues taking coherent notes, but could sit in a room, absorb information, jot down a few words here and there, and construct a mnemonic that would serve. Today, I like to listen to lectures using my laptop and live-tweet ideas, build outlines of the talk in a word processing document, and lock in all the details. I love lectures! But listening to a lecture and extracting useful information is a learning skill that requires active practice and training, much as students have to be trained in critical reading, written analysis, or oral debate.

One of the reasons I value working at Dominican is that we provide an intense liberal learning environment to students who tend to come from non-elite backgrounds. Many are first generation students. We are rapidly becoming a majority Latinx institution (for undergrads anyway). We give them great advising, we don't let people fall through the cracks (some still fall, but not unnoticed), and we greatly exceed our expected graduation rate. I'm happy if the people in fields who generally relied on lecture flip their classes, but I also know that every Dominican student will spend a lot of time in seminars and small classes as they complete their core requirements.

The "flipped classroom" movement is an attempt to bring traditional liberal arts benefits of discussion and active learning into the non-elite classroom. In fact, the flipped classroom - with its focus on videos which might be watched on any device, anywhere - is extremely useful for busy students. I think they many are far more likely to watch a video than to do the reading, which takes more quiet and concentration.

Lectures are fine. People learn stuff from lectures. They just learn more from actively working with material. We know this. But it's heading towards late summer, so the pedagogical thinkpieces demanding we return to a lost golden age of education (one that is, I think, racially constructed) must flow.

As I said on twitter:
Update: Here's a good response from Robert Talbert that deals with the misuse of data by the author, with promise of more to come.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

New Ruderman White Paper: Disability and TV - Danny Woodburn

The Ruderman Foundation has just released a new white paper, in collaboration with actor Danny Woodburn, on people with disabilities on scripted TV. What they found wasn't surprising, but it's also not good.

You can read the white paper here. Coverage from Variety here. An LA Times op-ed by the Woodburn and Jay Ruderman here.

There are three related issues.

1) There aren't a lot of characters with disabilities.
2) Of those characters, most aren't played by disabled actors.
3) Few disabled actors get considered for roles not specifically written as disabled.

Furthermore (and this is me, not Woodburn/Kopic), when we do get a disabled character, they tend to be cast in isolation.

Glee, for example, had 2 disabled characters: Becky and Artie. Artie, infamously, was played by a non-disabled actor so he could have ONE dance sequence in the entire run of the show. Becky and Artie never interacted as disabled (to my knowledge. I can't tell you I watched the whole show, but would just drop in when folks told me there was a disability-related scene to watch).

I'm super-excited about Speechless, for example. I've seen the pilot (and will write on it in August), and the character JJ - a nonverbal young man with Cerebral Palsy - is great. He's funny, sarcastic, opinionated, and finds solidarity with a black man in a completely white rich suburb over being tokens. I think it has a ton of potential. But will JJ exist in isolation, or will we get a representation of disability community? We've had disabled characters in sitcoms before - Corky (Chris Burke) in Life Goes On and Geri Tyler (Geri Jewell) in Facts of Life. I haven't watched a ton of either show, but I gather they were pretty isolated among a broader fully abled population of characters.

I'm watching Breaking Bad now, which is an interesting show when it comes to disability (I couldn't bring myself to watch it for personal reasons when it came out). RJ Mitte is a great character, but again, he exists as a person with a disability in isolation.

I'd like to see Speechless do better.

That's one of the things I've really valued about Switched at Birth. It's always been committed to showing the Deaf community and in its last season has engaged with issues of cross-disability identity (sparked by a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome for the fetus of one of the characters). It's about both difference (esp between parents and children) and community across differences.

So I'm pleased to see the new white paper and the broader focus on issues of representation. How we portray disability in our fiction shapes what we imagine to be possible in reality. TV needs to do better.

EDIT: Vilissa Thompson (mentioned by permission), founder of #DisabilityTooWhite on Twitter, asked about engagements with race, sexuality, and gender + disability in this document. It's a great question and an issue too easily ignored. I think this white paper heads in that direction by asking for disability to be included in broader diversity conversations and they include interviews with disabled actors of color, for example. Their stats, though, are based on assessing disabled character? yes/no and then disabled actor? yes/no.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DoJ and AYLP: Chicago

The Department of Justice is in Chicago investigating the police force, in hopes of eventually developing a consent decree to help reform the local police department. Consent decrees are a useful tool, though actually effecting change after such a decree is no simple matter.

Yesterday, the DoJ took community testimony about policing in Chicago. They expected a lot of anger and a lot of discussion of racism, and they certainly got it. What I'm not sure they expected is a lot of talk about disability.

But Advance Youth Leadership Power organized an action before the event, where disabled Chicagoans first spoke outside, then they came inside and shared their experiences. Not only did the DoJ hear about disability, but I suspect many other individuals who wanted to testify gained some new perspective on the disability lens. For example:
I tweeted the hearing (mostly) under the hashtag #DoJChicago. I expect/hope to use that hashtag a lot over the next few months as they do their work, and we do ours.

There are two related missions.

1) Teach the disability community that they need to be concerned about police violence.
2) Teach the police reform community that they need to think about disability.

Yesterday was a good day for both efforts, thanks to the leadership of Candace Coleman and the rest of the AYLP team. Congratulations to them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Disability and Policing: Knives and the Myth of the 21 Foot Rule

Reminder for Chicagoans: Tonight at 5 at Truman College - testify about police killings of people with disabilities. Stephon Watts; Laquan McDonald; so many more. Facebook event page here.


NOTE: Post below has been edited for tone and clarity (9:30 7/12)

Police killed a man armed with a knife in Sacramento on Monday. It's the kind of daily killing of a person with a disability that I've been tracking for years now. On average, there's one or two nationwide every day. Sometimes, probably mostly, the officers perform admirably but still have to use lethal force. Sometimes the officers perform poorly but legally and use lethal force. Sometimes the officers perform poorly and illegally - though they may not be held accountable - and use lethal force. I do not know the details of this case, yet.

Here's the story. I want to just focus on our language around knives.
William Portanova, a Sacramento defense attorney and former state and federal prosecutor, said officers confronted with deadly force such as a knife are "immediately authorized" to use deadly force.
Someone with a knife even 20 feet away can quickly close that gap, he said, while less-lethal alternatives like a nightstick or Taser only work at such close range.
"Both require being closer than might be safe and neither one of them is guaranteed to stop the threat," said Portanova, who has previously represented officers involved in shootings. "The choices that an officer has to make in this situation are made in fraction of a second and examined, potentially, for years."
[EditedThis statement that the presence of a knife within 20 feet automatically justifies the use of lethal force emerges from the "21-foot rule." It turns out that according to many experts in use of force, it's not a rule at all.

Developed in the 80s, the 21-foot rule proposes that a person with a knife  can travel 21 feet and stab an officer before they can draw their gun and fire.

[edited] Although certainly true in specific cases, it's not a rule. What it is,  according to numerous police experts, is it's a mytha myth, and a myth. Sometimes you need more than 21 feet to be safe. Sometimes, you need no distance at all to be safe. It's all situational. Moreover, I've been seeing the 21-foot "rule" applied to other weapons too: a camera, handcuffs, a radio, a flashlight, pen-knives, a screwdriver, and so forth.

Quotes from the above articles (all from law enforcement writers):

From PoliceMag:
Actually, there are no forensically proven facts that I am aware of that specifically verify or conclusively establish that a suspect armed with an edged weapon will more likely than not be able to seriously injure or kill an officer armed with a sidearm on all occasions and circumstances. The truth is that the 21-Foot Rule should not be considered to be an absolute rule at all because there are too many variables involved at this point to call it a "rule." Let's discuss them.
From Cop in the Hood: (CW: Ableist language)
Here's the thing: most people police face with knifes are not well trained in "edged-weapon combat." They are A) crazy or B) cutting up their loved one. Sometimes both. But police rarely if ever face a trained evil ninja out to assassinate a police officer caught unaware (honestly, there are far easier ways to assassinate a police officer, if you so choose). So basically you have this whole police paranoia based on a situation thatnever happens.

I checked Officer Down and, since 2000, could find just four officers on patrol killed by an assailant with a bladed weapon: one domestic, one EP (aka: EDP or mental case), and two fatal fights after a foot pursuit. As you might guess, not one of these assailants was an a trained stealth ninja.
From PoliceOne:
The 21-Foot Rule was formulated by timing subjects beginning their headlong run from a dead stop on a flat surface offering good traction and officers standing stationary on the same plane, sidearm holstered and snapped in. The FSRC has extensively measured action and reaction times under these same conditions. Among other things, the Center has documented the time it takes officers to make 20 different actions that are common in deadly force encounters. Here are some of the relevant findings that the FSRC applied in reevaluating the 21-Foot Rule:
Note - this last piece emphasizes that sometimes you need MORE than 21-feet. It's a very pro-cop site helping cops learn how to justify the use of lethal force. But even it debunks this myth.

The presence of a knife, on its own, cannot justify the use of lethal force. It's one of the most common ways in which people with disabilities are killed, rather than stunned, disarmed, talked down, given space and time to calm down, or otherwise engaged in a non-lethal way.

The 21-foot rule is a myth that gets disabled people killed.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Ethics in Journalism: Autism and Fear

Late last week, The Guardian published a piece by the mother of an autistic boy with a clickbait headline that she's afraid her 14-year-old son will kill her. You can Google the piece if you like. She describes a child who is prone to violence, mourns the lack of respite care, and claims to fear for her life and the life of the rest of her family.

The piece is descriptive, offering a portrait of her life, rather than persuasive. It doesn't ask you, the reader, to do anything. It doesn't ask the government (UK, I think) to implement more respite policies explicitly. The woman does suggest that she needs more respite care - and surely she does - but respite care a few more nights or afternoons a week is not a response to what is being presented here as a life-threatening situation.

Again: I have nothing but sympathy for this woman. I also have sympathy for her son, who is not given any kind of opportunity to be represented here. All stories deserve a chance to be told, but told how? With what consequence? If you are going to risk spreading stigma against autistic people, which is the major risk here, what's the payoff for doing so other than clicks and the pornographic feeling of feeling sympathy for someone else's tragedy?

Kit Mead (follow them on Twitter!), who is autistic, wrote a response: "I Fear for My Fellow Autistic People." Please go read the whole thing. In it, they point out that while autistic people killing their parents is rare (it has happened, for example in 2009), caregivers killing their autistic children is distressingly common.
And also what I fear almost more than anything, the murder of another autistic or disabled person by their caregivers or family members. Let’s talk about filicide. Let’s talk about how the same story occurs over and over again. A disabled person is murdered by a caregiver or family member. The media picks up the story. Sometimes they report on it as a mercy killing. They almost always talk about the burden of caring for a disabled person. The victim is a throwaway in their own story. Many people have already explained this in countless blog posts. It should be beating a dead horse, but it’s really not. Many people act on their wishes. I have heard of far less, if any, killings of caregivers by autistic people than killings of autistic people by caregivers. This is why I fear the death of autistic people at the hands of caregivers and family members far, far more.
I don't think The Guardian made the correct ethical choice in publishing this story in this way. It's not going to result in policy changes that make this woman's life better. It is going to increase stigma around autism.

Go read Mead's post and note especially the outstanding list of resources at the bottom.

Action: Contact the Guardian Reader's Editor over Email or Twitter.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lou Hayes on Cops and Concealed Weapons

I'm going to be writing more about police reform and gun control later today, but first I wanted to understand how police /should/ approach someone when they say, "I'm carrying a concealed weapon and I have a permit." Obviously, that's a moment in which a police officer might quickly escalate or even (as seems to have happened in the Castile killing) panic, but that's not optimal.

Without asking him to weigh in on Castile, I turned to Lou Hayes, a police officer in my general area of Chicagoland and a member of the area's SWAT team too. We disagree on many things, but I've routinely found his insights into police reform to be incredibly perceptive and important.

Here's what he said (published in full with his permission):
America is an armed society - both legally and illegally armed. Do our law enforcement officers receive the appropriate training to police this armed society? I say no.
The message on Second Amendment rights within policing is somewhat conflicted. On one hand, most cops (my own experiences) are pro-2ndA. On the other, cops are programmed to shoot people (and targets) who are holding guns. In police training across the country, the "gun" is the most frequent stimulus prompting officers to shoot...whether in scenario training or marksmanship drills.
I can't answer the questions, "what's the proper protocol for investigating a man with a gun call?" or "How should a cop interact with a concealed carry permit holder?" There are no such checklists. Checklists, in these circumstances, should be shunned at all costs.
But we do need to give guidance to our police officers in how to THINK through the various situations that can arise. Only the quick thinking cop can truly navigate these complex situations that balance safety, Constitutional rights, and the enforcement of laws (gun or other).
Did someone call 911 on: A man with gun-in-hand in a public park? A grocery store customer whose shirt rode up, exposing a holstered pistol? A man eating in a restaurant whose ankle holster can be seen from across the room? A gun-owning homeowner scaring off a would-be home invader?
Are we talking about a police officer seeing a bulge (or "imprinting") through a tight shirt? A heavy pocket? A driver of a car who self-reports as being an armed security guard? A concealed carry license holder? An off-duty cop? Finding a hidden gun while searching a car on a traffic stop?

In order for a gun to be a legitimate threat against a police officer, it must be: 1. Present and accessible. 2. By a person who intends to do harm to the officer.

How do police officers determine the INTENTIONS of the (armed) person? Body language? Behavioral clusters? Facial expressions? Words spoken?
How do police officers employ the safest strategies and tactics? How do they control their own approach, body language, tone, attitude, posture, positioning, and social skills to ensure their commands or requests are not only clear, firm, and unmistakeable...but also provide for the best chances of understanding and compliance?
One thing I firmly hold is that people respond better to cool and collected than loud and panicked. As police officers, we also do our best thinking when we slow down, remain calm ourselves, hunt for information, process that data, and make informed decisions.

But first, maybe we have to reprogram ourselves and our training to match reality: not everyone is trying to kill me.
Thanks Lou. You can learn more about his work at The Virtus Group

Chicago Action: Testify - Police Violence Against Disabled Chicagoans of Color

On Tuesday night, The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will host a hearing on police violence in Chicago. Advance Youth Leadership Power - a group focused on organizing disabled youth of color - will lead an action before it to focus on the intersection of police violence against people of color and people with disabilities.

I am not involved in the organization, but will be in attendance to witness and support.

Here's a PDF of the flyer.

Text reads:

The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will host a hearing on police violence in Chicago. They opened an investigation on the Chicago Police Department due to recent instances of unnecessary violence, including Laquan McDonald, Quintonio LeGrier, and Brandon Bragg.

Advance Youth Leadership Power (AYLP) will be there to testify; the mentioned victims are not only people of color, but also in the disability community. Join us in urging DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s office to put an end to CPD’s unpunished assault on people of color with disabilities.

For more information and accommodation requests, contact Mayra, Candace, or TJ at or 312-640-2128.


For more information on police violence and disability - start here.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

History: Fear, Racism, and Guns

On Friday afternoon, one of Playboy's editors asked me to write about the gun violence and policing we'd seen over the past few days. My piece is here (Warning - it's Playboy, so while there's no nudity, there's plenty of reference to sex on the site): In the piece, I tried to lay out some of the interlocking histories of racism, gun violence, and fear-mongering that come together to put us in this spot:

I'm most proud of the parts of the piece that pull out pieces of our history - just pieces, of course, given that this is a single essay - and thought I would paste a selection here:
Racism, Slavery and Gun Ownership
All three have long been inextricably linked, first in the rights of slave owners to bear arms, then by the taking away of arms from freed African-Americans after the Civil War. In the 1960s the NRA repeated this process by celebrating the disarming of black civilians. African-American men have long been presented to white American culture as dangerous, whether armed or not. Lawrence Vogelman, after the Rodney King trial, wrote about the “Big Black Man Syndrome,” the ways in which our images and language promote the idea that black men are especially scary. We saw a recent manifestation of that language in Darren Wilson’s description of Michael Brown as a “demon.” ...
In the 1980s the National Rifle Association decided to shift from promoting its cause through wholesome images of hunters and smiling (armed) children to emphasizing the use of firearms to ward of an onslaught of rapists and robbers. They weren’t alone. The Willie Horton ad–and more importantly the GOP decision to hype Horton as a way to attack Dukakis–helped George H. W. Bush become president, a message that other political hopefuls didn’t miss.
The racial aspects of the War on Drugs long promoted the idea that black communities needed to be heavily policed. “Broken Windows” policing, one aspect of the War on Drugs, leads to over-policing, criminalizing people for minor offenses and racial profiling...

The War on Drugs was joined by the War on Terror, both presenting endless opportunities for merchants, pro-gun activists and politicians to sell fear...police have become increasingly militarized both in attitude and equipment. Fear ratchets up. Gun sales boom.
The whole piece is here.  Here's a good piece from The Guardian that covers much of the same ground.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The NRA and Philando Castile (and Dallas): I Welcome Their Hypocrisy

Throughout the day yesterday, as people on social media mourned the death of Philando Castile and expressed their outrage at his killer, I saw one constant thread: People pointing out the hypocrisy of the NRA. Numerous articles appeared talking about the ways in which the NRA's call for the broadest view of the 2nd Amendment doesn't seem to apply to black people (including from principled libertarians). This is all true, they are hypocrites.

It made me think, though - what if the NRA did issue a statement on Castile? What if, now that black individuals bearing semi-automatic or automatic rifles (probably) shot cops in Dallas, the NRA got behind an assault weapon ban?

My response - I welcome their hypocrisy. Please stay silent.

I am a long time critic of the proliferation of firearms in our society, writing for CNN about violence on college campuses/guns on college campuses in particular. Throughout, I have recognize that there is no tragedy that could lead the NRA to support any type of gun control measure. Sandy Hook didn't. Nothing could. Therefore, I do not seek to persuade, but to marginalize.

The NRA has long deployed racist ideology to make white America afraid of black America, and thus convince white people to buy firearms. At absolute best, the NRA would seek to separate Castile from the hundreds of other black victims of state violence. To say - this man was an unjust victim. To say - this man had his second amendment rights violated. And then to ignore the broader issues.

The problem with America's police, from a policy standpoint, is not that they treat CCW holders too aggressively, but that use of force standards trains officers to treat the mere possibility of a threat as an actual threat.

We have two overlapping problems: Police violence. Proliferation of firearms. The NRA will help with neither.

Stay silent, NRA. I welcome your hypocrisy.

Some of my essays on guns:

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Second-Shift Labor for People with Disabilities

Here's an essay courtesy of @amaditalks on Twitter on the ways that, when you're "sick," as the author puts it, work compounds on work.

Today I met a man named Robert. He stopped by to ask how long a sale price on a can of Folgers was supposed to last, and we ended up chatting for a good ten or fifteen minutes — the line piled up behind me, but I didn’t give a damn. Robert was in a wheelchair, for whatever reason, and was there to pick up his medication, whatever it was. He got his “paycheck” on the third of every month, and only the third (read “paycheck,” there, as Social Security disability check) but right now he was fighting with Verizon, who apparently shorted him half a hundred dollars worth of minutes on his phone, and he was going back-and-forth with them to get the situation righted, and anyway he wouldn’t be able to come back for his coffee til then. I was nodding and exclaiming the whole time as he was describing how much fighting he had to do — to get his transportation to the doctor, to work, to the grocery store; to get his medicine filled correctly and on time; to keep his welfare benefits flowing smoothly (there is apparently a very common mistake that gets made on his account every couple months, and he then has to make a dozen calls here and there to get things patched up, and then a few weeks later some new worker makes the same mistake again, and…) etc. etc. etc.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

TSA and Disability: The Need for Intersectionality

Over the weekend and yesterday on the blog, I started collecting experiences with the TSA in the wake of the awful viral story from Memphis. It's a classic case of the #CultOfCompliance, and I expect to be writing more about this topic in due time. I hope, though, that as we advocate for change, we do so for ALL disabled individuals, and we focus on those most likely to be endangered by state use-of-force (including the TSA).

Which leads me to this Open Letter to the TSA Administrator from August, 2014, by Emily Munson, [EDIT: which she linked to in her more recent piece from July 1, 2016. I did not dig this up, but was led to it from her own recent writing].

Munson is a right-wing blogger for CDRNYS, tracking the election, but this is an older post [Edit: At CDR's request, I am noting this post was written for MDA, a different organization]. It argues against the searching of white, disabled, individuals by the TSA on the grounds that they are not terrorists. It explicitly supports racial profiling, instead.

I just want to say this:
  • I oppose racial profiling. 
  • I oppose the expansion of the surveillance state. 
  • A call for disability rights that promotes racial profiling and expansion of surveillance is not my movement.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TSA and the #CultOfCompliance - an ongoing project

I'm interested in all the ways the "Cult of Compliance," my term for the collective way that our society promotes and rewards compliance to authority, protects authority figures who treat compliance as sacred, and criminalizes noncompliance, emerges in our society. Disability, in particular, exposes the manifestations of the cult of compliance, while people with disabilities become radically endangered when assumptions about typical minds and bodies shape the rules with which one must comply.

Over the weekend, this horrible story alleging violence at the Memphis airport (based on a new lawsuit) went viral:
Hannah Cohen set off the metal detector at a security checkpoint at the Memphis International Airport, and she was led away for additional screening, reported WREG-TV.
“They wanted to do further scanning, (but) she was reluctant — she didn’t understand what they were about to do,” said her mother, Shirley Cohen.
Cohen said she tried to tell agents with the Transportation Security Administration that her 19-year-old daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed and easily confused — but she said police kept her away from the security agents.
The confused and terrified young woman tried to run away, her mother said, and agents violently took her to the ground.
“She’s trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor,” Cohen said. “There was blood everywhere.”
Two things:

The TSAs response was that disabled individuals or their families/caregivers can call ahead. I've spoken to a lot of folks who have called ahead, but it hasn't worked especially well for them. More importantly, no one should have to call ahead to be guaranteed their fundamental civil rights (more on that here and here).

Second, when the mother started talking about disability, that should start an immediate process to provide reasonable accommodations. It might not be reasonable to just let her through, sure, but it's damn well reasonable to let her mother approach, to back up, to de-escalate, to create space.

I am actively seeking more stories about the TSA and disability, positive or negative. Feel free to post in comments or email me.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Alice Wong and Reclaiming "Inspiration"

Yesterday, NBC News profiled Alice Wong and the Disability Visibility Project. Go read it!

I am genuinely inspired by Alice Wong. With neither budget nor celebrity, she's created an vibrant, accessible, community of people with disabilities, family members, and allies. She's told stories and made it possible for others to tell their stories. She works constantly to promote disability issues both within the community - building networks - and for the broader public via her writing and Twitter. Most recently, she's collaborated with Gregg Beratan and Andrew Pulrang to create Crip The Vote, which I believe has had a discernable impact on the 2016 presidential election.

Wong inspires me to work hard, to center the voices of disabled individuals and to make sure that those voices are as diverse as possible - both in terms of their diagnoses and their other markers of identity.

I write this because "inspiration," as you likely know, has a bad reputation in the disability community (my pieces on inspiration porn here, here, and here, with links to the many other wonderful writers within those). So often, both the professional media and social media promote that idea that to be disabled and merely to exist is inspirational, that to serve disabled individuals with or without consent is inspirational. It's demeaning. It's dehumanizing. As a community, we've come to reject that whole notion of inspiration.

But true inspiration - when one is inspired by the actions of others to work harder, to be better - is a beautiful thing. A year ago, I interviewed the legendary Judy Heumann, one of the earliest high profile activists in the history of the modern disability rights movement, and she talked about having been inspired by Ed Roberts, another legend. Then she walked back the term "inspirational" a little, and I thought - it's ok to be inspired by Ed Roberts! Or Judy Heumann! Or Alice Wong! The key is to make sure it's not pornographic, it's not about looking at their lives and using it as a way to feel good/bad, but as a model to guide your own work.

We need inspiration. Alice Wong - I am inspired by you, so I'm gonna finish this blog post and get back to work.