Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Humanities and the Death Penalty - The Lennie Standard goes to SCOTUS

When I talk about the immediate relevance of the humanities and its skills to contemporary life (which I do), I always like to bring up Of Mice and Men. In Texas, people who are intellectually disabled are considered eligible for the death penalty only of they meet the "The Lennie Standard." Now that's being reconsidered. From the New York Times:
In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. But it gave states a lot of leeway to decide just who was, in the language of the day, “mentally retarded.”
Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called “the Lennie standard.” That sounds like a reference to an august precedent, but it is not. The Lennie in question is Lennie Small, the dim, hulking farmhand in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
The Lennie in question is fictional.
Still, Judge Cathy Cochran of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote in 2004 that Lennie should be a legal touchstone.
“Most Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck’s Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt” from the death penalty, she wrote. “But, does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?”
Judge Cochran, who later said she had reread “all of Steinbeck” in the 1960s while living above Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif., listed seven factors that could spare someone like Lennie, whose rash killing of a young woman was seemingly accidental.
In other words, Texas is asking prosecutors, juries, and judges to engage in an act of literary criticism in order to decide whether to kill someone. 

In a recent review of The Secret Life of Stories, Michael Bérubé's recent book on narrative deployments of disability in literature, I wrote:
Throughout, Jamie Bérubé is present. Jamie’s discovery of what stories are opens the book. Jamie’s continued contemplation of stories reappears throughout, either explicitly or implicitly. In the final pages, I suspect he is especially present during a sober discussion of Lennie Small, the disabled character in Of Mice and Men. In the state of Texas, Bérubé reminds us, a disabled individual can be sentenced to death if their “mental capacity […] exceeds Lennie’s.” Suddenly, how we interpret literary representations of intellectual disability becomes a literal matter of life and death. Bérubé writes, “the interpretive stakes are always high when the subject is intellectual disability, because the stakes are ultimately about who is and who is not determined to be ‘fully human,’ and what is to be done with those who (purportedly) fail to meet the prevailing performance criteria.” I can’t prove that Bérubé was thinking about his son when he wrote that sentence; I can only tell you that as I read, I was thinking about mine.
Now in Moore v Texas, the "Lennie Standard" will come up before the Supreme Court. SCOTUSblog has the documents. The New York Times piece quoted above summarizes the history of the case and the various opinions behind it.

In the end, here's the real legal question: Do judges and juries get to decide who is not disabled enough to be killed or do medical professionals?

My position: Judges and juries are biased. Medical professionals, likewise, have a pretty dark history when it comes to assigning diagnostic labels. So let's just end the death penalty.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bad Disability Journalism: Autism as "Genetic Devil"

Notes: Ableism and extremely stigmatizing language follow.

Note 2: Looking for autistic responses to this piece, if any. Mostly folks I follow on Twitter just seem tired and really, what else is there to say? Let me know if you see something I should link to here to signal boost.

UPDATE: @Erabrand on Twitter produced an angry thread. Quoted at the bottom of the post with permission.


The San Diego Union Tribune has published one of the worst pieces on autism that I have seen in awhile, right up there with The Guardian's my autistic son is going to kill me piece. Both pieces report on the intense fears of parents of autistic kids. I believe that those parents genuinely said the terrible things that they are quoted saying, but argue that the ethics in journalism mandate two possible options.

1) Quote the parents, but also quote autistic people.
2) Don't write the piece at all

I lean towards one, because I think it's important to track and report on attitudes, even hateful and harmful ones. But as a journalist, one's job is not DO MORE HARM through one's reporting, but to provide context and nuance. I want journalists to take these extreme perspectives on disability with the same care that they might reporting on an ardent racist or sexist. You interview. You quote. You try to understand where they are coming from. But you do not write their narrative without framing it in a responsible way.

Instead, we get this:
Rene is not a criminal; rather, a crime has been committed against him by a genetic devil called autism. It's an affliction that seems to be growing in society like mushrooms under an autumn moon.
Causes and cures are still elusive, although experts have learned a lot about this complex group of brain disorders over the years.
Autism is a disease with a broad spectrum of symptoms that can start in the womb and last into adulthood. In one common definition, it is "characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors."
That's putting it more nicely than it deserves. You can bet Sonia didn't write that.
Genetic devil.

This should never have been published. It's a sign of a bigoted opinion columnist without editorial oversight, in large part, I suspect, because ableism isn't even recognized as a real thing by vast swathes of the public.


@Erabrand's reactions start here:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Disability Rights and Reproductive Rights

Elizabeth Picciuto and I collaborated on a piece in the Los Angeles Times today on abortion and disability rights in the age of Zika. Two key paragraphs:
We are parents of children with disabilities who are also pro-reproductive rights. David Perry’s 9-year-old son has Down syndrome. Elizabeth Picciuto’s 6-year-old son has Cri du Chat syndrome and microcephaly. Rather than limit women’s rights, we believe we must build a more understanding, accessible society that supports people with disabilities and provides services to parents. That’s how we can safeguard access to abortion while ensuring that it isn’t the only feasible option following a prenatal diagnosis.
The answer isn’t to force pregnant women to give birth. The best way to open up new possibilities for women after a prenatal diagnosis is to guarantee that disabled children are well-supported with the services they need, that they have adequate medical care, and access to great schools. If the Rubios and Pences of the world really want to make a difference, they could work to ensure that communities are empowered to welcome and include disabled people, not to shut them out.
Please read the whole thing!

Some of my previous pieces on reproductive rights and disability rights:

Friday, August 26, 2016

New Triggers; Old Triggers - University of Chicago edition

In an unforced error, the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago published a letter welcoming students to the university by telling them there would be no safe spaces or trigger warnings at his fine institution. The letter went viral, and we returned predictably to the same conversations we've been having about this for two years. On the one hand, people from Chait to Coulter decry trigger warnings as signs of mollycoddled youth and a sign of the death of America. On the other, more sensible people say that while sometimes administrations leverage student speech requests to punish freshmen, the practice of treating students with empathy in fact creates the possibility of speech from more diverse voices.

Anyway, we've been through this before over at How Did We Get Into This Mess.

Here's a great piece by Kevin Gannon, including a copy of the original letter.

Here's a key tweet run by Eve Ewing.

This morning, the Dean walked it back a bit, because the Dean has no authority over what the faculty do really.
My thoughts:

It's not that student speech requests aren't sometimes an issue, but they are way at the bottom of things that worry me. Here are two issues at the top:
And of course it's really about power.

Here we go again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ableism is: Two Basic Readings

Today I'm part of a workshop on how Dominican might develop more curriculum around ableism. I'll be talking for about 5 minutes on my basic definitions of ableism - focusing on violence - and then participating for a few hours in a group effort to propose a set of linked classes. It's just the start of what I hope becomes a real institutional effort to engage with ableism throughout our curriculum.

It's a new conversation. Usually, conversations around disability on my campus are about disability ON my campus, not the major societal individual and structural acts of discrimination that cause so much hardship, and I'm very much looking forward to the collaboration.

Here are my two basic readings from two of my favorite autistic , one new, one old.

1. Lydia Brown: Ableism is not "bad words." It's violence
Brown writes, in the wake of Sagamihara -
The Sagamihara attacker was targeting the disabled residents of the institution.
He told police, "I want to get rid of the disabled from this world."
Don't you ever fucking dare try to say, "but who could hate the disabled?" to me again.
Don't. Dare.
We are not some innocent angels untouched by the realities of the world around us.
We are not unaware or oblivious to the existence of others, let alone of hate.
We know hate and we know violence, because it is written on our bodies and our souls.
We bear it, heavy, wherever we go. Ableism is the violence in the clinic, in the waiting room, in the social welfare lines, in the classroom, in the recess yard, in the bedroom, in the prisons, in the streets. Ableism is the violence (and threat of violence) we live with each day.
Language is part of ableism, just as language is part of racism, sexism, anti-LGBT ideologies, and more. But in the end, the language leads towards violence of all sorts.

2. Julia Bascom: Quiet Hands
1.When I was a little girl, they held my hands down in tacky glue while I cried.
2.I’m a lot bigger than them now. Walking down a hall to a meeting, my hand flies out to feel the texture on the wall as I pass by.
“Quiet hands,” I whisper.
My hand falls to my side.
3.When I was six years old, people who were much bigger than me with loud echoing voices held my hands down in textures that hurt worse than my broken wrist while I cried and begged and pleaded and screamed.
4.In a classroom of language-impaired kids, the most common phrase is a metaphor.
“Quiet hands!”
A student pushes at a piece of paper, flaps their hands, stacks their fingers against their palm, pokes at a pencil, rubs their palms through their hair. It’s silent, until:
“Quiet hands!”
I’ve yet to meet a student who didn’t instinctively know to pull back and put their hands in their lap at this order. Thanks to applied behavioral analysis, each student learned this phrase in preschool at the latest, hands slapped down and held to a table or at their sides for a count of three until they learned to restrain themselves at the words.
The literal meaning of the words is irrelevant when you’re being abused.
We're just at the start of our conversation on ableism - not just at Dominican, but globally - as it moves from within disability communities into broader discourse. Curriculum can be part of that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Crusades Imagery and Modern European Racism - The Crying Templar

Modern xenophobic Europeans have adopted medieval crusader imagery for their cause.

As a medievalist, and more specifically a historian focused on imagination, memory, narrative creation, myth, and political culture focused around medieval crusading, I find this at once worrying and fascinating. Fascinating because it replicates many of the medieval processes by which crusading became a vehicle for articulating identity; troubling because it's an identity partially dependent on the use of violence against non-Christians, including within Europe's borders.

Which brings us to the crying Templar, courtesy of writer Saladin Ahmed on Twitter:

A badly drawn image of a lightly bearded man in armor, with blue line meant to represent a tear coming from his right eye. You can see the red-top of his crusader cross on his chest and a sword on his back.

The text is partial (and I haven't found the source), but includes a series of statements about the medieval context taken directly from medieval myths about crusading, with a final anti-refugee pivot.
>be raided, enslaved, rape, murdered,and conquered for 500 years
>your homelands suffer from destitute poverty because of the constant sea raids destroying naval trade and transport routes
>Byzantium is begging for help, southern france is easy picking for slavers, Spain is conquered and france is invaded, churches are burned and nuns are raped en masse in conquered cities, southern italy and sicily live in fear
>call upon nobles, peasants, the poor and rich alike to put an end to the centuries of oppression and evil and retake the holy lands that are dear to you
>sell your lands, your estate, your everything to buy armor, a sword and enough food to make it halfway across the world knowing you won't return but believe in the cause of justice
>lose hundreds of thousands of good men for over a hundred years in perpetual war
>a thousand years later your ancestors piss on your grave and bend over for the very people you traveled through hell itself to stop.
It's a little funny, but only in the scary way because of the implicit requirement for militarization and the dangerous "clash of civilizations going back millennia" myth. Al Qaeda, interestingly enough, deployed similar historical perspectives.

Previous coverage of modern myths around crusading here, here, and here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Disability Advertising: Nike and Kyle Maynard

Prosthetics are everywhere in advertising these days. They look "cool." They don't bother typical society (advertising is all about playing to the center, I suppose, when it comes to big brands). They are easily understandable and explainable. They feed our technophilia. After the 2015 Superbowl, I wrote (in a longer piece on inspiration porn):
Finally - and I know this post has been long - what is it with prosthetic legs right now and marketing? Do they rest in some kind of "canny valley," in which they are just strange enough and new enough to be cool, but not so odd to fall into the "uncanny valley?" I'm not sure.
I'm still not sure, but I like the idea of the canny valley. This ad below, though, is supposed to make you feel a little "uncanny" at first, and gives you a narrator who reacts askance at a disabled man on a mountaintop. The climber responds with sarcasm and just keeps climbing. From Nike:

I had mixed reactions. At first, like the person who pointed out the ad to me, I didn't like the paternalism in the narrator's voice, and I hated the "Limits are only limits if you let them be" tag in the video description. Then I watched a few other ads in the "unlimited" series and realized that the whole schtick is a disembodied sarcastic narrator telling people they can't do things (i.e. telling a kid they can't race Usain Bolt, they can't skateboard down a giant San Francisco (I think) hill, etc.) and the people on the screen, the agents, dismissing the naysayers.

What I like about this ad is it's not just throwing in a person with a prosthetic to look "cool," as has happened a lot lately, but it really is a disability narrative.

Sports ads - the you can do it! - are often inspiration porn for disability, poverty, whatever. Hardship narratives. Overcoming! That's the genre.

I think, given the genre, this one is pretty good. What do you think?

Monday, August 22, 2016

#CultOfCompliance: Disabled/Deaf People Killed for Non-Compliance and Disability Erasure

Two disabled men were killed by law enforcement over the last few days. Details are still emerging. 

Both seem to be relatively young white men. Daniel Harris, in Charlotte NC, was Deaf and communicated via sign language. Joseph Weber, in Hays KA, has not been identified by diagnosis, but a local source tells me he was autistic.

A few weeks before that, a Deaf black man, Darnell Wicker, was killed in Kentucky.

All the news coverage of Harris and Weber seem to mention disability in the headlines and ledes. Almost none of the coverage of Wicker mentions disability, and certainly none of the headlines/ledes

So there are two issues: 
  • One - police killing disabled people for not complying. 
  • Two - media coverage of police killing disabled people for not complying. Disability is often erased, and especially so in cases of people of color (who are most likely to be the victims of police misuse of force). 
On the language issue, I spoke to Vilissa Thompson, creator of the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag and an essential writer in the disability community. Strongly recommend making her RampYourVoice a regular read. Vilissa told me:
The erasure of Wicker's disability in media coverage doesn't surprise me because it occurs not only within journalism/reporting, but also within the Black Lives Matter movement when the police incidences involving Black disabled people fail to provide this important aspect when discussing the injustice committed.
The disability status of Black disabled people, from Korryn Gaines to Sandra Bland, are omitted for reasons tied to racism and ableism, and it must be addressed. To erase someone's disability status is both oppressive and offensive. To see it constantly portrayed regarding the lives and deaths of Black disabled people shows that we as a society do not value Black disabled lives, or the disparities they endure from having multiple marginalized identities.
There is work being done between Black disabled/deaf advocates to call out and demand that the experiences of Black disabled people who are victimized and murdered by the police receive the proper coverage that does not ignore their disabilities. This also calls for the experiences of Black disabled people to be fully included within activism conducted among Black liberation groups, disability advocacy groups, and other entities that seek to eradicate oppression and violence. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand about the experiences Black disabled people endure when it comes to the police - that purposeful exclusion is harming and damning to those of us who hold these identities.
When it comes to the police use-of-force issues, my overall position on the issue of policing remains: disability-specific training is not the answer to these tragedies, only the implementation of police tactics that do not respond to noncompliance, on its own, as a threat justifying the use of lethal force. While new details may emerge, in each case police approached the situations in ways that did not take into account the likely presence of disability. Presuming the possibility of disability has to be built into the standard approach.

Here are links - 

On Harris:
Detectives say Trooper Saunders and Harris got into "an encounter" before he fired his weapon. Neighbors say Harris' car spun out of control and was shot almost immediately after exiting the vehicle.
They say Harris was likely trying to communicate with the trooper using sign language before he was killed.
On Twitter, there was speculation that Harris may well have been trying to get to his home where someone could support him with communication, which seems reasonable to me. I'm waiting on a formal comment from experts within the Deaf community and will update here.

UPDATE: Talila "TL" Lewis, co-founder HEARD, wrote to me in an email:
The trooper wreaked havoc on Daniel Harris' car, as evidenced by the videos taken in front of Daniel Harris' home immediately following the encounter. Regardless of whether someone is Deaf, there is good reason to be fearful of police encounters, especially when they begin with this kind of violence. Relatedly, people with disabilities and Deaf people have a heightened awareness of just how easy miscommunication can occur with police officers who are enraged or in a rush.
In the past, Deaf and disabled people have been known to call family members, friends, interpreters to the scene of a traffic stop or other encounter to facilitate communication. This is Deaf and disabled people's way of compensating for police officers' lack of fluency in American Sign Language and lack of Deaf/Disability cultural competency. And so, it is not difficult to imagine that if Daniel Harris was in fear for his life, that he was trying to get to the one place where he knew there was effective communication access--his home--which really was just a few very short minutes away.
For more on Deafness and police use of force specifically, see this joint ACLU/HEARD project. The inability to hear shouted commands places Deaf people especially at risk. The Cult of Compliance, generally, is a cross-disability approach to thinking about policing (and our culture more generally), but it's worth pausing as well to consider each diagnostic profile and set of risks. Police must - under Title II of the ADA - be prepared for all of them.

On Weber:
According to a release late Thursday by the Ellis County Attorney’s Office, Weber was stopped for a traffic infraction and failed to obey the officer’s commands. As additional officers were called, he sped off from Plaza Avenue and made his way to Timber Drive.
There, the release said, he got out of his vehicle and again failed to obey commands of the officer. The officer fired a shot, hitting the 36-year-old. He died at the scene.
On Darnell Wicker, killed on August 8th. Wicker was carrying a knife and a saw. He did yard work in the area, so perhaps that's why he was armed, but there are also reports that he kicked in his girlfriend's door and they called the police. Either way, police must offer reasonable accommodations to disabled people they want to arrest. 
Malone and Proctor said the graphic body camera footage was difficult to watch. They said it was difficult to understand what happened because Wicker is not seen in the video until he collapses on the pavement after being shot multiple times.
“I don't know about anybody else but it didn't tell me nothing,” said Malone. “From my perspective he shouldn’t have been gunned down like that.”
“I looked at it a while ago and it just hurt me. My heart is full of tears right now for him,” said Proctor. “When they hollered 'put the knives down' I know he didn't hear them so I know that was a tragic mistake, killing Lawnmower Man and Bicycle Man like that." 
Family and friends have said Wicker was deaf in one ear and suffered from hearing loss in the other. Proctor said Wicker often relied on reading lips, adding that she was concerned that he might not have understood the officers' commands.
During a news conference Monday evening Chief Conrad responded to the concerns saying, "The officers were in very close proximity at the time and they were very loud and very clear in their commands to drop it.”
I have not done a thorough survey, but here are some headlines on Wicker that I've found:
Disability, when present (and it's so often present), needs to be part of our standard narrative - not just for media, but also for the professionals tracking police data, for the activists working on reform, for the policy makers, and just generally in our conversations around policing and society.

Thanks again to Vilissa for her contribution and work on this subject.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bad Disability Journalism: Writing about Obesity and Disability Without Talking to Anyone Obese

Suggestion to health reporters: If you are writing about a condition, make sure your reporting includes people who have that condition.

From Quartz: How obesity became the new face of disability in America

The article opens by comparing "lean" hikers to obese former steel workers in Colorado, then interviews doctors, economists, and public health officials, but no actual disabled people. It would be better reporting to actually talk to the people being written about. Ask them about their lives, their ideas, their concerns, their happiness, their efforts to change or not.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Medicalizing Candidates - Clinton Nods

The current right-wing anti-Clinton meme is that she secretly has epilepsy (as evidenced by her nodding once and as evidenced by her needing support from aides while walking up icy stairs in heels). From that central meme, others have emerged, finding fertile ground in the segment of our country desperate to disqualify Clinton from the presidency by any means. I'm not linking to any of the main coverage, but it's all over FOX and, I'm told, is dominating the alt-right media (Infowars, etc.). 

Here's a Washington Post piece on Hannity's prime-time "story" on Clinton's health.
Every night this week, Fox News' Sean Hannity has drawn attention to a story that was largely debunked before Monday morning. Again and again, Hannity has summoned a "Fox News Medical A-Team" to probe the claim that Hillary Clinton has serious medical issues, covered up by a press that won't demand her medical records.
Hannity's crusade has given the theories of a looming Clinton health crisis their highest-profile airing. A year ago, when Republicans hoped that one of several younger candidates would win their nomination, jokes about Clinton's age and health were rampant. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the Democratic nomination fight looked like "an episode of 'Golden Girls.'" The Washington Free Beacon ran jokey investigations of a photo that showed Clinton holding the back of a chair, asking whether she was using a walker. (She was not.)
With Trump's recent moves hiring alt-right media leaders to help direct his campaign, we're going to see a lot more of this coming out. It's been permeating Trump's recent speeches ("short-circuit" is, I think, code for epilepsy).  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ban Disciplinary Restraint: Oakland

Here's a new case out of Oakland illustrating the ways that restraint and seclusion practices in schools quickly move from "safety" to compliance.
The U.S. Department of Education ruled the Oakland school district discriminated against a 9-year-old autistic boy who was restrained 92 times during one school year, sometimes for up to 90 minutes at a time, according to an announcement Tuesday.

Stuart Candell attended Anova Center for Education in Concord from April 2013 to February 2014. Two to three adults held him face down for a total of 2,200 minutes, or more than 36 hours, during his tenure at the school for high-functioning autistic kids. He was also secluded in a 12-foot-by-10-foot windowless room, according to the federal Office for Civil Rights decision in June.
And here are some of the reasons for these abusive acts:
Incident reports documenting the school's response to Stuart's behavior revealed situations that did not appear to be imminent health and safety emergencies:
  • Restrained for 45 minutes after Stuart ran into his classroom screaming after stepping in dog poop.
  • Restrained for 45 minutes for throwing a chair; later restrained twice for 15 minutes after expressing frustration over Uno card game.
  • Restrained twice for 15 minutes and three minutes for bouncing a ball inappropriately in the occupational therapy room.
Stuart expressed suicidal thoughts twice following prone restraints, according to the report.

In at least one instance, Stuart urinated on himself while restrained, and he was not released for food or drink unless he was calm.

"In contrast, after 10 minutes of restraining (Stuart), staff members would rotate in order to take a break," the report found.
The key thing to remember is that this is NOT unusual. It's an extreme case of the kind of practice used around the country.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kit Mead: Ableism On the Left

Kit Mead wrote a new post late last week on ableism on the Left. 

The Left isn't especially prone to ableism; rather, ableism is a society-wide phenomenon still in its early days of being discussed, understood, and countered through speech, action, and policy. We're still having to prove ableism exists, that (in the words of Lydia Brown), it's not just bad words, but a hierarchal framework that leads directly to violence and other forms of marginalization.

Mead writes, in the aftermath of Salman Rushdie tweeting about Trump being insane and being dismissive of disabled individuals who questioned his word choice.
I am a mentally ill, twice-institutionalized in a psych ward person. I read your posts. I read your comments. Many of us do. We all notice. We notice how much you want to blame mental illness for bigotry and believe it’s because people are sick in the head that people could say and do such things. For distance – it’s easier to not acknowledge society’s shortcomings when you can point fingers at mental illness. We notice how much you are willing to throw us under the bus to try and defeat Trump. Defeating Trump is a good cause. Using ableism to do it is unnecessary and increases stigma. It hurts people, including me. We know what you think.
Language has power. The power of ableism can be leveraged to wound Trump, but not without consequences for the broader disability community. I believe we can do better.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Bad Disability Journalism: Suffers from Mental Illness or Suffers from a Punch in the Face?

The use of "suffers" to describe people with various disabilities is my #1 "to-avoid" tip when I talk disability and journalism (#2 is "wheelchair bound"). It especially shows up in cases of police use of force. In last March's Ruderman Foundation White Paper, Lawrence Carter-Long and I wrote:
The most current disability style guide for journalists was produced in the fall of 2015 by the National Center of Disability Journalism (NCDJ) at Arizona State University. The guide is excellent in terms of offering reporters the best language to use when describing particular disabilities and should be consulted regularly. Its “terms to avoid” section may be even more relevant for this study, particularly the following passage:
Stricken with, suffers from, victim of: These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.
In too many contexts, the media describes victims of police violence as “suffering from” disabilities such as schizophrenia, when what they are suffering from is police violence, possibly manifested through bullets, tasers, pepper spray, or nightsticks. People suffer from abuse. People suffer from a society that has been designed only for the typical. If an individual describes themselves or another person as “suffering,” they can of course be quoted, but journalists must not assume suffering as fact merely because of the existence of a condition, impairment, or diagnosis. A journalist should handle quotes containing ableist language just as they would quotes containing racist or sexist language.
Here's an example from Cleveland, in a story about a disabled woman being punched by CPD.

Cleveland woman punched by police officer while handcuffed suffers from mental illnesses, family says
The Cleveland woman punched in the face Thursday by a police officer suffers from mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, family members said.
It sounds to me like she was suffering from being punched in the face. The suffer here is being used, rhetorically, to blame the act of police violence (and to defend her) on the disability.

Also paragraph 2: "Ciara Perez-Rodriguez, 21,suffered bruises and swelling on her face and arms in the altercation with police officers, according to her father, Louis Perez."
And towards the end: "The incident comes when Cleveland police are under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice meant to reform a department plagued with complaints about excessive use of force and how police officers handle residents suffering from mental illnesses."

I'm much more interested in these kinds of local news stories written by beat reporters than in the big flashy features (although I'm happy to critique those as well). We need to shift basic norms in how cases like this get report.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Supernatural Fandom and Disability Awareness

A few years ago, my wife spent every other week or so working in Boston. It was a hard year, but a good one for her career. While spending lots of time in a hotel, she started binging through years of the show Supernatural and became a fast fan. It's a show with a large and deeply passionate fandom, and like most shows of that nature, does regular national and international conventions where fans can show up, buy swag, get autographs and listen to Q&As with the starts. At night, there's karaoke and the house band (fronted by one of the actors) plays a concert.

We went to the Friday show in Minneapolis, where we happened to be vacationing, in part to satisfy my wife's fandom urge, but also because Kim Rhodes was speaking on Friday. Rhodes, along with fellow sheriff (on the show) Brianna Buckmaster, have achieved a position in the fandom of outsized proportion given their relatively small roles on the show. Part of it is that they are awesome women. Also, the show kills off a lot of its female characters and they have survived, against all odds (helpfully they are in monster-of-the-week episodes rather than mythology episodes), meaning that the fanbase (heavily female) is left with these two as the few strong female characters to look up to. Moreover, Rhodes and Buckmaster have used their celebrity as a way to advocate for empowerment through the "Wayward Daughters" website, t-shirts, and drive for a spin-off show.

Kim Rhodes is the mother of an autistic girl, and I've gotten to know her a bit through Twitter. Sure enough, when she took the stage, the first question was from another mother of an autistic child thanking Rhodes for her advocacy. Rhodes replied (paraphrasing): "I tried something new - actually listening to autistic people!" Then she cited the work of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (friends of, and we were off. During the Q&A, she told a good story about acceptance of her daughter's neurodiversity on the set of Colony, the show she was more recently on.

In fact, it was striking how often disability-related themes emerged throughout the day, whether from the stars directly, the conversations of the fans around me, or the various campaigns with which they are involved. Jared Padelecki (super big star #1) has been very open about mental health concerns and has worked against both societal stigma and for health acceptance. Jensen Ackles (super big star #2) has a nephew with Down syndrome and has sponsored a "team" for the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. There's a disabled veteran program. The twitter accounts are always focused on social causes. In general, there's a sense that fandoms should transcend merely enjoying the show, and become a way to focus efforts on improving social good, often around disability.

I like this. I also like the matter-of-fact way that the stars talked about disability and how open the crowd was to the message. As I told Kim Rhodes on Twitter:

#CultOfCompliance - Abuse of Disabled Children of Color in Schools

Several stories around the same themes. A black child is abused by guards or police in schools. There's almost always a disability context.

1. A lawsuit alleges a 6-year-old black child in Chicago with "special needs" was handcuffed under a stair for over an hour to "teach her a fucking lesson."
The security guard at Fernwood Elementary School punished Marlena Wordlow's daughter in March by handcuffing her near the school's boilers. Other students had told the security guard that little Madisyn had stolen a piece of candy, but her mother said it was part of her lunch.
In a statement, the Chicago Public Schools says the guard has been fired and a "do not hire" note was placed in his personnel file. The district says it took immediate action.
Wordlow was horrifed when she showed up at the school and was taken to her daughter, who was still handcuffed. Madisyn was "crying, sweating, and visibly scared and distraught," according to the lawsuit.
No criminal charges were filed, though the guard was fired. How is this not a criminal act of abuse? A guard decided to respond to an alleged THEFT OF A PIECE OF CANDY by handcuffing a child by the boilers.

2. The ACLU has gotten involved in the "Spring Valley" case that, thanks to a video of a school police officer (SRO = School Resource Officer) hurling a black teen to a floor, got a lot of attention awhile back. The complaint is here. An NYT story here.

Disruption in a classroom must not be criminalized. There are plenty of disciplinary measures schools should take, but everything we know about school discipline is that non-white students, disabled students, and especially non-white disabled students will be treated differently than their white, abled, peers. Laws, often stemming from the zero tolerance/zero common sense movement, criminalize standard classroom disruptions.

I wrote on the Spring Valley case and a new policy in SC to keep SROs out of discipline situations here.

3. Rebecca Klein at Huffington Post has a long report on TASERs in schools. Klein doesn't address the disability context, but it's an important recent story and I'm sure that if we dug into the data, we'd find a major overlap.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Murder Responses: Swans vs Disabled Human

A terrible crime has been perpetrated in Michigan, and the comment thread is outraged. A family of swans was run over.

Meanwhile, a Michigan woman killed her disabled son (he had cerebral palsy), and the comment thread opened with, "this is wong, but understandable" and "she must have cracked under the strain." It improved thanks to being shared on Twitter and various other folks entering the thread, but the initial take is telling.

The journalism here (a topic I'm studying for a White Paper) is fine. Reporting is neutral. But the comments become a locus for revealing the ways that disabled lives are so easily devalued.

Korryn Gaines: Narratives of Race and Disability

Vilissa Thompson, one of the most important writers on race, gender, and disability, has written a powerful and moving piece on Korryn Gaines, the black disabled woman killed in Baltimore County recently. Thompson writes:
To be Black, disabled, and female means that you always have eyes on you. You must be “on” at all times; must be willing to “perform” for White, Black, & non-disabled Americas. You must be perfect and a good cripple, or be crucified at the cross, as we saw when Korryn’s story unfolded.

There were two matters in particular that struck me profoundly about the coverage surrounding Korryn’s fatal police incident: the way Black men discussed Korryn’s story on social media, and the Black community’s continued miseducation regarding disability.
Please read the whole thing. Also, while you are at it, read Talila Lewis - Achieving Liberation Through Disability Solidarity (on Rios/Kinsey, but relevant):
In the wake of Charles Kinsey taking a bullet marked for Arnaldo Rios this week, I am renewing the call for Disability Solidarity. Disability solidarity means disability communities actively working to create racial justice, and [non-disability] civil rights communities showing up for disability justice.
Disability solidarity is such a core concept, but one that gets too little attention both inside the broader civil rights movement and the broader disability rights movement.

Meanwhile, the media fails. Here's a post on Korryn Gaines and disability from the Washington Post, in which reporter Tom Jackman writes:
The police killing of Korryn Gaines in Baltimore County on Monday has the potential to be America’s next explosive racial powder keg. Or it could be defused by viewing it through the race-neutral prism of mental illness and the tragedy of lead-paint poisoning.

Jackman seems to think two false things: One, that mental illness and lead poisoning are race neutral. Two, that adding disability to a police killing makes it less explosive, rather than more. He may be right when it comes to the second point, because it allows an ableist mentality to explain away the violence, but that doesn't make it less offensive. As for the first - while disability itself extends to all communities, something like lead poisoning is part of environmental racism. Mental illness, meanwhile, sparks radically different responses from authorities and civilians alike, depending on whether the disabled individual is white, brown, or black.

Nothing in America is race-neutral. The fact that Gaines was disabled makes her killing more a sign of discrimination, not less.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

#CultOfCompliance Kills: LA County SWAT Kills Innocent Disabled Black Man

This is a particular bad version of the kind of story we see far too often. LA law enforcement was pursuing a carjacker, found a different black man in a yard, and ordered him to comply.

He didn't comply. So they killed him.
The armored vehicles — and the heavily armed deputies inside them — were there to find and capture the armed carjacker.
Instead, they found a different black man, Donnell Thompson.
As the carjacker hid in a house several blocks away, Thompson slept in a stranger’s yard.
He was 27 years old but possessed the mental faculties of a much younger man. He loved Uno, Michael Jackson and the Lakers. He was so gentle and shy he went by the nickname Little Bo Peep, his family told the Los Angeles Times. He had a clean record and was unarmed.
From inside one of the armored vehicles, however, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies knew none of this. When Thompson didn’t respond to commands, the deputies detonated flash-bangs. When he still didn’t move, they hit him with foam bullets.
And when he allegedly ran toward them, a deputy atop the armored vehicle opened fire with an assault rifle, striking Thompson twice in the torso.
The journalism from the Washington Post on these incidents tends to be exemplary. They tell the victim's story. They don't simply reprint PD press releases.

There will be a lawsuit. A few officers may be held accountable. But it also shows that disability-specific training is not going to solve this kind of incident. Better response has to be built into the baseline.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bad Disability Journalism: Worse Than Death

Some researchers asked folks who didn't have specific disabilities whether said disabilities would be worse than death and you know what, those folks said yes!

Then journalists write it up as a major clickbaity sciencey news story. It's got tons of coverage, but in not one case can I find someone who actually talked to people who have the specific disabilities, many of whom are a) doing just find and b) when they aren't doing fine, it's because of access to resources and experiencing stigma.

  • Why is this a study that gets published in a major medical journal?
  • If the study has value, it's a case of measuring stigma rather than measuring what it's like to have a disability.
  • The researchers know this. They write:"Patients may underestimate their abilities to adapt to certain health states, such that once-feared states become more tolerable once they are experienced."
  • Many of the journalists know this too:
For another (and this is probably more important), studies in psychology show that people are reliably terrible at what’s called affective forecasting — that is, predicting how they’ll feel in the future. In one rather eerily relevant study, psychologists Dan Gilbert (of Harvard University) and Tim Wilson (of the University of Virginia) observe that most (healthy) people say that if their quality of life is low, they would rather not have medical interventions designed to give them more time. “However,” as the American Psychological Association’s website notes, “when medical researchers interviewed people who were slowly dying and experiencing a very low quality of life, such people almost unanimously reported that they would go to great lengths to add even a few days to their lives.” Our future selves are frustratingly unknowable.
From Quartz
The patients surveyed had not experienced any of the limitations themselves, and the study authors write that it’s certainly possible the patients are overestimating the difficulty of living with these challenges. In addition, the number of patients surveyed was relatively small and limited to a single hospital in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, this work suggests that health care providers should check with patients about their own priorities before treatment.
Sure, check with patients, but understand those patients need guidance due to stigma.

Telegraph too - 
However, researchers noted that, as none of the patients had experienced the conditions described in the survey, they may have misjudged how they would feel in such circumstances.
  • As a science journalist, if one is going to write up this stigma-measuring study, you have to do it in a way that doesn't promote more stigma. One simple way would be to talk to actual disabled people. For example, if lots of people who aren't incontinent say that they'd rather be dead than incontinent, maybe talk to people who are incontinent about their lives, how they manage, and where they encounter problems (again, a social model approach). 
We need journalists trained to not write about disability without getting reaction quotes from people who are disabled. They've learned to do this with other topics, but disability lags far behind. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

"What if Trump really is crazy?"

I'm on vacation.

Last week I wrote blog posts and a CNN essay arguing that the urge to characterize Donald Trump as "crazy" relies on stigma around mental illness. I was extremely shocked by the venom in the responses. I never expect to persuade everyone, but if I move the needle a bit and push people to think about the consequences of their language, I'm generally happy.

Instead, I experienced the most surprisingly aggressive set of attacks in email and on Twitter of my writing career. I was repeatedly called a "retard" by people who, in theory, are on my side in many issues. I'm now pretty gunshy about discussing this further and trust my would-be interlocutors, even people who want to engage in polite conversation understand and respect that.

I expect to be yelled at when I write about guns or abortion rights, but in an essay essentially calling for people to think hard about the stigmatizing effect of the language they use, I never expected so much aggression. Score one for the horribleness of online discourse.

There are lots of people who want to argue with me in good faith. Here, for example, is a thread from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, outlining an argument that we need a way to talk about Trump that doesn't stigmatize others, but still expresses his failings in appropriate terms.
I have to say I am not convinced. I don't believe we need new words or to apply words like "insane" to argue that the candidate has no self-control, is a liar, is violent, etc. I think we can just say - has no self-control, is a liar, is violent. What does it matter if the conduct comes from neurochemistry versus life-long learned inclination? As writer Arthur Chu noted to me - Trump's behaved like this his whole life. He's been rewarded handsomely for it. In Trump's world, his behavior is entirely rational.

But if I haven't convinced you, then so be it. Thank you for reading. I appreciate any time you've spent thinking about these language issues, even if you've rejected my conclusion.

Hopefully you feel the same way about my disagreement with your counter argument.
Meanwhile, the APA has reminded its professionals of the Goldwater Rule.

Please stop yelling at me. I'm on vacation.

Friday, August 5, 2016

#SeriousAcademic Uses for Twitter - Me and BABEL

First, disclaimers: No academic who doesn't study social media should have to spend one second of time on social media. No academic using social media for fun and personal contacts should have to promote their work in any way on social media. Institutions that push academics to go public, moreover, as Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote last year, want "everything but the burden." They want the PR, but when things go badly, they will not support you. 

No one should have to go be an academic on social media.

That said, there's an annoying essay on Academics Anonymous at The Guardian proposing that social media has little value for academics. It's got the headline "I'm a serious academic," and while the author didn't write the hed, #seriousacademic has taken off on Twitter as a response. There's definitely an implied suggestion that "serious" academics write grants and do work, whereas the unserious tweet. Some quotes:
We are in the midst of a selfie epidemic. We document every moment of our lives – the places we visit, the people we meet, the things we achieve. And now this culture has infiltrated the world of academia.
Hooray, right? I mean that's fantastic. Documentation is what academics do, followed by dissemination. Alas, not what the author means.
Using social media to impress people that you know – as well as those that you have never met – has now become a professional concern for many academics. I see more and more of them live tweeting and hashtagging their way through events.
Aha, here's the problem. This author, in the full flush of snobbery, thinks that social media is fundamentally about ego, rather than about networking.
Then there are the staff who go further than just tweeting about lectures and conferences. In the wake of the EU referendum, I have seen many using social media to voice very strong opinions, often criticising the general public en masse. Given that taxpayer money forms a substantial portion of our research funding, this kind of outburst risks alienating the very people we are trying to engage with.
Expressing political views in public! How dare an academic offer their viewpoints where someone might hear them, rather than sipping sherry in the tranquility of the faculty lounge. Also, we don't have a faculty lounge, and if we did no one would use it, as we're all too busy grading.
But surely the dedication I show in the lab, and the subsequent data I collect, should speak for itself. I do not – and should not – have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher. Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?
A witty close, perhaps, but the opening of this paragraph shows the flaw. For the author, social media is nothing but a space to show off.

Social media has changed my life, not the least because I became a journalist after I received tenure for quite traditionally "serious" work in 13th century Mediterranean culture.  I could write many pages on social media as an accessible location for disability activism, observations on the ways that marginalized professors (whether because they belong to a marginalized group or otherwise feel isolated in their institution due to location or field) use social media to feel less alone, and many other topics.

I thought instead, I would share one traditional medieval story on how the use of social media shapes my serious academic career.

Four or so years ago, I was in a hotel bar at a conference and I met Eileen Joy, a well-known medievalist, founder of Punctum Press, and one of the founders of BABEL - a group of mostly literary critics doing cutting edge work. She invited me up to a party that BABEL was hosting in a suite in the hotel. I went, I unseriously brought my guitar, played music with others and sang, and had a lovely night.

In a pre-social-media age, that would be that. Perhaps I'd see them again next year. They weren't in my slice of the sub-field, they didn't give papers on topics I chose to attend, and we weren't geographically close. Instead, though, I friended the people I met on Facebook and began participating in conversations on Twitter. I'm interested in medieval material culture. Some of the literary theorists are interested in objects. I read their work. I read the work they cited. I began to go to their conference papers. I presented my one theoretical idea - using vectors as a controlling metaphor to discuss narratives about the movements of objects - at a BABEL panel. As I became a disability rights journalist, they also served as my pathway to formal disability studies within academia. Some of their work infiltrated my footnotes in a recent article. I was invited to speak at a panel at one of their universities last spring.

These developments: Footnotes, talks, conference papers, new reading topics - these are highly traditional "serious" features of academic life. I have social media to thank for them.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Relatively Strange Things

Stranger Things is on my TV and it's totally creepy.

Last year, I wrote an essay on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for Vice, but it ended up never getting published. I thought The Gentleman was nicely creepy, and enjoyed the openings of The Whispers and Wayward Pines - both of which aimed at creepy, but missed. In honor of Stranger Things, which I think hits squarely on the creepy mark, here's the unpublished and unedited essay. 

Remember: Faeries eat people.


Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Review
Faeries are mean bastards. Abandon the Disney-fueled image of Tinkerbell and other tiny creatures twitting about the forest.  Look past the inscrutable badass battle elves of Lord of the Rings or the wispy sexy fae of too much fantasy art. In folklore, faeries eat people.

Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), one of the two magicians at the heart of the new BBC show Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has no illusions about the cruelty of faeries and danger of bargaining with them. And yet, at the end of the first episode, he decides that the risk of summoning a faerie lord, The Gentleman (Marc Warren), is worth the potential reward. Norrell is wrong.  The Gentleman’s influence slowly corrupts the lives of all the people at the heart of this drama, causing suffering and death wherever he goes, binding the mouths of his victims with spells so they cannot reveal his cruel machinations.

The show renders the  award-winning novel by Susanna Clarke as faithfully as possible given the challenge of compressing a long novel into 7 hours.  It takes place in an England during the Napoleonic wars. Wellington is in Portugal. The fleet blockades the channel. The gentry mostly care about parties and fashion.  Everyone knows that magic is real, but as the show opens, we’re informed that no one has performed magic in England for over three centuries. Magicians are semi-upper-class gentlemen, with a handful of books, gathering in learned societies featuring the reading of papers, debate, and lots of liquor.

Enter Mr. Norrell. He’s spent his life in the north of England, where once the legendary Raven King practiced magic, studying and executing practical magic. He has a huge library, and a servant, Childermass, always willing to help him get more books. Norrell brings the statues of York Cathedral to life to prove his ability, then heads for London to restore English magic and make it respectable. Norrell is brilliant but unappealing, able but cowardly, and covetous of magical knowledge. In the meantime, another magician has arrived in London. Unlike Norrell, Jonathan Strange is dashing, performs flamboyant acts of magic, and doesn’t really know how it all works.  The two magicians start as master and apprentice, but their relationship sours, even as the Gentleman starts to wreak creepy havoc with the people in the magicians’ orbit.

In the meantime, London society and the Napoleonic wars keep churning.  One of the interesting features of the show is the lack of impact that the addition of magic has to the history, social structure, or the politics of the era. The setting maintains the feel of a good BBC historical drama, even as a high-fantasy plot takes place among the characters.  Magic is not hidden in a secret society that co-exists with mainstream society (Harry Potter, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series), nor does the presence of a fantasy story force re-writes of history (such as in the Temeraire series, a Napoleonic-war drama with dragons, in which history goes radically askew).

In part, the show’s ability to maintain history emerges from the power of social norms. Norrell doesn’t just want to restore English magic, but to make it “respectable.” Strange, likewise, is beholden to the standards of his class. At one point, on campaign in Portugal, Lord Wellington asks Strange just how magic might help him, saying, “Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Strange ponders, then replies, “I suppose a magician might, but a gentleman never could.” And he doesn’t. Magic aids the army, but it’s given no higher status than any other military tool. Indeed, after Strange fails a task, Wellington notes, “I regularly demand the impossible of my engineers, my generals, my officers. I see no reason to make an exception in your case.” Modern English magic is meant to be respectable and normal; when older magics awake, however, trouble beckons.

Back in London, the Gentleman – a prime example of that older magic – has taken an interest in Strange’s wife, Arabella (Charlotte Riley), and a freed slave and servant named Stephen Black (Ariyon Bakare).  Norrell had summoned the faerie  to resurrect the wife of Sir Walter Pole (Samuel West), a rising politician. Lady Pole (Alice Englert) had died, perhaps of consumption, but that proved no obstacle to this faerie lord. The problem is the price he required for his services, a price that Lady Pole paid and Norrell tries to conceal. Things go downhill from there.

The show is creepy, rather than horror, mystery, or fantasy. Adam Kotsko, Assistant Professor of Humanities at Shimer College and author of Creepiness, defines creepy as, “the experience of an excessive, asymmetrical demand — someone is demanding something of us that we cannot and do not want to reciprocate.”  No one wishes to fulfill the Gentleman’s demands, but he compels them with visions, magic, and persuasion.  He demands dances from Lady Pole in his palace of Lost Hope, orders a shoe-shines from Stephen Black, and creeps ever so close to Arabella Strange.

Two other new shows likewise mine the creepy space between the genres of horror and fantasy. In Wayward Pines, FBI agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) finds himself trapped in a strange town, controlled by forces he doesn’t understand, and held accountable to strict rules. Do Not Discuss Your Life Before. Do Not Discuss the Past. Don’t try to leave. In The Whispers, based on a Ray Bradbury story “Zero Hour,” children around the world start to play games with their imaginary friends. In one trailer, a macabre “You Are My Sunshine” (which I’ve always thought was kind of a stalker song anyway) plays in the background, as glassy-eyed little girls talk to empty spaces and make disturbing promises. Later, at least some of them are going to kill their parents. 

Both of these shows, like Strange & Norrell, present the subversion of norms in ways that lead to suffering and even death.  Wayward Pines offers all-American small-town paradise turned into a prison. The Whispers turns cute children into calm agents of extra-dimensional invasion. And in Strange & Norrell, the class-bound mannered society of 19th-century England provides a perfect setting for a hungry faerie to wreak havoc. These shows are not quite horror. Not standard mysteries. Not the usual run of fantasy or historical drama. They are all just off-center enough to be interesting. It’s going to be a hot, creepy, summer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Medicalizing Presidential Candidates, past and present.

Erik Loomis over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money recently emailed me this pdf of a 1975 article in which Garry Wills, the famous author, argued that George Wallace should be disqualified from running for president due to his "infirmity." [Update: The great Rick Perlstein gave me the link to the Google News archive of the column, which is more readable].

Wallace, the [former, he had renounced segregation by 75, in theory] segregationist Governor of Alabama, was running against Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown (among others) for the Democratic nomination. He had actually been doing very well in the 72 primary before he had been shot, and apparently his opponents and the press turned to criticizing him in 75 for his physical disabilities. In response, Wallace's people complained that he was not being treated with deference for his disabilities, making the comparison to FDR. Enter Wills:

Wills goes into a lot of detail about FDRs last years, arguing that respect for the president's physical disabilities was leveraged by the White House to conceal his rapidly declining mental facility. Wallace, having been "seen struggling with his braces," might similarly use his physical disability to conceal mental unfitness, argues Wills.
No candidate could get away with this now, and no candidate should. Roosevelt placed extraordinary limits on the press, and one serious illness overcame and there was no way for the public to know it. Wallace has been seen struggling with his braces, and has been watched getting out of cars. But there is a natural inhumane restraint in covering these events. It would be wrong for Wallace to trade on such inhibitions and try for the presidency. We his one kind of weakness and Roosevelt (his paralysis) and/or ultimately, therefore, blinded to a far worse condition (his encroaching senility). No man who asked us to hide his weakness can any longer be given the power of life and death that American presidents wield.
Even another Roosevelt should not be elected to office in our time; and heaven knows George Wallace is no second Roosevelt.
I'm no George Wallace fan, and of course 1975 was a long time ago, but this article was written only three years after Thomas Eagleton was denied the VP pick because it was revealed he sought treatment for depression.

Image: Photo of a newspaper article. Sadly, I do not have an accessible version.
The context for this is the drive to medicalize Trump's behavior. The other day I wrote some opening thoughts, along with a storify, on the casual pathologization of Trump's objectionable behavior. It's had an afterlife to which I'll link below. My general thought - we do not need to armchair diagnose Trump to beat him. Leveraging disability stigma to defeat Trump is, at the least, a morally complex choice. I'd like people to think hard before doing it. I won't be doing it myself. 

Here's three pieces by people with disabilities, including mental illness. These are the voices that ought to lead our way:
I don’t support the Republicans or Trump’s campaign, but that doesn’t make it acceptable for Clinton or Sanders to use mental illness stigma as a means to criticise them. Trump deserves all the criticism he can get for his bigotry against Muslims, his misogyny, his racism, his endorsement of violence against protesters, his eagerness to use nuclear weapons in Syria and in Europe, his pie-in-the-sky plans to build a ‘great, great wall’ at the US/Mexico border that Mexico will pay for, and every other noxious proposal he’s mentioned during this campaign.
Trump’s disgusting plans are not the result of a mental illness; they’re the result of deep-set, unbridled bigotry that he’s exploiting to worm his way into the White House.
So, sure, being erratic and lying a lot could be a sign of mental health needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the reason for things like Trump being a bigot. I’d like to make the point that people with mental health needs are people with many varying viewpoints on the world – so if a person with mental health needs is a bigot, I would argue that the mental health needs are most often a coincidence. I know people with mental health needs who have done less than pleasant things – even, perhaps, said hurtful things about groups of people – in the middle of any sort of episode. I have had episodes where I’ve said less than stellar things, though I don’t think I’ve ever said bigoted things because of an episode – but I think it’s too easy to write Trump off as being a delusional, pathologically lying narcissist.
Keith Olbermann made a 20 minute video applying a psychopathy test to Donald Trump. Olbermann did pay lip service to whether doing so was ok but rationalized it thusly “Trump started it” which is true. Trump has applied stigmatizing mental health language to many of his political opponents.
The problem with this justification beyond it’s childishness is that it forgets that pathologizing Trump doesn’t just impact Donald Trump. It also has implications on a broader level to how discourse around mental health stigmatizes people with mental illness. People who haven’t been armchair diagnosed by a public just seeking to discredit a candidate that they dislike.
The conversation is having an impact. James Fallows, with whom I talked on Twitter, has a new piece on recent lies by Donald Trump. He closes with this:
I want to steer clear of “medicalizing” discussion of Trump’s fantasies, his microscopically thin skin, his seemingly uncontrollable outbursts. I have no idea whether we’re seeing his basic personality and temperament, or something else. And from a civic perspective, it doesn’t matter. Either he doesn’t know the difference between truth and falsehood, or he knows it and does not care. Either is a big problem in a president.
He's linking to a piece by Daniel Dale in the Toronto Star. I'm quoted in it saying this:
The armchair pathologizing, and breezy use of the C-word, has upset disabled people and their advocates. David Perry, a disability rights journalist, said that “the casual association of behaviour we find objectionable or erratic with mental illness spreads stigma.”
“He’s a liar, he’s a bigot, he makes bad decisions, he’s erratic and unpredictable. That’s what we need to know. Do we need to then extend a diagnosis to go along with that, to make it really objectionable?” Perry said.
“It hasn’t really worked in eroding Trump’s popularity, but it certainly makes people who actually have these conditions feel very uncomfortable — feel that the message is: ‘If you have a mental health condition, you are not fit to be president.’ And frankly, I suspect we’ve had lots of presidents with mental health conditions, and we’ll probably have lots more.”
Dale adds:
Abraham Lincoln lived with depression. Each of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy took a cocktail of anxiety medication. Aides to Lyndon B. Johnson, who experienced severe mood swings, were so concerned about his mental state that they consulted psychiatrists.
Meanwhile, Emily Willingham pulls together some recent reaction and concludes:
Discussions about Trump’s traits are necessary but should be subject to limitations. We should openly talk about the gaps, behaviors and issues like projection and traits associated with narcissism, without diagnosing.
The Big Five personality trait/five-factor model framework that McAdams used in his Atlantic piece is one way to engage in this conversation without stigmatizing. It facilitates speculation about how a Trump presidency might look based on his apparent openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism without slapping a mental health label on him.
We can use specific terms about his personality (disagreeable) and temperament (toddler-ish) but not make attributions to a clinical disorder. All of this is doable even as we still dig into why anyoneaccepts this kind of behavior from a grown man, much less a man who is the GOP’s candidate for president.
If we don’t turn inward and examine ourselves for the social factors that feed the bloated ego of someone like Trump, we aren’t doing much better than Trump. If we default to an easy, unexamined “he’s crazy,” we exemplify precisely some of the factors that fuel his popularity.
Linking mental illness and an inability to govern is unnecessary, and history clearly shows that one does not inevitably lead to the other. Such speculation represents a facile refusal to grapple with our own social responsibility.
For me, I'm listening to Kit, Finn, and Kim. I believe we can defeat Trump without leveraging ableism to our cause. I am as loath to use ableism as I would be to use sexism (vs, say, Palin) or racism (vs, say, Carson). We can do better. We must do better.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Four Essays by People of Color on Disability and Policing

The shooting of Charles Kinsey and the subsequent disclosure that his client, Arnold Rios Soto, was being kept in a psychiatric ward in the hospital, sparked some very good writing. Here's four related pieces by people of color that should get more attention.

First, Finn GardinerManuel Díaz, and Lydia X. Z. Brown wrote: "Charles Kinsey's Story Is About Race. It's Also About Ableism" for Sojourners:
As autistic people of color — and specifically, as a black autistic person, a Latino autistic person, and an East-Asian autistic person — this incident strikes us particularly hard. We have largely been erased from media coverage, which has instead highlighted perspectives of white disabled people, or non-disabled black and brown parents of disabled children, at our expense.
This is personal, and so, unavoidably, political. What happened to Rios-Soto and Kinsey is a story about race, anti-blackness, and white supremacy. But it is impossible to contextualize this racism without also understanding the ableism that informs it.
There's just a lot of basic work to do convincing people that ableism is a real thing and that we need to be concerned about it, like we are with other forms of individual and structural discrimination.  It's not the same as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., but it is real and we must confront it.

Leroy Moore, who has been working on police violence and disability for decades, interviewed Matthew Dietz, the lawyer representing the Rios family.
2) Leroy Moore: For more than 15 years I've been following cases of police brutality involving people with disabilities and it is the same one answer avenue and that is the call for more police training. Is the issue of training central to this case and if so, how? What are other avenues cause it seems in this case it is bigger than just training.

Matthew Dietz, Attorney for the Arnaldo Rios Soto,: This case is more than about training. Even though it was obvious that Mr. Rios was a person with a disability and that they were told that he was a person with a disability, this fact was ignored because of a lack of training. However, after it was known that Mr. Arnaldo was a person with a disability, the police representative had the audacity to say that they did not intend to shoot the health care worker, but instead intended to shoot the autistic man. To me, this demonstrates deliberate animus against persons with disabilities.
"Deliberate animus" is a good phrase. I'd like to hear it argued more often.

At the Washington Post, Matt Ramos, a Latino father of an autistic child wrote about teaching his kids to comply with all police demands as a matter of safety, but what about his autistic child?
Comply, comply, comply was what I was taught, and it’s what I’ve been teaching my sons, to the point that they can probably repeat the speech my father gave me. But how am I supposed to teach those words to someone who doesn’t understand language the way I do? How am I supposed to warn my son about the dangers facing those who look like him when he can’t even conceptualize those differences?
As I wrote, asking Rios to comply in the context of the shooting was asking him to not be disabled, to be something other than what he is. It's not possible. Policing cannot demand this.

Finally, not specifically on the North Miami shooting, "The Black Autist" writes about #BlackDisabledLivesMatter vs #AllDisabledLivesMatter, working through the same issues as the larger Black Lives Matter movement as it applies to disability. TJ has been working hard on raising awareness about black disabled victims of police violence in Chicago lately, and writes:
#BlackDisabledLivesMatter actually reads Black Disabled Lives SHOULD Matter, not Only Black Disabled Lives Matter and F*** Everyone Else. Black disabled people affected by violence are seldom mentioned in the media, or they are mentioned only by name but without any mention of their disability (there are instances that the disability is reported afterwards). The black disability community, including myself, are scared for our lives. Recent victims of police brutality, such as Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, were not only black but also had a disability of some sort. Certain police officers can get away with murdering black disabled people; just take a look at the two officers who got away with murdering Stephon Watts in cold blood. We are also subjected to bullying, filicide, murder, sexual assault, emotional/psychological abuse, child abuse, theft, police profiling, and manipulation from negative influences daily.

To make matters worse, our own black community is inaccessible and doesn’t have many resources to go to. African-American culture seems to have been fearing disability for centuries; starting with slavery when the disabled slaves were discarded or killed because they were unfit to perform on the plantation. That fear still carry on to today’s world, where disability in the black community is taboo (especially mental disabilities). We are either viewed as angels or devils, not just mere humans who want to explore the world and enjoy life just like abled-bodied and neurotypical people. Also add these following things to the mix of things that plague our community: lack of disability awareness/acceptance, underfunded public special education programs, lack of adequate services for the disability community, extreme unemployment/underemployment, and a scarce amount of black disabled role models.
As always, claiming one marginalized group's lives should matter does not mean that other people's lives don't.

Read all these pieces!