Monday, May 22, 2017

Lead Poisoning: Environmental Justice, Economic Justice, Disability Justice

Before Flint's water crisis hit national news, I often wrote sentences that read something like this: lead poisoning is the most critical disability story that not enough people are talking about. Then Flint's crisis became visible, and suddenly people talked about this issue a lot more often, but mostly just about Flint. 

Lead poisoning is a national crisis. It is a factor of environmental racism and classism. It's not a coincidence that poor black neighborhoods are so subject to this problem. In the disability rights movement, we need to adopt the mantra that environmental justice and economic justice are necessary for disability justice. And, of course, vice versa.

Vann R. Newkirk III, at The Atlantic, has written an outstanding long read on "The Poisoned Generation," on lead and other toxic exposure for poor black families in New Orleans and the lawsuits seeking recompense. Newkirk writes:
For people living in precarious financial, environmental, and social conditions, black skin often carries with it a life of additional traumas. Strata of segregation and exclusion manifest in the most fundamental factors of life—from the air people breathe to the water they drink—and even when they don’t kill outright, they often exacerbate existing issues. For those in the poisoned generation and beyond, blackness is a tightrope, and lead poisoning is just one of the ways to fall.
I strongly recommend reading the entire piece and getting up to speed on these issues.

Friday, May 19, 2017

#CultOfCompliance: Tasing and Handcuffing Fails to Stop Meltdown

Yosio Lopez is a 7 year old boy with ADHD and other emotional disabilities in a Dallas school. Sometimes he has behavioral meltdowns when overstimulated and an aide helps him through the process. 

As reported on CNN:
Yosio Lopez was handcuffed, Tased and bruised by Dallas Independent School District (DISD) Police after the boy started banging his head against a wall in class, the Lopez family lawyer, David Ramirez, told CNN.

He has experienced similar outbursts in the past but has always had a trained school aide nearby to help calm him down.

Last Tuesday, the aide wasn't there and Yosio didn't have his "safe place," Ramirez said.

The boy told his mother, April Odis, that he was put on a desk with his arms cuffed behind his back while the school principal put her elbow on his neck and choked him to restrain him, the family lawyer said.
He was taken to a mental health facility and forcibly institutionalized. He and his mother were kept separated for two days under the claim that he was a danger to himself and others.

So here we have a child who becomes distressed and bangs his head against a wall. That is, indeed, a moment for intervention and then post-incident assessment of the triggering behavior - so as to fix the context, not the child. Instead, the school (allegedly) creates a traumatizing situation, then intensifies the trauma through temporary medical incarceration.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Terence Crutcher's Killer Acquitted: The Disability Context to the Killing

Betty Shelby, a police officer, shot and killed an unarmed black man who was complying with orders. There's video. Yesterday, a jury acquitted her of all charges.

There's lots to say here and others are writing importantly about the case, but I just want to focus on the disability issues. Terence Crutcher had a prosthetic eye and hearing loss.
  • Video of his sister talking about his disability.
  • Transcript of the relevant section
    • Tiffany Crutcher (5:31): That's their side of it, and I just don't believe that. And one thing that people don't know about my brother, my brother has a very severe hearing issue in his right ear and a prosthetic eye. And I know my brother was scared, and people don't know that. All they know is that he's a bad dude, but my brother was disabled, and he was just trying to get his life together. So I can't say that's true, I was not there at the scene. But you know these things tend to be scripted, case after case after case, he didn't comply. They didn't comply. But the video tells it all. His hands were up. And that's what we are fighting right there. The fact that everybody saw his hands up and at that moment there was no need to execute him at all.
A third to a half of all people killed by police are disabled. Most of them are multiply marginalized, generally by race or class. If you fight for disability rights, you fight against police violence.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Arnaldo Rios - His trauma matters

Arnaldo Rios is the autistic Latinx individual who was shot at by a cop when he was sitting still in the street holding a toy truck. The bullet struck Charles Kinsey, his therapist, who was lying on the ground next to Rios raising his hands in the air. Kinsey has recovered physically. Rios is now institutionalized as a result of the trauma.

The cop who shot Kinsey and shot at Rios was charged with attempted manslaughter, but initially just for shooting Kinsey. Rios' experience was erased from the charging documents.

That's been fixed.
After months of investigation, prosecutors concluded that Aledda was not justified in shooting from more than 150 feet away. Among the reasons: Other officers had already radioed out that Rios did not have a weapon, and two cops within 20 feet did not fear for their lives.
In arresting Aledda, prosecutors initially charged him with one felony count of attempted manslaughter and one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence. During the Friday hearing, they officially filed two felony counts of attempted manslaughter, one for Kinsey and added one for Rios. The autistic man was not hit, but the shot fired at him “could have resulted in death,” according to the formal charges.
Emphasis mine. See more coverage of the case in the site tags.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Public Writing Workshop

I'm heading to Macalester College to teach a public writing workshop today. Hey, I could come to your college or university and teach one! I offer them to both faculty and graduate students, or both together!

Image Description: A flyer with pictures of me and some keen stock photos. Accessible info
at the "Speaking" page above.

Monday, May 15, 2017

RESOURCES: Eugenics and Institutionalization in Wisconsin History

I am giving a talk today at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. A few resources:

EUGENICS IN WISCONSIN


Images from Reske's article: 1) Men with pro-eugenics signs. 2) Women posing with gambling machines.





How do we reckon with this history?

Resources assembled with assistance from Kit Mead, my RA for this project.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Trump and Mental Health Discourse, Part 4392

So Comey said Trump is "crazy," but before that George Will said Trump is "disabled" by Hubris. Will, of course, is the famous father of a man with Down syndrome, so this is particularly disappointing.

One of my critiques of the mental health discourse is that by all accounts Trump has spent his life acting in perfectly consistent ways and has been incredibly rewarded for it. He's always been a liar. He's always been an abuser. He's still a liar. He's still an abuser. This is not a narrative of progressive mental health transformation.

Evan Osnos, with the New Yorker, has more on hubris as disability.

First "Hubris syndrome:"
In February, 2009, the British medical journal Brain published an article on the intersection of health and politics titled “Hubris Syndrome: An Acquired Personality Disorder?” The authors were David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary, who is also a physician and neuroscientist, and Jonathan Davidson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, who has studied the mental health of politicians. They proposed the creation of a psychiatric disorder for leaders who exhibited, among other qualities, “impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate."
Although they say that the Greeks warned as about this, I think the lesson of the Greeks is that hubris is a core aspect of human neurology, not a pathological abnormality.

Second, does it apply to Trump? The creators aren't so sure:
When I asked Owen if Trump meets the threshold of hubris syndrome, he replied that Trump was a hard case, because he reigned over a family business for so long before entering politics. “He has obviously got hubris, but did he acquire it in his business? What was he like when he was twenty? I refuse to put a label on him because I don’t know enough.” Owen added, “Watch him very carefully. It’s a phenomenon that needs to be analyzed, but it will not be very revealing to put labels on it that are inappropriate just because you desperately want to say, ‘He’s crazy.’ ”
This I like, of course. Regardless of the truth of Trump's mental health, it will not be useful to label Trump crazy. It will, however, spread stigma.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

#CultOfCompliance - Punching doesn't stop meltdowns.

The video linked here shows an aide hitting a 6 year old autistic child in the face. The school's excuse - the child spit on the aide. There's plenty to be said about the lack of training of aides, lack of standards, the rise of video surveillance in school and the potential problems (video can be used against disabled children). I just want to emphasize this one point:

The use of force and other forms of coercion can never, will never, force a child out of a meltdown. You cannot scare or hit a child neurotypical.

But authority figures keep trying. That's the Cult of Compliance.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Rape Culture and Stock Photos

I hesitated to write this blog post, because it jeopardizes a potential outlet for coverage of disability-related stories. Being a freelancer means that criticizing anybody threatens future income streams.

Tonic, the health page at Vice (and thus a disability venue) has a good article on the failure of colleges to teach consent. It looks at sexual education trainings that take place early in Freshman careers, and notes a lack of clarity or a brevity of content around consent, in particular:
Every administrator contacted for this piece stressed that they have a robust sex ed plan for freshmen. But while learning about how to put a condom on is great, the more pressing issue might be a more extensive conversation about knowing when to back off a sexual situation that isn't clearly consensual, regardless of how intoxication can blur boundaries. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there are approximately 327 active sexual assault investigations on campuses across the US.
Good piece.

The piece features a stock photo of an apparently female body clad in jeans and a bra, her back seductively bare and curvy, on the lap of another individual (likely male) clad in a gray shirt and green rugged trousers, his hands on her upper thighs. It's an erotic picture, chopping bodies into parts without heads, emphasizing the skin of the female on top. I'm deliberately not inserting it into this post, because I don't want this post on consent to include an erotic image.

And Tonic should have made the same decision.

Associating stories about rape and consent with sexy images perpetuates rape culture. It's an editorial mistake, and I can't speculate about why Tonic chose to do this. But as the piece was shared throughout social media, this sexy image kept popping up. It's the wrong message.




Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Genetic Basis for Criminality" - Racism and Ableism

I'm always interested in tracking the ways that hatreds intersect and magnify. Here's a classic one, still vibrantly alive among American racists. The New Yorker published a long article on the racists behind the mustard-based South Carolina BBQ sauce. The family that developed it has a long history of racism, and the man behind "Piggie Park" is pretty extreme. He died, can the family adapt? 

"High" is the founder of the Southern Carolina Barbeque Association and he thinks all that racism stuff was overblown. My emphasis:
High spoke favorably of the Piggie Park’s new management—“Paul and Lloyd, and he’s got a daughter whose name I forget, cute girl. They’re real dedicated.” He had also thought highly of Maurice, who, he said, was always friendly and insisted on top-of-the-line ingredients. “He and Strom Thurmond were talking about all-natural thirty years ago,” he said, which seemed a bit like remembering Oswald Mosley for his advocacy of brown bread. I asked whether he thought Maurice’s political legacy posed a problem. “It wasn’t nearly as bitter as modern day makes it seem,” he said. He went on to talk about the trouble with racially interbred societies, the genetic basis of criminality, and his belief that the South should secede. After a disquisition that touched on everything from slavery (“It’s been around since Day One, and they talk about it in the Bible”) to Trump (“I happened to see him speaking to a crowd before he declared, and I came into the kitchen and I said, ‘Lovebug, that man’s gonna be President’ ”), he returned to the Piggie Park. “This is the most taken-for-granted barbecue house in America,” he said.
The assertion of a genetic basis of criminality is a core principle of eugenics, used to discriminate against disabled folks everywhere. It also informs "scientific racism," newly in vogue, but never really gone.

And here's a recent appearance of twitter from a man who works for PA Corrections and used to work for PA Probation.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Augustine and Insanity Discourse

Every time there's a new interview with Donald Trump, my social media feeds pop with people speculating about the president's mental condition. For example:
Here's a great essay I've been meaning to share by Jessica Wright in Eidolon on "Crazy Talk," the rhetoric of mental illness.
What is the effect of the “crazy” talk that permeates our public forums and our political discourse? We have a very long history of using words such as “crazy” and “mad” in casual polemic. The Greek orator Demosthenes used the word mania sixteen times in his extant speeches, and never to offer a “medical” diagnosis. Some two-and-a-half centuries later, Cicero employed the Latin word insania and its related verb insanire on over seventy occasions.
Authors such as these were the models of polite speech and rhetoric throughout the Roman Empire, and were enormously influential in literary culture and education in modern Europe and its imperial reach. As Caroline Winterer has shown, Greek and Latin models were fundamental to political oratory in antebellum America. Frederick Douglass, as David W. Blight has described, studied rhetoric from a book called The Columbian Orator, which included extracts (translated and imagined) from Greco-Roman oratory.
It is perhaps unsurprising that similar rhetorical moves structure our own polemic, their figural quality all but invisible. That is not to say that we are unaware of the effects of our words. Disability rights activists and disability theorists have long highlighted the normative and “ableist” assumptions that underwrite discourses of “crazy” in contemporary culture. Using mental disorders as insults shapes our way of thinking about mental disorders and our mode of engagement with people who experience them.
READ THE WHOLE THING.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Divide and Conquer vs Single Payer Now

Alabama GOP congressman Mo Brooks said that people who make "good choices" deserve better healthcare, thus framing the sick as morally inferior, as culpable. It's not a new argument.
“It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy."


The natural retort will be to hold up other members of the worthy sick, people struck with cancer in infancy or wounded by the actions of others. My first instinct was to talk about my son, who is not sick, but whose pre-existing condition (Down syndrome) happened when his cells divided in the first moments after conception, copying an extra copy of a chromosome into each new cell.

But the GOP is ready for this. Their messaging on health, disability, and poverty is to divide the worthy from the unworthy. To say to me - oh we're gonna take care of your son, we're just going to divide out the fraudsters. We're going to take care of the "good poor," but not "those people." 

And for many, it will work. We have seen this around social security, medicare, medicaid, welfare, and so much more. Americans are far too willing to believe that they deserve the government supports they would deny to the less deserving. To signal our virtue, rather than espouse a philosophy of universal support and basic human rights.

We cannot play the GOP game of determining who is and isn't worthy. A just society provides healthcare to all.

Single payer now.



Monday, May 1, 2017

"Free Cookie" - Security Guard Trainer Maces Autistic Man

A man who trains security guards sprayed pepper spray in the face of an autistic man who was taking a free cookie.
He was the training director of one of St. Paul’s largest security companies — a man certified on when and how to use Mace.
Which left police mystified as to why Timothy Knutsen would pepper spray an autistic man in the face for eating a cookie from a Cub Foods sampler tray.
Knutsen, 53, of St. Paul, has been charged with two counts of fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct for an incident in Roseville last month.
According to an incident report, in early March, Knutsen was a customer at a Cub Foods at 1201 Larpenteur Ave., when he saw a man eating “a doughnut or a cookie” from the bakery. He told an employee at the store’s service desk, but she said she didn’t see it and there was nothing she could do.
“(Knutsen) was not satisfied with her response,” the complaint stated. He asked to speak to the store’s loss-prevention personnel — people he later claimed he was responsible for training. Statements from his (now former) company, American Security, as well as Cub Foods, dispute that.
The cookie eater — a 20-year-old Roseville man who was not identified because he has autism and is classified as a vulnerable adult — paid for his groceries and began making his way back to the deli/bakery area again. Knutsen fell in a few steps behind, the complaint stated.
Trying to find out more about this story. It's weird. I am suspecting other forms of bias (i.e. racism) are intersecting here, but that's just speculation.