I have known for several days now about the conviction of the final of the three who beat Brent Martin to death. The seventeen year old boxing student who, unlike the other two (16 and 21) did not plead guilty because he wasn't "going down for a muppet". There is a life sentence for a conviction of murder.
The whole time that the 'black armband' campaign was going on the trial was happening. Every time I thought of the monstors that had brutally beat a man with a disability to death, I got chills. The idea of them frightened me. My own vulnerablity as a person with a disability frightened me. A culture that breeds such violence frightened me. And without question, I wanted a guilty verdict. I wanted a jury to state, without equivocation, that the murder of a person with a disability mattered.
Well they did.
But I'm left with a hollow feeling. I'm glad that there was a just result from the justice system, I'm glad the crime was followed by punishment. I'm glad that Brent's name came to represent for us the very real concern about hate crimes against those with disabilities. But still, I felt somehow unfinished.
Like there has been conviction and punishment without explanation. I read the news reports and saw that this 17 year old claimed just to 'go along' so he'd 'look tough' so he'd 'look like a man'. That is a facile explanation. I know it. His lawyer knew it. But it had to be tried.
I don't understand the deep seated fear of disability and of disabled persons.
I don't understand the source of the prejudice.
I don't understand the need to diminish a whole class of persons.
I don't understand how a society can be built on the exclusion of some and the welcoming of others. Here in Ontario we are closing the last of the institutions that were built to house people with intellectual disabilities - people convicted and jailed for the crime of difference. The ripping of son's and daughters from parental homes. The ripping of citizens from their proper place in the community. The ripping of neighbours from neighbourhoods, employees from employment, worshipers from congregations. A mammoth act of social violence. An act never really explained - an act blamed on the disability not on the prejudice it spawns.
I don't understand how a whole class of people can be deemed 'fit for unemployment,' deemed 'receivers of charity and pity,' deemed 'not wanted on the voyage'. I don't know why 'diversity' never means disability - it means sexual orientation, it means race, it means gender, but it doesn't mean disability. I don't know why one group of people can be singled out for poverty and unemployment without a mammoth social cry of 'DISCRIMINATION'.
I don't understand why the terms of prejudice 'disphobia' and 'disableism' are never used in public discourse, in the press, in everyday speech. I don't know why racism, sexism and homophobia are considered social ills - but prejudice against disability is seemed as 'natural and OK ... worse it's even seen as frigging kindness!'
I can't imagine the purposeful killing of a black 23 year old by three white kids not being called racist.
I can't imagine the purposeful killing of a gay 23 year old by three straight kids not being called homophobic.
I have come to expect the killing of a 23 year old with a disability not even to be noticed. Not commented on as a display of disphobia. Not leading to a serious questioning of the place in the world, the experience of the world, by those with disabilities.
Every day, out there in the world, I experience some kind of reaction to my disability. Every day, out there in the world, I experience some form of social violence because of my disability. I fear I grow used to it, begin to expect it, decide I deserve it.
I fear that I will not be taken seriously, my concerns be tut tutted away, that there will never be a concerted effort to understand how deep the roots of disphobia run, how widespread the prejudice and how much society loses by diminishing the talents of 'we' with disabilities.
But there was a conviction for a crime.
It's not enough.
Not near enough.