|Photo Description: Brendan Mason, wearing glasses and a brown tee shirt. He is smiling.|
I messaged my friend in Wales to ask her a question but before she had a chance to respond, someone else posted an article that had the answer both in the text and in the headline. Yes, he had a "learning difficulties" which is what we call "intellectual disabilities" on this side of the pond.
We, as a community, need to be asking hard questions of the press and the justice system? Why was this not prominently mentioned in all the news articles about him? Why was it not made clear that his assailants manipulated him into thinking friendship existed between them and then conspired to beat him for fun? Why was the context of disability not discussed in these stories, and from the stories about the trial why wasn't a part of the court proceedings?
Isn't is responsible for the media to inform the public? Isn't it responsible of the courts to understand crimes against people with disabilities in the context of disability? I think both have failed Brendan and the community of others with learning difficulties (intellectual disabilities) and their families and support workers. We need to know about these crimes. We need to know how the perpetrators got to him, how they manipulated him and then the level of violence they sunk to in attacking him. We need to know these things, not to scare us, not to have us hiding in our homes, but to prepare us.
To prepare people with intellectual disabilities so that they know the dangers of 'pretend friends' and to watch out for signs of manipulation. To prepare parents and support workers so that they can do the teaching and the training necessary to live in a community where crimes like these are not only possible but distressingly common. Look again at the picture at the top of this post. Brendan Mason is looking out at us smiling. He was smiling. His life gave him moments like this. If his life with a disability was worth something to him then maybe it was worth a mention.
Proper reporting and proper judicial examination of motives and of hate alert us all. It makes us responsible for knowing and then for doing.
We know this can happen.
We know this did happen.
We know we must respond in some way.
We cannot sit with the knowledge of Brendan's life and Brendan's death and not be moved to DO SOMETHING. We can't just be silently outraged. We can't believe that Facebook posting is an effective tool for change. We can't emoticon our way out of this. We are responsible because, even if we don't know Brendan Mason, we mourn him. We are responsible because we know people like Brendan Mason who could be tricked in the same way, who could be manipulated by offers of false friendship, who would do what was asked because we taught them the ways of compliance without question.
We are responsible.
So action is the only way forward.
What can be done?
We can properly and responsibly inform each other about the tragedy of the murder of one of our own.
We can ensure that those who we parent or support have the opportunity to learn about bullying, social and physical violence, and develop strategies that work to keep people safer.
We can ensure that letters go to the media that hold courts and reporters to account for how they account themselves when crimes against people with disabilities come before them.
We can assert ourselves as a community in support of each other and in support of a world that takes violence against people with disabilities seriously.
Hate crimes against people with disabilities are growing more frequent (there is data on this) and the level of violence involved is also increasing.
Why don't we know about this?
Because, for some reason, who Brendan Mason was, and how he lived his life, was considered irrelevant. Well let me tell you this, for those of us who live our lives with disabilities, the context of 'disability' is never irrelevant and it's never shameful, and it never needs silence.
Silence = Death ... a slogan from the early days of AIDS, is one that should have taught the world that Silence = Complicity.
Don't be silent.
Doing damns the darkness.