Thursday, January 24, 2008


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.


rickismom said...

But conviction for the crime was a good start.
I learned many years ago that changes don't take place over-night, but if you keep chipping away, you can carve a tribute to mankind.
We do not necessarily have to finish the race, but neither can we decist.

Anonymous said...

It's all based on fear. Fear of difference...fear that you will be labeled as different...fear that being outside the status quo will get you noticed by someone with less than pure intent.

FEAR. That's why we shove these things under the carpet.

Jenny Fields in disguise said...

Well said.

And thanks for coming to Barrie last week. Always a pleasure to hear you speak.

Shan said...

Thank God for the conviction...but if only it were possible to make it right.

theknapper said...

This post needs to be an Editorial in all the major newspapers.

Casdok said...

An excellent post.
I dont understand these things either.

Anonymous said...

But it is a start - two years ago I wouldn't have heard such issues discussed on the news, there would have been no black arm band campaign.

I know there is a long way to go but 20 years ago we had institutions, people with disabilities were cloistered together away from society, today we are finally seeing them getting the access to society they are entitled to. The fight is no where near finished yet but I am going to remain positive.

Maybe not this year but one day soon hopefully there will be no more Brent Martin's and hate crime against the disabled will be as acknowledged as wrong as any other form of discrimination.

Anonymous said...


Erik Kondon of Lexington, Mass. has been in a chair since '84 and teaches classes. Here is his website:

He also has some great videos on youtube that show techniques, scenarios, and other interesting clips (like him climbing up stairs in his wheelchair, riding a hand bike, etc.):

Sorry to use caps, but I think this is an important resource, and I didn't want people to miss it!

A quote from his website:

"Our primary objective is to help at-risk individuals survive violent attacks and deter aggressive confrontations. The majority of students are people in groups that are traditionally considered vulnerable or have been historically targeted for violence. These groups include but are not limited to people with physical disabilities, women, the gay and lesbian population, and racial minorities."

Anonymous said...


Hate crime legislation is to be strengthened to protect disabled people and those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities.

The Scottish Government has given its backing to Green MSP Patrick Harvie's proposal for a Sentencing of Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation will be taken forward early this year as a handout Member's Bill.

Its changing too slowly but it is changing

DRA Canada said...

Well said friend, but as you said...your still new to disablement, Canadian Style, eh?

Remember, ignorance, negligence, superstition and fear are the social factors that create prejudice and discrimination towards people with disabilities.

And these days very few of us (PWD) are being given any protection under Canada's legal system, regardless of the intent of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

PWD should be entitled to the same protection, equality and respect that other non-disabled Canadians enjoy...however, if that's really Canada's objective, why is it we still don't?


Best to all,

Steven Palmer DRA Advocate

A Non-Government Organization
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada