Tuesday, February 21, 2017

He Is Smiling

Photo Description: Brendan Mason, wearing glasses and a brown tee shirt. He is smiling.
A friend of mine from Wales posted an article on Facebook about a man, Brendan Mason, who was beaten to death, while his attackers filmed him being tortured and humiliated. In my friends comments she mentioned the attack as one being based on hate. I went to one article and then another and then another and then finally, this one and I didn't see what I expected to see there, mention of hate being a motivator for the crime.

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.

Don't consent.

Doing damns the darkness.


helencs said...

Thank you for writing this dave. Here in the UK,in the world of mainstreaming, people seem to think if they just don't mention learning disability (still used here more than intellectual disability) or call it "difficulties" then somehow it'll go away. This notion that everyone is the same is so wired into people's thinking to the extent that nobody tells these kids or their parents that they even have an intellectual disability or what that means. When we in the health service do we're accused of "labelling" or limiting people rather than empowering them.

Frank_V said...

More than race and religion I feel, disability is an open doorway, an invitation almost, for the most evil thoughts and actions.

While there is evil visited on people due to race and religion, evil seems to be less afraid of those of us with disabilities because in many cases, we are less able to fight back. I will further reflect on how I can best "do something" about it.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Frank V,
With due respect, unless you are yourself a person who lives within the intersection of multiple marginalized identities and oppression, I would use extreme caution in trying to compare whether any one marginalized identity is more greatly impacted by oppression, or more targeted for evil than others. The Holocaust, for example, targeted a great many marginalized identities including people with disabilities, lgbt+ people, and more -- but it still disproportionately impacted Jewish people. The Crusades led to a lot of evil violence against Muslim people. Black families have to teach their sons (and daughters) to be extra careful around cops because they are more likely to be dehumanized to the point where they are at higher risk of being killed.

I don't think it is helpful to try comparing one experience of oppression with another. It usually just serves to alienate people who live within the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. There are, for example, tons of black and brown Muslims with disabilities, Jewish people of all races with disabilities, etc. Only they can tell us which form of oppression has impacted their individual lives the most. And even they can only report their own individual experiences.

Isn't it enough to simply say that people with disabilities -- along with people with many other marginalized identities -- are very often dehumanized, stripped of autonomy, denied access to their human rights, targeted for violence and evil actions? That anyone experiences these things should be reason enough for people to care, without needing to persuade people that it is necessarily any worse than what others experiencing marginalization and oppression must endure.

Unknown said...

I am part of a circle of support for a man in his late twenties with an intellectual disability His circle had helped him out a few times when he has met people on the net or in clubs who did not have the best on intentions. Over time he has made some genuine friendships but everyone needs someone to look out for them and help them minimize risk.