Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Boy In The Tunnel: First Confrontation

So much happened in those few minutes that the boy with autism and his staff made their way through the short tunnel that I had to decide where to begin the telling. I chose to begin with the staff, I chose to begin with a positive statement about his support and the absolute respect with which he was treated and how that respect informed those who began with judgement as to everyone's right to public space. I didn't want to begin at the actual beginning, with the first confrontation.

As I said, we rolled towards the top of the ramp going over to the movie theatre, as we just entered into the tunnel, the scream happened. The young boy was in distress and all eyes shot towards him. But not just eyes. Two different people, beside me, pulled out their cell phones and began to set up to either video the incident or take a picture of the boy. I was stunned at their callous consumption of the moment and their clear intention to "share."

In order for me to be clear about my motivation, this has happened to me a few times. It would have happened more often but Joe and I are very skilled and very practiced in thwarting picture takers. I know how to turn the chair quickly to give them a shot of the back of my chair and Joe knows how to step in and 'photo block' any attempt to capture an image of me. I know that their are 'freak pixing' and that I'm going to be laughed at over a beverage, as the camera is shared round. I know I'm going to give someone, who lives without story, an anecdote to share.

I also know where to find the few stray pictures of me as 'fat man in public' that have made it onto the internet. I know the purpose of the pictures is to inspire disgust in the viewer and to grant those who look at it a moment of superiority because though I'm more, I'm obviously less. So, I hate seeing people take pictures of people for the sole purpose of humiliation one for the elevation of another. As such, I'm not silent.

So they had their camera phones raised. I swiftly turned and said, in my firmest, but certainly not loudest, voice. "Don't!" That stopped them as they glanced towards me. "Put those cameras down!" I said, assuming an authority that I did not have. One of the good things about being a lecturer is that I know how to use my voice and how to take control of a situation. Both dropped their phones and then put them away.

I had thought that this was because of my intervention but then I noticed that my voice had been loud enough to attract the attention of others in the mouth of the tunnel. They hadn't said anything but they were clearly in support of my demand. The stares had switched from the boy in distress to those who would exploit the boy in distress.

I don't often experience community in the community but at times like this, I sense what community could be like. Everyone having everyone's back.

The two picture takes did not stay to watch the boy make the journey through the tunnel. They left, deciding to go another way, or to simply go away.

Doing damns the darkness.


Unknown said...

WOW....words help,words protect, words heal.....words are power.

ABEhrhardt said...

Thanks for the example: the fastest words, spoken with authority, are best, but it is hard to have them at the ready.

I rarely run into situations where advocacy is as sharply necessary as this one, but now I'm more prepared.

Liz Miller said...

Thank you so much for this series of posts. Thank you for showing me what to do in a similar situation.

I took a CPR class once, where the instructor said, "Don't shout out, 'Call 911!', instead point to someone and say, 'YOU! Call 911'". This post feels like that command to me, and I will remember it.

Unknown said...

Those of us who are able to MUST speak up for those who are unable to speak for themselves. Well done!

painting with fire said...

Your clarity of how to respond in that instance is helpful - it's so easy to not have the right response in the instance. I will remember!

Frank_V said...

If I could draw well enough, I'd sketch you as a superhero. Perhaps I'd call you "Daring Dave", with cape, mask and all. Your super powers? Well, you'd have "truth vision" able to see situations clearly, and, "voice command" where you can literally control villains with just a word.

Ettina said...

I'd just like to mention that most autistic people are not big fans of person-first language. This is a big area of contention between autistic people and our 'supporters', since most parents and support workers are really insistent on person first language to the point of regularly lecturing autistic people on how we describe ourselves.