My husband banned me from social media today. Probably from the news too.
To be fair, he can’t and wouldn’t really ban me from anything, but he does try to look after my mental health as best he can. So when I called him for a rendezvous point today, sobbing, saying that everything is awful, he thought I might need some self-care in the form of not making my state of mind worse.
My sobbing started when I saw a fire burning high up in one of the canyons of the Wasatch mountains. The trees and grasses are brittle and dry, as they are throughout the West, and I have been afraid that we are only a lightning strike or a poorly tended campfire away from following California and Oregon into mega-fires.
But really, the fire was just the match to my grief. The accelerant was watching the bodycam footage of Lindon Cameron’s shooting at the hands of Salt Lake City police. The fuel was years of anxiety and grief about my own autistic children.
We are not OK. Autistic adults, autistic teens, autistic children, and the people who help them (the people who are supposed to help them)—none of us are OK.
Lindon Cameron, a 13-year-old autistic boy, is in the hospital. Dylan Freeman, a 10-year-old autistic boy, died last month at the hands of his own mother. These two boys are only the most prominent examples of the violence that autistic people, and all disabled people, face on a regular basis.
Sometimes that violence comes at the hands of state-run institutions like the police. Sometimes, disabled people will tell you, it comes in therapy rooms, in doctor’s offices, and in schools. Sometimes, most horrifyingly, it comes at the hands of the people who should treasure and cherish their children more than anyone else in the world.
Ableism, like racism, can be innocuous, but its capacity for violence is never far from the surface. Disability, like race, is a common thread in police killings. The Ruderman Family Foundation estimates that one-third to one-half of all police killings happen to disabled individuals, though we lack clear data to know the real numbers. And like so many other facets of American society, the intersection of race and disability can prove especially fatal.
In another paper, the RFF looks at the murder of disabled people by their caregivers: “At least 219 disabled people were killed by parents and caregivers between 2011-2015—an average of approximately a murder a week. This is a very conservative number due to under-reporting and the fact that a victim’s disability is not always made public. The real numbers are likely much higher.” The paper points out that these killings are often covered as “mercy killings,” or the result of overwhelmed parents. The cruelest sign of our ableism is that we extend sympathy to the murderers more readily than we give it to the victims.
I’m autistic, but I don’t think of myself as disabled—in this context, that means I can keep myself safe from getting attacked by police. My two kids don’t have that privilege. Their disabilities are sometimes called “invisible,” in that people don’t immediately see a mobility device to interpret as “disabled,” but they can’t pass as neurotypical either, especially if they’re mid-meltdown.
As I watched the footage of Lindon Cameron running from the police, I could see my son. When I heard Lindon say, after he had been shot, “I don’t feel good,” I could hear my daughter.
Meanwhile, the world burns. RBG is dead, the senate is filled with hypocrites, sharks are tangled in power lines from a hurricane, women detained by ICE had their uteruses taken, and the western states are riddled with wildfires. Crisis follows crisis in a torrent of disaster, manmade and otherwise. Ableism and its violence seem like one more tree in the flaming forest.
The fire I watched today, high above the valley, likely started by lightning, has the chance to do some good. It will burn away grasses and small shrubs, fallen trees and dead bushes. It will create opportunities for new life and enrich the soil. It will lay the groundwork for a healthier forest, on its own small scale. It is not enough to save the world, but it’s a start.
Grief, and pain, and anger can fuel a cleansing fire. The work we will do, following the trailblazing path of Black Lives Matter, to raise awareness, to reinvent our notion of policing, and to make our communities safer for everyone, is a start. It’s not enough to save the world, but it’s a start.