A Call for Solidarity with the Community of Ferguson, Missouri

AllieFor the last few days, like many other disenfranchised communities across the country, the disability community has watched what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow, anger, and fear for what is happening to individuals, families, and communities so similar to our own.

Even following the release of the name of the police officer who was ultimately responsible for Michael Brown’s death, we must still come to terms with the tragedy itself. This is a tragedy not just because of the precious loss of life or the actions of one person, but is also a tragedy that is caused by the criminalization and dehumanization of our own citizens. It is a tragedy not only for Michael Brown’s family but for the entire country.

Perhaps, it is more honest to for us to say, it is yet another tragedy that has become all too common for communities viewed as “other” to the American majority – young men of color, people with disabilities, lgbt individuals.

“They didn’t comply.” They were “bad kids.” “They were being belligerent.”  “They looked suspicious.”

 These statements that have no real discernable meaning often warrant a death sentence for the individuals upon which the observations are based.

  • Eric Garner, 43, who had asthma, was pulled to the sidewalk onto his chest and restrained in a chokehold by an officer. The medical examiner cited that Garner’s cause of death was “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” (New York)
  • Robert Ethan Saylor, 26, who had Down syndrome, went to see a movie and refused to leave. It was customary for Saylor to see a movie twice. Deputies put Saylor on the floor, held him down, and handcuffed him with such force that he suffered a fracture in his throat cartilage and died of asphyxiation. (Maryland)
  • Keith Vidal, 18, who had schizophrenia, was tasered, then shot, and killed when his family called law enforcement for help calming their son down. Vidal’s stepfather said, “”They killed my son in cold blood. We called for help, and they killed my son.” (North Carolina)
  • Gilberto Powell, 22, who has Down Syndrome, was beaten by police outside his home and was left with horrible bruises and scars on his face when law enforcement suspected he was carrying a weapon and tried to pat Powell down. Powell did not understand and ran. The suspicious bulge in his pants? It was a colostomy bag. (Florida)
  • Barry Montgomery, 29, who has schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, and is non-verbal ,was harassed and then beaten and tasered for 25 minutes by sheriff officers when he was confronted about the smell of marijuana in his general area, and Montgomery did not respond. Montgomery sustained massive permanent injuries. (California)

Eric Garner, Ethan Saylor, Keith Vidal, Gilberto Powell, and Barry Montgomery – these are the names of a few people with disabilities who were brutally injured and killed because of who they are. There are many who were lost before them, and there are certainly others whose names we will never know because the brutality against them was never reported.

When a system that is designed to protect and serve is fueled by fear and anger, that is not merely a surmountable problem. It is a catastrophic failure of the system, and it demands transformation. Such a failure represents a lack of leadership, a corruption of institutions, and a distressing willingness to purposely and violently silence the voices of entire communities marked as different, non-compliant, and suspicious.

Perhaps what is most disconcerting however, is that the failure to support our young men of color, who are gay who have disabilities, who are poor, is not just to be laid at the feet of an intolerant police force, self-interested politicos or even a sensational hungry media. The fault lies in our own hearts.We have not taken enough of the responsibility to manage and maintain the values that we believe are right. We have been complacent in our engagement and been comfortable enough to declare that the problems are with other people. We have allowed ourselves to be separated into tiny groups of associated individuals rather than communities participating in a collective conversation about the state, direction and makeup of our society.

We have allowed problems of marginalization, exclusion, inaccessibility, dissemination, sexism and bigotry — problems that affect us all — to instead be addressed by a few, and have been content to say that it is a disability problem, or a race problem or gender problem or sexuality problem rather than admit that it is a problem for all of us. As members of a community that supports justice and inclusion we do not have the luxury to stand by when injustice is blatantly taking place in any form, and nor should we be satisfied to wait for other communities to ask for our help.

Civil rights, respect, and justice are due to all.   We will not remain silent. The disability community, like the LGBT community, and so many others around the country, stands with the family of Michael Brown and with the people of Ferguson, Missouri. We call on the national and local media to be responsible and steadfast in their coverage of this story and others like it. We call on policy makers on all levels of American government not to shrink from action, and we are deeply grateful to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice for their immediate commitment to a thorough investigation. Let us all come together, not only to rally and mourn but also to plan for action and collaboration.

Lastly, we specifically invoke the words of Justin Dart in “a call for solidarity among all who love justice, all who love life, to create a revolution that will empower every single human being to govern his or her life, to govern the society and to be fully productive of life quality for self and for all.”

 

The Lead On Network
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Ollibean
Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective
Queerability
Ramp Your Voice!
Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD)
The Vermont Center for Independent Living
The Center for Disability Rights
The Regional Center for Independent Living in Rochester, NY
Green Mountain Self-Advocates
ADAPT Montana
Disability Rights Center
Michigan Disability Rights Coalition
Topeka Independent Living Resource Center
Kansas ADAPT
National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered
Marin Center for Independent Living
Autistic Self Advocacy Rhode Island
Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco
Association for Autistic Community
Autism Women’s Network
Autism National Committee (AutCom)
YO! Disabled and Proud
The Disability Organizing Network
NeuroQueer
Little People of America
Access Living
Metro Minnesota ADAPT
Society for Disability Studies
TASH
The People with Disabilities Caucus of the Peoples Power Assembly
Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST NYC)

 

If you are a disability organization and interested in signing on to this statement, please contact us at LeadOnUpdate@gmail.com.  If you are an individual with a disability who cares about this issue and supports this statement please share it widely.  Also, we know you have your own thoughts to express and urge you to do so in the comments. We will not remain silent! The events of the last week touch us all.

 

 

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9 Responses to A Call for Solidarity with the Community of Ferguson, Missouri

  1. admin says:

    From supporter David Perry:

    I write about the links between these issues for major media, including CNN and Al Jazeera America. Here’s the most recent:

    http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/8/ferguson-police-shootracismcompliance.html

  2. admin says:

    From supporter Sandi Weber (via Facebook):

    As a member of the LGBT community, Pennsylvania and national ADAPT community, a woman with a disability, and the parent of a son with multiple disabilities, I am proud to stand in solidarity with my oppressed, disenfranchised, and disregarded brothers and sisters.

    Sandi Weber
    Wexford, pa

  3. Andrea S. says:

    Here is one more reason why the disability community should be standing in solidarity with the black community of Ferguson and all the other black communities in America under siege because too many cops see the color of their skin before the see anything else: We owe them a debt. When a group of protesters with disabilities occupied government offices in 1977 to pressure the government into actually implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Black Panthers paid for most of the food they ate for several weeks. Which meant the government couldn’t simply starve them out. The support of the Black Panthers was instrumental to winning that battle for real world implementation of Section 504. And that arguably helped lay the ground work we needed to get the ADA passed in 1990. Some info on that: http://socialismartnature.tumblr.com/post/76951614367/black-history-of-504-sit-in-for-disability-rights-more

    Also, intersectionality matters: Where racism persists, that’s going to hit people with disabilities of color the most. We cannot fully liberate the disability community until we enable disabled people of color to liberate themselves not only from ableism but also from racism.

  4. admin says:

    Well said, Andrea! And some great history that not everyone may be aware of.

  5. Anni says:

    Is this justice? I stand in solidarity

  6. I would also add Stephon Watts, an autistic teen from a Chicago neighborhood, who was shot & killed by police back in 2012. The police were familiar with Watts, who had meltdowns on occasion, prompting his parents to call police in for help. Why they shot Watts: for “allegedly” wielding a butter knife at them.

  7. Pingback: 2 Cent Tuesday – #Ferguson #JusticeForEthan | Walkersvillemom

  8. Angel Miles says:

    What else can be said that hasn’t already been said? I stand in solidarity!

Comments are closed.