March 1st has been designated the International Disability Day of Mourning. It is a day for the disability community to mourn the loss of disabled people who were murdered by their parents or caregivers, a heinous form of murder called filicide. Disabled people, especially people with developmental disabilities like autism, are significantly more likely to be the victims of violent crimes, and people who commit crimes against disabled people frequently receive lesser sentences than people who commit crimes against nondisabled people.
This is especially true in the case of disabled people murdered by their parents, who are often charged with the lowest possible crime such as “involuntary manslaughter” after they had intentionally shot, stabbed, or neglected their child to death, with judges and prosecutors often citing how they “understand” how difficult it must be to raise a disabled child, and so it’s understandable that under such intense stress a parent would eventually lash out violently. These murders are sometimes branded as “mercy killings” by the press. This proves that society as a whole unacceptably views the lives of disabled people as less valuable or less important than other people, as also evidenced by the fact that over the last year in some COVID-overwhelmed places doctors were instructed not to treat disabled people in order to prioritize the lives of nondisabled people.
Here is what I wrote two years ago in my first post on this day:
Every year, hundreds, if not thousands, of disabled people are murdered by their parents, their caretakers, or their siblings. The people they should have been able to trust the most. On this day, we, as a community, gather to mourn for these people. To remember them, and to serve as a stark reminder of the reasons we engage in advocacy.
You can find a full list of victims on the Disability Day of Mourning website. There are vigils going on tonight all across the world in which people gather to mourn. There is not one close to me this year, but I will be “attending” the online vigil hosted by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
Any loss of life is a tragedy. It is especially heinous in circumstances that involve people being killed because of their disability. All sorts of disabled people are murdered every year by their caregivers, but because of the nature of this site, I will be focusing specifically on autistic victims of these crimes.
Whenever an autistic person, particularly an autistic child or high-supports autistic person, is killed, there are always people who come out of the woodwork to defend their murderer. “Think of how hard it is to have an autistic child!” They’ll say. “Certainly this is justifiable given the circumstances. Parents can only take so much.” Some call these murders “mercy killings,” in reference not to the child, but to the parents. It’s sickening, but this happens. More rarely, but all too often, the perpetrators of these murders get off essentially free. Too often these cold-blooded murders are charged as “involuntary manslaughter,” which may not even carry a jail sentence. Judges defend this position by sighting how they can understand why a parent would shoot their child, because the child had autism.
Autism “awareness” campaigns are spread around that call autistic people burdens. They talk about how we tear apart marriages, steal normal lives from neurotypical siblings, talk about how much we “cost.” Never our benefits. Only our “costs.” Autism is compared to horrible diseases like cancer and AIDS. People say “I’d rather have a dead child than an autistic child.” People call autistic people “missing” and “trapped in their own bodies.” Autistic people are dehumanized in the media, even to the point that we are being portrayed by as non-human objects. When discussing autism, people rarely go to autistic people. Most things written about autism are written without our input. People do not value the views of autistic people on their own autism. When the CDC put out its estimates that 1/56 Americans were autistic, up from the previous estimates of 1/68, this news was called “scary” and “disturbing.” It wasn’t treated as a simple realization that there are more autistic people walking the streets than had previously been thought. No, people were “disturbed” at the idea that there are more autistic people than were once thought.
These other observations are just symptoms of the underlying problem that, whether consciously or subconsciously, society as a whole does not see autistic people, or disabled people in general, as equal to other people. Since when have you heard of people defending and justifying the murder of a child? This only occurs when said child has a disability like autism, with which this is incredibly common.
Awareness is not enough, friends. I assure you that all the people who murdered their autistic dependents were very “aware” of autism. We need to push for acceptance. Society-wide acceptance of autism as a natural human difference, one that should not be feared. Though disabling, autism is not an innately bad characteristic. Autistic people should be accepted as just that, autistic people, whose autistic lives are just as valuable and important as anyone else’s. I am very proud of my fellow autistic people and our allies for advocating for acceptance. The situation has improved tremendously even within the last five years. But we are not done yet.
As has been the somber tradition over the last few years, I will once again publish the list of autistic people that were murdered by their caregivers over the past year alone:
Guadalupe Martinez – Age 30
Sayeed Neilson – Age 14
Dylan Freeman – Age 10
Joe Pooley – Age 22
La’Marion Thomure – Age 4
April Zavala – Age 24
Joshua “JJ” Vallow – Age 7
Alejandro Ripley – Age 9
May these names never be forgotten, and may they act as part of the catalyst that drives the necessary change in the world so that one day this list will have no more names.