The following statement was released by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in response to the recent attempted murder of Issy Stapleton, an autistic teenager in Michigan.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is profoundly concerned by a growing trend in the media and on the part of certain autism groups to attempt to justify acts of violence against autistic children and adults. Our work is often focused on addressing the serious deficiencies in our disability service system, but the moment service gaps are used as a means to present the murder or attempted murder of autistic people as understandable or justified, a line is crossed. Too often, when autistic people are the victims of violence, the media seems to present our killers as objects of sympathy.
What message do we send when law enforcement treats the death of a disabled child as less deserving of a robust prosecution than the death of a non-disabled child? What role does that play in encouraging copycat crimes, particularly when the media and many in the autism community present those who commit these atrocities as sympathetic figures who shouldn’t face punishment? At the end of the day, lack of services don’t cause attempts by parents to murder their kids. What may play a role, however, is the idea prevalent in our culture that it is better to be dead than it is to be disabled. Every time our society treats violence against disabled people by family members and caregivers as different from other forms of violence, the stage is set for the next incident.
Every March, ASAN and other disability rights groups organize a National Day of Mourning for disabled people murdered by family members and caregivers. Every year, we read out a list of names that only keeps on getting longer. What pains us is not just that these people were taken before their time by the people they had trusted most, but also that the response of society is too often that it was their lives which represented a tragedy, not their deaths. When an autistic person is subject to attempted murder, the law enforcement and community response should be the same as for a non-autistic person. We deserve equal protection of law – anything else just increases the likelihood of more of the same.