Monday, July 23, 2012

Open Letter to the Media in the Wake of the Aurora Shootings

Dear Media,

I am an Autistic adult. In the wake of the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado, my community was sitting not only in the sadness that all such tragedies bring, but also in fear and anticipation that once again, we would be your scapegoat. Once again, you would start declaring that we and the killer had the same neurology before the bodies were even cold, before the initial tears had dried.

And again, you did not disappoint. Again, you went to declare the killer mentally ill or Autistic before you even possibly had a chance to talk to anyone qualified to make those calls. Again, you cast yet another layer of suspicion on my community. Again, you made me someone to be feared.

Here's the deal, neurotypical folks of the media: You are far more dangerous to us than we are to you. The mentally ill and the developmentally disabled are far more likely to be your victims than you are to be ours.

Some stats for you, taken from this UK source:

  • 10% of convicted murderers had mental health problems.
  • 25% of the population has mental health problems.
  • 95% of homicides are committed by people without mental illnsses.
  • People with psychosis are 14 times more likely to be attacked than to be the attackers.
  • 25% of patients with mental illness have been the victim of violent crimes.
Clearly, people with mental illness have more reason to fear those without mental illness. Now, let's look at some developmental disability statistics, shall we?

From The MA government:

  • More than 90% of developmentally disabled people will be sexually abused.
  • 54% will be sexually abused 10 times or more.
  • Developmentally disabled adults have a 4-10 times greater likelyhood of being physically assaulted. 
  • 3% of these crimes will be reported.
There are no easily available statistics on developmentally disabled perpetators of crimes, in spite of the media's efforts to paint any and every violent criminal who gets national attention as Autistic.

Let's make this a bit more stark for you. Here is an incomplete list of disabled people killed. Most of the victims on this list are Autistic or otherwise developmentally disabled.

Peter Eitzen, 16, stabbed by his mother, July 2009.

Jeremy Bostick, 11, gassed by his father. September 2009.

Tony Khor, 15, strangled by his mother, October 2009.

Betty Anne Gagnon, 48, tortured to death by her sister and brother-in-law, November 2009.

Walter Knox Hildebrand Jr., 20 years old, died of a seizure induced by his brother’s physical
abuse. November 2009.

Laura Cummings, 23, tortured to death by her mother and brother, January 2010.

Ajit Singh, 12, forced to drink bleach by his mother. February 2010.

Gerren Isgrigg, 6 years old, died of exposure after his grandmother abandoned him in a remote
area. April 2010.

Leosha Barnett, 17, starved to death by her mother and sister, May 2010.

Glen Freaney, 11, strangled by his mother. May 2010.

Payton Ettinger, 4, starved by his mother, May 2010.

Christopher Melton, 18, gassed by his mother, June 2010.

Rylan Rochester, 6 months old, suffocated by his mother because she believed him to be autistic.
June 2010.

Kenneth Holmes, 12, shot by his mother, July 2010.

Zain Akhter, 5, and Faryaal Akhter, 2. Strangled by their mother, July 2010.

Rohit Singh, 7, beaten to death by his father, September 2010.

Zahra Baker, 10, murdered and dismembered by her stepmother and perhaps her father. October

Chase Ogden, 13, shot by his mother along with his sister Olivia. October 2010.

Kyle Snyder, 9, shot by grandmother. October 2010.

Karandeep Arora, 18, suffocated by his parents, October 2010.

Julie Cirella, 8, poisoned by her mother, July 2011.

Noe Medina Jr., 7 months, thrown 4 stories by his mother, August 2011.

Benjamin Barnhard, 13, shot by his mother. August 2011

Jori Lirette, 7, decapitated by his father, August 2011.

George Hodgins, 22, shot by his mother. March 2012.

There have been murders since the compilation of this list. There have probably been a number  that we will never know about. Nearly without fail the perpetrator is treated as the victim of the person they killed, as a hero for killing us. 

Yet you persist in putting forward the cultural narrative that we are the dangerous ones, both with your speculation that all killers are on our neurological team and with your treatment of our killers.

It is journalistic irresponsibility to do this, and it affects real people. We are the ones who have to live with the stigma you perpetuate. I am at risk of being killed because you tell the population that I am dangerous-despite that I am one of the 97% of developmentally disabled people who has been the victim of non mentally ill, non disabled violent perpetrators. You make the world more dangerous for me every time you do this. You make it more dangerous for my entire community.

We are not your scapegoat, and the trope of the dangerous neurodivergent is not only irresponsible, it is sloppy. Do some real research instead of lazily reaching into the bag of tropes every time someone does something terrible. Statistically speaking, we didn't do it, and spreading the idea that we did has very real consequences that can mean life and death for us. 

Terrifiedly yours,



Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly, the press does the autistic community by making assumptions that the Aurora killer is an Asperger's person. This alienates people on the spectrum even more than they already are by NT society. It is hate speech or close to it to say something like that without proof.

abailin said...

Linking this as far and wide as I can. Thank you a million times over.

Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace said...

Hoping this goes viral.

Unknown said...

Well said, Kassiane! I'm sharing this one!

Science Mom said...

Great letter and powerfully-worded. I hope those that need to are reading this.

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

Well said, Kassiane.

Unknown said...

Hi my name is Meko. I am not autistic but I have friends that are. I can say with all my heart I know they would NEVER do anything to hurt someone like that. Thank you so much for taking time and writing this!

Unknown said...

I wonder... Would you mind if I printed this and sent it to my local newspaper?

Neurodivergent K said...

Meko: Please do. Just give me credit. Kassiane S of Radical Neurodivergence Speaking.

Robin Nemeth said...

Here's a link with video of the mayor of Aurora explaining how normal Holmes seemed. When asked 'did he have friends, did he connect with other people?' his response was an unequivocal "yes". Doesn't sound like an aspie to me

Joe says he doesn't want to generalize. Well then, he should just shut up. Unless he'd like to give the autism community the apology they have coming.

Or better yet he might want to do an interview-- if speculation is his thing-- with Peter Breggin MD about the notion that there could be a link between SSRIs and violent suicides. Between pharma commercials, ahahah. Yeah right.

Joe is a pharma/media whore. I don't give a rat's rear end what he thinks. Too bad he has a national audience who takes him seriously.

I can't help but wonder what his aspie son thinks of his comments.

Rolling Through The Terror said...

"And again, you did not disappoint. Again, you went to declare the killer mentally ill or Autistic before you even possibly had a chance to talk to anyone qualified to make those calls. Again, you cast yet another layer of suspicion on my community. Again, you made me someone to be feared."

I'm curious what your news sources are for these attacks and accusations. I'm not denying that they weren't made, I would just like to see who and where they came from.

McD said...

Nicely stated Kassiane.

Soon after the shooting I watched an (ex- I think)FBI profiler pull a whole lot of speculation out of his butt. He seemed certain the shooter, in spite of the obvious evidence of detailed planning, was schizophrenic. I turned it off;, finger-pointing at autistics did not seem to be too far off once the knee-jerk reaction to blame the differently-wired kicked in.

Sure enough, Joe Scarborough raised the next stereotype on the list, painting a target over me and my non-verbal son. Evidence-free speculation puts us at risk and the first sound-bites that accompany the narrative are the most enduring.

Thank you for your clarity, and courage.

BiolArtist said...

@Meko, Thank you for standing up for your friends.

Anonymous said...

I had to share and reblog.
Thank you, thank you for such a brave, eloquent and yes, terrifying post.

Anonymous said...

Aaand this is the sort of thing that stupidity feeds into.

"Ass Pies have no business ever owning or having the right to register a firearm. They are dangerous and have the tendency to lash out on society. I agree with Joe Scarborough that Holmes was more than likely an Ass Pie. We'll see over time if he was right but if I was to place a bet...I'm giving 10 to 1 odds that he was an Aspie that should never have had a gun to begin with!"

Anonymous said...

BTW, if the above link is still there and you took the 30 seconds to gawk, take an extra thirty to report as hate speech -> target disabilities.

Their icon says, "God Hate Ass-Pies" so let's just get these people shut down as quickly as possible.

BiolArtist said...

I went over to FB and reported the page. Apparently he's had a few reports, because he posted a huge thing about how he'll get court injunctions protecting his free speech if we report him. I told him I looked forward to hearing from his lawyers Koppian & Paystin, as his page clearly violated the TOS.

MyTruth said...

I submit the current instance is attributable to ASD being the diagnosis du jour - researchers, reporters, school administrators... etc. all know they get good attention when they pull the ASD tag out and put it on the table. BTW, another journalist, Jack Lait, wrote "New York Confidential", also wrote the screenplay for "The Black Stork" - a call for eugenics.