Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dear Q13:

This is an email I sent to Q13 Fox News, a local TV station, for their article on the murder of London McCabe. Their article can be found here: http://q13fox.com/2014/11/04/autistic-boy-found-dead-after-mother-says-she-threw-him-off-a-bridge-in-oregon/ on November 9th at 1:00 in the morning. 


#JusticeForLondon

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Hello, my name is Eric Warwick. I am the president of the Sammamish High School Disabled Abled Coalition. I am also an Autistic person and deeply troubled by your reporting on the murder of London McCabe by his mother on November 4th. It is not simply the subject matter that disturbs me; I am concerned about how the victim of this crime and the perpetrator were portrayed. 

[A note about the content of this email: there is a mention of suicide and suicidal thoughts towards the end.] 

Your reporting included this piece of information: 

"Police have not commented on the cause of the boy’s death or a possible motive. However, NBC News has reported that McCabe and her family were going through tough financial and emotional times. Her son was considered severely autistic, and her husband was recently diagnosed with MS and had a debilitating mass in his brain.
The family had recently made YouTube videos appealing for monetary help with the family’s hardships, NBC News reported.
Relatives of McCabe said all the tough times had caused the once-stable mother to suffer a mental collapse. She had recently undergone inpatient psychiatric services, family members told NBC news."

For many reasons this is problematic, but foremost, it is problematic because it implicitly excuses the actions of the offending party. By stating that she was stressed, or that there were "tough financial and emotional times," she is in many ways painted as a victim of circumstance. This is despite mountains of evidence that mentally ill people are not predisposed to commit violent actions their family members (Staurt, 2003) and that poor people do not commit more violent actions on their family members than do middle class or rich people.

In addition, the pervasive idea that disabled people are atypical burdens, rather than people whose bodies have different needs from the non-disabled majority which are simply not met by society, can lead a person to view the killing of a disabled child as necessary. This, coupled with the belief that disabled lives are simply not worth living, may characterize her actions as somehow altruistic. An altruistic parent does not murder their child. 

It might seem like a hypothetical concern that people will try to excuse the actions of someone who murdered their child, but it tends to happen a lot. In fact, this attitude was expressed on the comment thread on this article:
 


[image description: two commentators discussing a topic. One writes:" Hopefully this will shine a light on just how much stress autism places on families. Hopefully lawmakers will use this horrible tragedy as a way to reform autism care." 

Another replies with "brandy, you are so right! i work with autistic individuals and the amount of stress parents go through is insurmountable…especially when financial and other emotional factors are present. this is a tragedy that did not have to occur…especially since this woman was having emotional and mental issues in conjunction with her extremely ill husband and low functioning autistic son…yes, she did kill him, but where was the familial support? sad on so many levels.."]

This is a serious issue. The climate of fear and dehumanization surrounding autistic people leads to these type of murders and for journalists to unintentionally support these ideas is irresponsible. This could lead to more murders of autistic people by their parents or guardians. And that is not an unfounded fear. Because these murders are so common, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network every year holds a vigil for people with disabilities who have been killed by their parent or caregiver; it is similar to Transgender Day of Remembrance which is being held November 20th this year. 

Finally, there is an issue that affects me more personally but is a widespread problem: suicide among autistic people. For the past year or so, I have been in a state of serious depression. A few times I have had very serious suicidal thoughts or feelings. This is in no small part due to the idea that I am a burden, that I cause undue stress upon my family and my friends and the society at large. I feel as if I am a public charge that should not have existed in the first place. 

The ways these murders are reported--and especially how the attempted murder of Issy Stapleton was reported--with its justifications for how murder/attempted murder was actually an "act of love" or that a parent simply "'snapped' under the pressure of caring for a child with disabilities" leads me, and likely others, to think of doing the society in which I live in a "favor" by attempting suicide. After all, who could love an autistic child?  Autistic teenagers have one of the highest suicide rates of any other teenage group. (Soraya, 2013) In fact, have personally lost an autistic friend to suicide. 

That is no coincidence. They are directly caused by these attitudes and this kind of reporting endemic to journalism about the murdering of autistic and other disabled people by their parents or caregivers. I urge you to edit your article so as not to in any way imply that you excuse the actions of London's murderer or imply that her actions are understandable.

Thank you. 

--Eric Warwick 

P.S.: here is a press release by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network on the murder of London McCabe http://autisticadvocacy.org/2014/11/statement-on-the-murder-of-london-mccabe/ . [sentence redacted]

My statements are purely my own and do not reflect the views or opinions of any organization other than the Sammamish High School Disabled Abled Coalition. 

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