In the past five years, over seventy people with disabilities have been reported as murdered by parents, family members, and trusted caregivers; while an unknown score more people with disabilities unconscionably perished in the shadows by the heinous acts of those they entrusted their lives to. News reports might even lead one to believe that what would otherwise be called murder— if a non-disabled person was the one killed—was an act of compassion.
Often the news media portrays the killing of disabled people by family members as justifiable, if not almost inevitable, due to the added burden that caring for a disabled person is presumed to bring. If not money, then stress, if not stress, then exhaustion, if not exhaustion... well, fill-in-the-blank. Excuses pile up. And solutions seldom get adequate, if any, attention. This is not to suggest problems such as these do not exist for the families of disabled people, they do, but they should never be offered or considered as justification for killing someone.
Some have argued that the rash of killings of people with disabilities at the hands of family members is the result of service cuts and supports being reduced or eliminated but the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality.
As Elizabeth Picciuto wrote in THE DAILY BEAST in October 2014, “According to a 2005 paper published by Richard Lucardie and Don Sobsey of the University of Alberta, both of whom study violence against people with disabilities, more than a third of children with developmental disabilities who are killed by their families are younger than 5 years old—presumably before unmanageable behavior problems begin or more intensive services are needed. So deprivation of services does not seem to be the determining factor of when parents turn to murder.”
People who kill family members with disabilities – whatever the reasons – currently receive more sympathy than sentencing that fits the crime and often get comparatively lighter sentences than parents who kill non-disabled children. This inequity begs the question: Whose lives are valued and whose are not? The skewed accounts favoring the murderers in police reports and court records suggest it isn’t people with disabilities. And so, the cycle of devaluing the lives of people with disabilities continues.
The National Council on Disability (NCD) rejects arguments, particularly from the news media, that have attempted to make sense of these crimes by either excusing murder or even sympathizing with the killers by citing the difficulties of raising a child with a disability and the need to improve the quality and availability of services. These issues should not be confused.
For the last four years, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, the National Council on Independent Living, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, and other disability rights organizations have co-sponsored or held vigils across the nation to mourn those whom we’ve lost, to raise awareness about these tragedies, and to demand justice and equal protection under the law for people with disabilities.
On Sunday, March 1st, the disability community will gather again to remember disabled victims of filicide–people with disabilities who have been killed by family members or caregivers. NCD supports this effort and hopes that its success will prevent future tragedies.
As NCD has done several times beginning in 2000, we take this opportunity to renew our call for the FBI and DOJ to prioritize and investigate crimes demonstrating clear hostility toward individuals on the basis of disability and urge local and federal prosecutors to pursue robust prosecutions of hate crimes against persons with disabilities. The vehemence with which law enforcement and the courts investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against people with disabilities cannot be diminished.
To do otherwise sends the message that the lives of people with disabilities are worth less than the lives of other children and reinforces the notion that killing one’s child if they are disabled, while regrettable, is understandable.
NCD stands with others on March 1st to ensure that this way of thinking does not go unchallenged.