Vigil at New York City Hall mourns disabled people killed by security guards

The event was timed to the Day of Mourning for Disability and honored the memory of 198 disabled people who were killed by the hands of their guardians.

Tory Morales

Vigil participants listen to a speaker during the mourning vigil for the disabled on March 1. (Tori Morales for WSN)

A vigil in honor of people with disabilities killed by their caregivers around the world gathered more than a dozen mourners in City Hall Park on March 1, the internationally recognized Day of Mourning for Persons with Disabilities. Those present hung their heads and clutched electronic candles as they heard about the victims, whose ages ranged from 20 days to 93 years.

Organized by the recognized non-profit Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and led by autistic advocate Nicole Russell, the event sought to raise awareness of the killings, as well as societal attitudes that devalue the lives of people with disabilities.

“People look down on people with disabilities and can’t imagine them living a happy life,” Russell said during the event. “They see people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and see them as less than, they see them suffering. They see ‘disability’ as a dirty word.”

Zoe Gross, who is the director of advocacy for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, created the International Day of Mourning for Disability in 2012 to honor the lives of disabled people killed by supervisors. According to the network, there are more than 550 disabled people were killed by supervisors over the past five years, a number he attributes in part to public attitudes as well as media coverage of disability and infanticide.

Disability rights advocate Brian Myers joined Russell in reading the names, ages and causes of death of each of the 198 victims killed between the additions to the list he has been keeping since March 1 last year. It took 13 minutes to read. An American Sign Language interpreter was also present.

“The names on that list have been robbed from us, and we’ve been robbed,” Russell said. “Taken by those who should have been trusted the most, their lives and names were cut short. For the media and the many voices who sympathize with their killers, they have been robbed of their very identity.”

According to human rights activists and supported by academic research, coverage of the murders of people with disabilities often attempts to justify or diminish the severity of the crimes. In cases where parents kill their disabled children, the media usually focuses on the parents’ emotional state and justification rather than the disabled person’s life.

A brochure was distributed at the event contained a preface written by Gross, covering the 2012 case of a 22-year-old autistic man shot and killed by his mother, who then committed suicide. Publications reporting on the event – called the mother “loyal and loving” and published interviews that normalized the mother’s actions. One article published in a local newspaper, showed the interview with another parent of a disabled child who said, “every mother I know who has a child with special needs has this moment.”

In an interview, Russell said that while disability reporting has improved over the past decade, she still sees the same patterns. She said, however, that she hopes that increased awareness and acceptance of disability, both physical and neurological, and solidarity between disability groups will make mainstream views more informed about disability issues.

“It’s important to connect with other people with disabilities outside of your disability because it just shows the rest of society that we believe so,” Russell told WSN. “We’re in this together.”

Contact Torrey Morales at [email protected]

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