What I Hate About You: Hate Crimes Against PWDs–Why Aren’t We Preventing Them?

Hello, readers,

This is another post that was a holdover from December 2013, simply because I didn’t think it appropriate to talk about hate during the holiday season. This is particularly true since my Savior came to earth to reach us all, in all our sin and hatred. However, because we are humans and because we often refuse to listen, hatred still exists. And one of the most hated groups out there? You got it: people with disabilities.

Before we go any further, I would like to take this opportunity to reassure you that I know many other groups–almost any minority group you could name–has also experienced hate. Black, Asian, LGBT, Jewish (that one, I’m especially sensitive to–I never got over school lessons on the Holocaust), Muslim, you name it. I get it. I’m not saying my minority group is any more important than yours. But here’s the thing. If hate crimes are perpetuated against those groups, they are often reported as hate crimes. As in, people, even outside the targeted group, recognize: the perps did that because they despise this group for nothing that resembles a good reason, and they must be punished for their actions, not only because the actions were wrong in themselves, but because of the hate behind them.

Not so for people with disabilities, I’m afraid. According to civilrights.org, many hate crimes against PWDs are “mislabeled as abuse.” Of course, those crimes are abusive in nature. It is both abusive and neglectful to, say, starve a young girl with cerebral palsy to the point that she weighs only 68 pounds, and leave her to die. It is abusive and neglectful to allow a family member with Down Syndrome to starve as well, and also be covered with sores and scabies, and then, when he finally dies, only be concerned about losing the poor man’s Social Security check. And yes, these things happened–they are documented in news sources, including but not limited to The Huffington Post. But according to civilrights.org, the hate crimes are generally only labeled as abuse from a larger system, such as a school or a group home. Thus, the case is almost never “transferred to the criminal justice system” because it’s seen as something that another jurisdiction should handle.

Perhaps more disturbingly, according to victimsofcrime.org and other similar sources, people with disabilities often do not report hate crimes. This can be because the person or people victimized are not able to communicate–or have not been given the means to do so–because those people are under threat of more abuse, or because the perpetrator of the crime is a family member or “friend.” That part makes me particularly upset. It reminds me of a pet that, even though abused by a master, will return to that human because it feels, on some level, that there is no other choice and no other avenue through which to get care. But despite what certain hateful individuals would have us all believe, people with disabilities are not animals.

On some level, I do understand the difficulty of reporting and dealing with hate crimes against PWDs. When you call something a “hate crime,” you are saying, “I know the motive,” which can be a tricky thing to say at best. For example, leaving disability out of it for a second: a kid who sprays graffiti on an Amish farmer’s barn might just be a stupid kid. He might not actually hate Amish people. Or at least, that’s what he says. But the problem is, what he did is still a crime, and it’s still taken seriously because as far as the authorities know, the Amish person in question probably didn’t do anything to provoke that kid. So it could still be considered a hate crime, all complicated definitions aside.

Here’s my question, then: why do we allow “complications” to muck up the labeling and conviction of hate crimes against PWDs?

Let’s really think about this for a minute, as depressing as it may be:

-If a kid told an Asian classmate, “You’re a slant-eyes and need to ride the slant-eyed bus,” it would be a racial slur. If that same kid then beat up the classmate? Hate crime. But if that same kid told a classmate who used a wheelchair or had an intellectual disability, “You’re a retard and need to ride the retard bus,” it’s simply bullying. Yes, that kid might get a slap on the wrist, but that’s as far as it goes. Besides, the school system might say, the disabled student must have done something to provoke it–kids with disabilities are aggressive by nature!

-If an employee who was a Muslim started a new job and was harassed and told, “We’re not sure you can work well in a non-Muslim organization?” Harassment and possible hate crime. If it happened to an employee with a disability? This would be called “concern,” because after all, the other employees would just be pointing out that they’re not sure the sweet little person can handle the physical or mental demands of the job. That situation would likely be completely brushed off.

-If an LGBT individual were institutionalized against his or her will because of “deviant behavior,” and then endured abuse such as having to lie in his or her own feces, having a catheter stuffed in his or her mouth, or being beaten? Major hate crime. If that were a PWD? Well, they needed to be institutionalized. Yes, the behavior described is abusive–but that’s not the criminal justice system’s problem. Call Social Services. It’s not hate–it’s just unfortunate abuse.

Are you getting the sense of a double standard here? I am. And what I say is: if we can protect everybody else from hate–because that’s what it is–why aren’t we protecting PWDs? Do we seriously think they are “too sensitive,” must have provoked the crimes, or must be taken care of, whether or not the definition of care is substandard? We’d all deny that if asked, but our actions say something else: we don’t really like PWDs in our society. In fact, some of us hate them.

I don’t have to explain to you what hate can lead to. I’ll just leave you with a few words: Auschwitz. Tereblinka. The Cambodian killing fields. Rwanda. The Sudan. We decry all those examples…

But who is hearing the cry of the person with a disability: “Stop hating me”?


1 Comment

  1. Hate crimes against disabled people is something that is interesting to me because we know so little about it. The FBI is required to collect statistics on hate crimes every year, and disability is one of the bias motivations that they collect information on. However, even though disability consistently much, much lower incidences of hate crimes than other categories (about one percent), they are also probably the category that is most under-reported for the reasons you explained (mostly that it is labeled as something other than a hate-crime, or that the victim is unable to report it.) So, even if many of these crimes are still prosecuted as abuse, at least, they are not being counted as hate crimes, so our statistics are probably quite skewed.

    Indeed, as far as hate crimes reporting goes, I think that the greatest need for further information and study is in the disability category and the transgender category (right now, hate crimes against transgender persons are not tallied at all, even though the vast majority of transgender persons have experienced some form of assault or harassment.) These two are HUGE blind spots, that I think need a lot more attention.

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