Sunday, February 14, 2010
Too Close to Home
Tragedy struck my hometown this week. The middle school which my son attends became the scene of a horrific end to life. Reports began with news that a body was discovered wrapped in plastic shoved in a garbage can in the school parking lot. Within a day news spread that the body was that of a 30 year old woman named Jennifer Daugherty who had been tortured for 36 hours before being dumped like garbage at the local middle school. As news of the events around her death began to emerge, something in my gut told me that she had a disability. Later, we were told this was the case. She was tortured and killed by six people, people who lived on the outskirts of society, people who themselves have been described as having disabilities from mental health disorders to intellectual disabilities.
The community has rallied around Jennifer Daugherty, shocked by her death and how close to home this hits. She is being described as "vulnerable" because she wanted so desperately to belong. Now everyone has an opinion about what should happen to the people who did this and what happened leading up to Jennifer's death. Some have even said that her family is responsible, because Jennifer is described as having "the mind of a 12 year old", so her family should have been supervising her more closely. So now we begin to blame Jennifer and her family, by calling her vulnerable and holding her parents responsible....
It was not by virtue of Jennifer's disability that she was "vulnerable," but by virtue of how this community and others view people with disability! The most common complaint of those with disabilities is that of loneliness, people with disabilities experience crime at double the rates of others. Why? because we don't value people with disabilities! All those who now rally around Jennifer without knowing her, would probably have paid her little attention in life. People are outraged and distraught by her death, they feel compassion for her and her family, yet when given the opportunity to befriend someone with a disability, they would probably have turned away. I write this not to condemn us of being heartless, but in the hopes that out of this tragedy can come understanding of how WE contribute to the countless crimes against people with disabilities. We don't do it intentionally, but we do it by turning away, by thinking it's someone else's responsibility, by denying all people their humanity.
I am hopeful that these tragic events will become a battle cry for people with disabilities, a forum through which they can scream "enough is enough" and for Jennifer and so many others, maybe the rest of us will finally listen!