We want to share this important notice with you. Anne
MAADPS Board member, John Kelly, has shared this important announcement. Please try to attend.
Dear Friends and Colleagues ,
On Saturday, March 31, at 7:00 p.m., on the Boston Common at Park and Beacon Streets there will be a vigil in memory of people with disabilities murdered by family members. On March 6, George Hodgins, a 22-year old Autistic man, was murdered by his mother, who then killed herself. As almost always happens when family members kill people with disabilities--whether or not they kill themselves afterwards--the media sympathizes with the murderers and negates the lives of the people they killed.
People with disabilities across the nation are grieving George's death and the deaths of thousands of others with disabilities. Please consider joining the Boston-area disability community for Saturday night's vigil.
I have included two powerful pieces written on George's death. The first is by Zoe Gross, a member of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, (ASAN) which organized the first vigil in George's memory, on March 16, 2012 in Sunnyvale, CA where George lived. The second piece is a blog post by "squiditty," who has documented the stories of nearly 460 people with disabilities who have been murdered since 1941, from newborns to a woman who was 88.
Thanks for considering all this,
John Kelly, Director
Second Thoughts: People with Disabilities Opposing the Legalization of Assisted Suicide
At the first vigil, organized by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network on March 16, 2012 in Sunnyvale, CA, ASAN member Zoe Gross said:
Last Tuesday, George Hodgins was shot and killed by his mother, who then killed herself. George lived here in Sunnyvale and he was 22 years old. I didn't know George, but I can't stop thinking about him. Maybe it's because we have a lot in common — we lived near each other, we were the same age, we're both autistic, although we led very different lives. I would like to have met George, but I can only mourn him. And I can try to make sure that his story isn't forgotten.
In the wake of this tragedy, I read a lot of articles that asked the readers to imagine how George's mother must have felt. But I didn't see a single article that asked the reader to empathize for George, to imagine how it feels to see your mother point a gun at you. I've seen a lot of people talking about how hard it must be to live with an autistic relative, but I didn't see anyone talking about how terrible it be to die knowing that your parent, who you love and depend on, has decided to hurt and kill you.
Because he was autistic, George is being erased from the story of his own murder.
The story of George Hodgins's death is being discussed and presented as a story of a mother who snapped, and the story of other parents who have felt the same way. It's being told as a story about a lack of services for families with special-needs children, as though a lack of services is a justification for murder.
When disabled people are murdered by their families, this is the story people want to hear. It's the same story that we saw in newspapers after Katie McCarron was murdered, and after Jeremy Fraser was murdered, and after Glenn Freaney was murdered, and after Zain and Faryaal Akhter were murdered. The story goes like this: it is understandable that someone would kill their disabled relative if they don't get help to care for them.
I don't think this is a true story.
Why is the story being told this way? Because we live in a world that doesn't acknowledge the value of our lives as disabled people. Because so many people in our society can't imagine a disabled person living a fulfilling life, so they don't see the tragedy and the wasted potential when one of our lives is cut short.
As disabled people, we have to take a stand against this kind of thinking. We have to get the word out that our lives matter, that our lives are our own stories and not just the stories of our non-disabled parents and relatives and caretakers. We have to let people know that they are missing part of the story.
Because the story of George Hodgins's murder is also the story of the disabled community losing one of our own. It's the story of the other disabled people who were murdered by their family members, and it's the story of the society that thinks so little of people with disabilities that these murders are all too often justified as "understandable." Most of all, it's George's story — the story of a young man who enjoyed hiking, who was always looking to learn new skills, who had his whole life in front of him.
Now George is gone, and only his memory remains, and already that memory is being distorted by people who want to tell his story and leave him out. That's not going to happen tonight. We're here to remember the real story.
I've been trying to write this post for almost a week now, trying to get it right, trying to make it good enough to be the tribute I want it to be. It's still not good enough in my eyes, but ultimately I'd rather be imperfect now than silent.
This is George Hodgins. This is a guy who liked to go for long walks, whether it was hiking out in nature or browsing around a shopping mall. One of his favorite places to stop was the Disney store. He didn't speak, but he could communicate with an AAC device and he frequently took headphones with him so he could listen to music and calm himself down when he was anxious or overloaded. The staffers at the program which he'd left just a year ago describe him as 'a good kid' and 'delightful'. He was 22 years old when his mother shot him in a murder-suicide earlier this month.
This is George Hodgins and this is the only photo I could find of him anywhere, and it came not from anywhere in the mainstream media but from the blog of the mother of one of those staffers. This is George Hodgins and the media has been portraying this as his mother's tragedy rather than his own. This is George Hodgins and the Autism Society of America didn't even bother giving his name when they used his death to argue for services.
This is the memorial cairn in my backyard. For approximately the past five years, I've been trying to honor the deaths- no, honor the lives of people with disabilities who have been murdered. Each stone, with one exception, represents a person. Most of them are from the United States, Canada, or the UK, due to my reliance on English-language media coverage. The dates of their deaths range from as recently as this month to as far back as 1941. The eldest was an old woman of 88 years; the youngest died within hours of their birth. For each of them, on the first anniversary of their death (or first since I became aware of them), I spend time reflecting on what I know about them, imagining what they were like alive and happy. When it's physically and financially possible, I try to engage in one or more of their likes and interests, as a kind of send-off. Finally, sometime during that day I place their stone on the cairn. Once a year, on the night of November 1st, I hold my own one-person candlelight vigil by the cairn, remember the faces and read off the names of all those whose stones I've added since the previous November. It's trickled off a bit recently (if only because several of my news sources shut down or stopped updating), but it still amounts to nearly 460 stones- and I know that's an underestimate. The last and largest stone, a triangular chunk of black asphalt riddled with many, many, smaller stones is my memorial to those whose names I don't know and may never know, modern and historical. I lay flowers sometimes, but the ones in the picture just kind of happened on their own. They've been blooming there every spring at about this time of year, ever since I started.
Sometimes I have photos and life stories with paragraphs and paragraphs about who they were, what they did, what kinds of things they loved. Sometimes all I have is a name, a cause of death, and maybe an indictment that I can't always find follow-up for. I've been keeping the photos and placing the stones since the beginning- keeping the stories is something which started later, in response to media articles using their names to invoke fear, to erase who they were and how and why they died in order to better fit the tragic-parents narrative that they were trying to build. My biggest regret in doing this is that I didn't start holding on to their lives' stories sooner.
It wouldn't be accurate to say that doing this has gotten easier over time- it hasn't- but it's tended to become differently hard. Less shocking, I guess, and more heavy-hearted. Processing George's death, though… that was different, somehow, harsh and raw like when I'd first started despite being similar in most respects to most of what I see. Maybe it was the fact that Peter Singer and Robert Latimer decided to crawl out from under their rocks while I was in the middle of trying to get a gestalt of the event. Maybe my feelings surrounding their loathsome opinions about our lives and our worth spilled over.
Or maybe it was the vigil. Probably it was the vigil. I didn't go, couldn't go- I'm on the wrong side of the country, and even if I weren't transportation would have been an issue- but I was out in the backyard at the cairn that night, there in spirit. Never since Katie McCarron, who was one of my main reasons for starting this, have I seen such a collective reaction. Individual posts here and there, certainly, but never since then have I witnessed this kind of simultaneous upwelling of sorrow and defiance and community drawing together to remember one of our own.
I won't be able to be at the other vigil next Friday, either, but I want those of you who are going to know that I'll be with you in spirit- and if there's anything I can do from here, let me know.