If I am killed…


I already wrote a blog entry called When I Die. That one’s about how I want to be remembered. So this entry is about “If I am killed…”. In that event, which I really hope doesn’t happen, this is about how I want you to remember the person who killed me.

I don’t want you to blame “mental illness”. If it’s my parents, which it most likely won’t be, I don’t want you to claim that my father’s “Asperger’s” or my mother’s “bipolar” drove them to it. I don’t want you furthering the stereotype that “mental illness” or autism is an explanation or excuse for murder, by pitying the “sick” person who did this instead of condemning the act equally no matter what the person’s diagnosis.

I don’t want you to blame anyone’s desperation, either. If all the services in the world evaporate tomorrow, I don’t want to be at further risk of death than I already am from the lack of services. Saying “Desperation at lack of services made them do it” gives people the idea that this is at least a marginally, slightly acceptable act. It justifies acts like the nursing home murders in Hurricane Katrina. And if you think that you are just being compassionate, and that your “compassion” won’t harm anyone, you’re fooling yourself utterly. The more people say “Desperation made them do it,” the more risk I and everyone like me are at as soon as the going gets tough. There’s evidence that talking about these things in terms of the desperation of caregivers leads other caregivers to do things like this when they’re desperate.

I don’t want you to hate the person, but I do not want you to explain away what they did, either. The fact that I am autistic should not enter into any explanations of why the person did what they did, unless it’s meant in the exact same sense as killing me for being a lesbian. The murderer, if not already dead, will already be crafting some kind of explanation that paints them as, if not saintly, at least something close. I, and every autistic person who survives me but may not survive murder by their own “caregivers”, don’t need you helping them on that account. You don’t have to explain and excuse someone’s actions, to be compassionate, and in fact explaining and excusing their actions may be the opposite of compassion and love.

People have told me that this is black-and-white thinking, blamed the way I feel about this on my being autistic, told me how ugly it is that I think this way. No, this isn’t ugly. Murder is ugly. And no, this isn’t because I’m autistic, my views on this have been formed in part by the views of non-disabled parents believe it or not who don’t want their children put in harm’s way either. Fight for all the support systems you want, fight for all the positivity about autism you want, even do it in my name if you want, but do not ever claim that these support systems have failed my caregivers in the way that they have failed me, and do not ever claim that you are doing it because my caregivers weren’t supported enough and therefore they killed me. That insults all the people who have nothing and somehow don’t go around killing each other, and it, no matter how many disclaimers you put on it, is excusing the killing of people like me over the killing of ordinary people. If you think it won’t be used in that fashion, you are again fooling yourself.

I’m not saying this as someone who has never faced murder at the hands of a caregiver before, either. Because I have. Not once but several times. If I had died, my death would have been invisible, although it might have eventually turned up in a database like this one which includes data from several institutions I was at. You would probably not have heard of it, and it would have been an “accident” even when it was deliberate. And if I didn’t die, maybe it’s so I can tell you that some things are beyond excusing, beyond explanation, beyond anything even remotely right, and they should be treated as such. I do not hate the people who tried to kill me (they were not, by the way, family), but not for one moment do I excuse a single thing they did or explain it in terms of the burnout, desperation, and so forth that they would surely have described it in terms of.

Buy Four Sight and read the poem “Reflections from an Institution’s Graveyard” by Dave Hingsburger. Read everything else, too, but especially that. If the girl in that was a ghost, then, well, I’m some form of ghost too, only I’m alive enough to write about it, and I’ll quote:

“You thought I couldn’t
You thought I wouldn’t
But I do, I did, I will
I felt you kill
And love you didn’t.”

Murder is not love, and it’s not a single bit more explainable when it happens to a disabled person, nor a single bit more explainable when the murderer happens to have a label of mental illness. Every time anyone accepts those two things as explanations, they are doing a disservice to disabled people and to people with psychiatric labels. And these explanations are not compassionate, they’re deadly. Find some other way to show compassion, some real way. I’m with Ragged Edge on this one: Call it murder and don’t excuse it.

Why am I so adamant about this? Because I’m aware that, unlike a lot of people, I’m relatively well-positioned to be next, and I can’t afford the kind of fake “compassion” that would make that more likely.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

11 responses »

  1. I am autistic and the parent of an autistic. I have been the victim of attempted murder at the hands of caregivers- both by pure physical violence and by the administration of overdoses of toxic drugs with the full intention of poisoning me so that I would no longer be a “burden to the system.”

    If I am not to feel compassion or pity…or even hate… for these murderers, if I am not to try to understand the actions of the people who have perpetrated violence towards me (and towards yourself), what, in your opinion, is the “correct” emotion for me to feel and the “correct” way to react towards this?

    I am honestly not intending to attack you or be hostile towards your opinion. I only wish to understand it, just as I try to understand the behavior of the dead woman whose actions brought forth your outrage. You are correct in saying that “murder” is the only correct word to use. But why is it not possible that we can prevent this from happening again by trying to understand the circumstances that caused it to happen before?

  2. The physical violence and the toxic doses of drugs are exactly the methods that were tried with me, as well.

    My viewpoint, at any rate, isn’t that we shouldn’t try to figure out why these things happen in general. It’s that there are ways of doing that responsibly, and ways of doing it irresponsibly — and things that shouldn’t be brought into it time after time.

    I’m not up for a full answer, although I wish I was. I do know that Dick Sobsey’s book Violence and Abuse in the Lives of People with Disabilities: The End of Silent Acceptance? does go into this in a good deal more detail. It’s unfortunately out of print, but can sometimes be found floating around used (sometimes it’s necessary to wait awhile to find a cheap one).

    I think one of the good things to look at is why disabled people are viewed as expendable (or at least “more expendable”) under these circumstances, what the roots of that are.

    Another good thing to look at is what power can do to people. And, what damage the self-delusion of “But I have no power” can do. And the responsible use vs. the abuse, of power.

    But none of that is what people tend to do when they talk about having “compassion” for the murderer in these situations, and about trying to “understand” why they did it.

    Most tend to be looking at the situation more in ways that dilute the murderer’s responsibility for what happened (blaming “society”, or “feeling bad for her plight as a struggling mother”, “doing what she thought was right,” etc), and that then open the door for more murders of the same variety.

    They also tend to come down rather hard on people who say “You know what, this was wrong, just utterly wrong,” saying such people are judgemental — when most of the same people wouldn’t think twice probably about saying “this was wrong, just utterly wrong” if the person were killed for being black, or gay, or something like that. Or even if the person were just killed without their particular category of person being a factor at all.

    The fact that murder is generally treated as incomprehensible evil when done in other circumstances, yet as comprehensible in these circumstances, is itself a problem, and is the bulk of the problem I was addressing. I personally do have compassion for all murderers, as people, but I don’t tend to announce that right after a murder.

    I hope that makes some sense. I haven’t been able to say everything I think because I’m exhausted. (I’ve spent the entire day, except for an hour, around people.) Other people have covered this ground better than I am, probably.

  3. I thank you for your respectful and enlightening response. My feelings are that “understanding” and “excusing” are not necessarily the same thing, and that one can condemn someone’s actions without denying them compassion.

    I try to have compassion towards all fellow humans, not only those who “deserve” it- partly because of the abuse I endured growing up as an autistic; my abusers would have said I did not deserve compassion because my neurological and psychiatric issues made me less than human; if I deny them compassion because they are abusers, am I sinking to their level?

    I fail at extending compassion far more than I care to admit. Many have called me “bitter” because I am still so angry about some of my experiences that I cannot feel anything other than pure rage and hate towards the perpetrators most of the time.

    I want to say that your blog has been most enlightening to me, and you have affected the way I think about many of the issues discussed here. I read every entry though I don’t think I’ve commented before. I am honored to have this discussion with you and I thank you for speaking out.

  4. I’ve noticed that when people talk of ‘compassion for the mentally ill’ when a murderer is alleged to be ‘suffering from mental illness,’ it’s often kind of a Trojan Horse approach– all the talk of compassion and sympathy is actually a thinly veiled strategy to whip up public and lawmaker support for forced treatment. Sometimes they’ll try to piggyback legislation on it, the implication being “this person would still be alive today if we’d had this law about forced treatment that you should pass.”

  5. “I try to have compassion towards all fellow humans, not only those who “deserve” it- partly because of the abuse I endured growing up as an autistic; my abusers would have said I did not deserve compassion because my neurological and psychiatric issues made me less than human; if I deny them compassion because they are abusers, am I sinking to their level?”
    I’m like that as well. I’ve never had anyone try to kill me, but I was abused by my cousins, who had themselves been abused by their parents. My mother says they were just plain evil for hurting me, never mind why they did it. Sometimes I wonder if I should feel that way about them, but the fact is that I don’t. I empathize with them. I can understand their feelings, since I’ve felt similarly myself.
    For example, when I get triggered about the abuse this tension builds up and I have to let it out somehow. Sometimes I start hurting myself, sometimes I have someone I trust available and I hug them, sometimes I run away, and sometimes I end up picking a stupid fight and screaming insults at someone I love. I’m writing a book and one of the characters I decided to make him experience the same thing, except he has less ability to restrain himself. I rarely get physical, at most I shove people (unless someone’s trying to restrain me, then I struggle and try to hurt them until they let me go) but this character in my story was physically abused and witnessed physical abuse (I was verbally abused and witnessed verbal abuse) and he ends up beating on his girlfriend in the scene I wrote. And it hurts her, and also two kids who witness it. And many people seem to write off people like this guy, who abuse spouses or girlfriends. But he’s not all bad. He’s a hurt, unhappy person and he cares about his girlfirend, but he needs to admit that he has a problem and deal with it. And she can’t put up with it. She needs to be empowered to get out of that situation, and not put up with being hurt. But society shouldn’t just write off this guy as a bad person.
    But what Amanda Baggs is saying, I think, is that they shouldn’t say “Oh, yeah, he beat her, but what do you expect? Of course he’ll beat her because she has X Y or Z traits and he doesn’t have proper support to ‘manage’ that.” Maybe her behavior and the current social environment are factors influencing that, but the real problem is his own issues that make him beat her. In his case, those issues are emotional issues of repressed feelings, triggers and bad coping strategies. When a disabled person is abused, often the issues involve the abuser’s prejudice. Same with murder. And the prejudice is not the issue of the disabled person, but of the one who is hurting or killing them.

  6. Although I don’t have autism, I do have Cerebral Palsy. I believe that this issue affects ALL people with various types of disabilities. As a person with a disability, I utterly resent the various stereotypes put on people with All types of disabilities! NOW IS THE TIME FOR THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY IN AMERICA TO SERIOUSLY AND VIGOROUSLY EDUCATE OUR LAWMAKERS, DOCTORS, EMPLOYERS, ETC ABOUT OUR ISSUES! IF WE DON’T EDUCATE THEM, WHO WILL?

  7. This and Joel’s page about murders have been real eye-openers for me. I’d assumed that such killings (especially deliberate killings) were very rare, and that the killer would, naturally, be punished the same as if the victim were “normal”.

    And so, when I learned that both of those assumptions were false, I found it quite shocking and depressing. How can this still be happening in this day and age? And how can people excuse the killers? It just boggles my mind.

    • It keeps happening because as long as we have “a continuum of alternative placements” we will never stop saying or believing “they” are not like “us.” Not worthy of a place in community. Less than. Other.

  8. Pingback: Autistic Writer/Blogger/Activist Amanda Baggs Facing Life-Threatening Discrimination in Vermont Hospital | Not Dead Yet

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