Wednesday March 1, 2017 will mark the 6th Annual Disability Community Day of Mourning. We are called to remember and mourn those in the disabled community who have been murdered – whether through abuse, intentional act, or neglect – by their caregivers or parents. While the word “filicide” refers to the act of a parent murdering their child, the disabled community often widens this definition to include caregiver perpetrators, as well as acts of neglect and abuse that result in death.
The reason we commemorate the Day of Mourning is not solely because we have lost members our disabled community. We commemorate the day in order to affirm the principle that our disabled lives are valuable and matter every bit as much as any other lives. All too often, when a disabled person is murdered, the focus of attention goes to the hardship of disability and the difficulty of providing care for a disabled person.
As the Autistic Self Advocacy Network puts it in our Anti-filicide Toolkit,
“When a child without a disability is murdered by their parents, everyone stands united in condemnation. No one attempts to understand, justify, or explain the murder. No one expresses sympathy for the murderer. No one argues that every parent has had moments or thoughts like that. No one understands. No one suggests that if the child had been easier or the family had had more support, this could have been avoided. The crime is punished harshly, and the victim is remembered and mourned.”
The Day of Mourning is a reminder that not only do our lives have value, but ending our lives is not an act worthy of “sympathy” or “understanding”. The only victims of filicide are those killed by people who were supposed to care for them. The only true answer to these acts is accountability. Since the beginning of the Disability Day of Mourning began, ASAN and our partners have compiled a list of those in the disabled community who have been murdered by their parents or caregivers.
Our own New Jersey community has lost the following lives:
- Barbara Martone, murdered by her husband on January 9, 2017, age 81.
- Henry Sochalski, murdered by his wife on May 19, 2016, age 64.
- Mary Driscoll, beaten to death by her granddaughter on May 24, 2014, age 94.
- Teyshaun Young, beaten to death on September 20, 2010, age 3.
- Wendy Garland, neglected by family. Died July 8, 2010, age 33.
- Caden Rivera, beaten to death on April 22, 2009, age 2.
- Stephen G. Komninos, neglected by group home’s caregiver, died on October 8, 2007, age 22.
- Nikolas Chavez III, beaten to death on November 30, 2005, age 3.
- James Cummings Jr., murdered by his father on November 6, 1999, age 46.
- Susan Shea, murdered by her father on October 26, 1991, age 19.
Sadly, this is an incomplete list. Many filicide cases are not reported, or are successfully hidden from the justice system. These precious lives are gone, but not forgotten. Let us please take a moment to remember those lives that were lost by those entrusted to care for them.
In addition, the list of those in our community who have been abused, neglected, or hurt by parents or caregivers, but were not killed, would be much too long to include here, and it is even more difficult to bring these cases to light because in many cases, including in New Jersey, there are often few or no reporting requirements for abuse and neglect.
As we look on the lives lost, we must also look to the future. How can these murders be prevented? The ASAN Anti-Filicide Toolkit offers the following guidelines:
- Center the victims – filicide is murder, and we must never normalize murder. Our conversation must always center on the victims, never on the perpetrators.
- Prosecute – filicide must be punished in the strongest possible terms. This sends the message that murder is unacceptable, and that disabled lives are protected equally under the law.
- End Ableism – filicide has its roots in the belief that disability lowers the value of a life, that a disabled life is not “worth living” or even the idea that filicide is an act of mercy. Ending these social perceptions is critical to ending filicide.
- Self-Report – if you are considering harming your disabled child or adult relative, call 911 or Child Protective Services and turn yourself in.
- Report Abuse in the Community – if you know that someone is planning to take another life, turn them in. Frequently, members of communities come forward with knowledge that the eventual perpetrator had been considering murder. If you suspect someone is being abused, you should report it. Abuse and neglect of disabled people is very common and extremely under-reported.