Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Isla Vista Shooting: Correcting Focus, Ending Autism Scapegoating

"While Martinez said he is angered by the public’s willingness to accept mass murder as a way of life in America, he said he is not mad at Rodger’s parents.“As bad as I feel about this, at least people come up to me and say, ‘I’m so sorry for you,’” he said. “Who will say that to them? No one is going to say that.”....“I’ve been told that the shooter’s father has said he wanted to devote his life to making sure that doesn’t happen again. I share that with him,” Martinez said. “He’s a father. I’m a father. He loved his son. I love my son. His son died. My son died.”

Before I discuss the assault on autistic people and their families that takes place each time a mass shooting happens in a public place in general and college campuses in particular, I need to make a point about the root of the wider problem.

I am going to put the victims of the massacre first. Here are there names:
"Cheng Yuan Hong, 20, of San Jose and George Chen, 19, also of San Jose were identified as two of the dead and also Rodger's roommates.
Weihan Wang, 20, of Fremont was also stabbed to death in the apartment.19-year-old Veronika Weiss and 22-year-old Katherine Cooper -- both were shot near the Alpha Phi Sorority on Embarcadero del Norte. 20-year-old Christopher Michael-Martinez was gunned down moments later inside the I.V. Deli Mart on Pardall Road."
Six people died in the Isla Vista shootings. Seven if we realize Elliot Rodger committed a suicidal act. As usual, focus in not placed where it should be, on each of those victims and their families. Each time a tragedy of this magnitude happens and media begins to hyper-focus on the perpetrator, everything about that person becomes more important than the lives of the people murdered, and the media enables the next would be assailant to kill and be famous. We should relegate those who use murder as a ticket to posthumous importance in society to the role of perpetrators of a heinous crime and no more. Massacre victims are lumped together by their number, and used as a measure of the fear society should have for the perpetrator of the crime. This is exclusive to our country. If we wish to break this cycle of distorted focus and enabling we must value the lives taken more than the media ratings the life of the killer might generate. While there is merit in attempting to understand why Elliot Rodger premeditated and committed  this massacre, these reasons should not be sensationalized and served up for their entertainment value.

This single act of focusing on the correct thing, that lives were taken unjustly, would do more to prevent another massacre than gun control, increased campus security, or any other endless suggestions poured on the public in the aftermath of each such national tragedy.

A derivative of the media feeding frenzy of killer objectification is the traditional "othering" of the murderer. Because the more different and fringe the mass murder is from society the less we have to ask ourselves why a disproportionate number on young white males in this country feel murdering their peers and then killing themselves is some sort of solution to their problems in life. Saying such a person is just like anyone else his age is too uncomfortable. So labeling happens nearly the moment the catastrophic event takes place, even as the victims are known as numbers rather than people. The killer is made to be:
 1. Not "normal"
 2. If no history of mental health concerns are known, one is created to explain behavior
 3. If no label is found quickly enough Aspergers or autism is added to segregate perpetrator from his family and family members will jump on the opportunity to use this label to distance themselves from the murderer
4. People and government officials then lash out at mental health consumers and autistic children and adults in a twisted attempt to "protect" society from "others" who might "snap" and murder. 
The saddest irony of this distancing/objectification behavior in this case is that for those of us who are autism activists the name University of California at Santa Barbara is synonymous with the Koegel Autism Center. Meaning that if Elliot Rodger lived in this area, attended school, and received therapy the majority of his life, there is no room for "he acted a certain way so we always suspected he had Aspergers" statements. If this was the case, diagnosis would have been as simple as a visit to the Autism Center. Any form of autism is apparent from a very young age even in women (who are sometimes not diagnosed until later in life) if anyone cares to take their loved one to a neurologist who can determine this through assessments. Posthumous diagnosis is therefore beyond unacceptable, it is dangerous.

What we should be asking ourselves is if our culture is one that incubates and enables massacres, and how we can root out everything that is driving this horrific behavior on the part of young people. The cycle of distancing ourselves from the murderer while  posthumously objectifying him must end.

Most importantly, massacre should not be the catalyst for bashing autistic people; nor should it be a time for heaping further abuse on the mental health consumer.  We should understand that Elliot Rodger premeditated a series of ghastly murders and his victims did not deserve to die. He documented why he did so before he committed these crimes. His mother tried her best to prevent this from happening.  Now it is time to mourn the dead and begin the work of preventing this without bashing neurodivergent people.

I am particularly disgusted by autism parents who jumped on the Elliot Rodgers was autistic bandwagon. I am not sure what they hope to gain by placing their own children in direct danger of retaliatory harm by people who don't understand anything about autism except sound bites heard on media. It is actually our job as parents to protect our children by educating the public. All this awareness raising and fundraising should have all these parents knowing better and recognizing that it is clear from the youtube video that this young man was not on the autism spectrum. They have no right to enable those who are ableist to harm our children. I hope they stop and if they hate their children to this degree, find proper supports

Elliot Rodgers was a man who massacred six people. The horrific nature of what he did needs neither hyperbole nor assignation of labels that aren't his. We must accept that among us are people to murder and those people are not apparent by looking at them or scapegoating autistic people.

Criminal law in our society is constructed around the reality that any of our members might murder and after insuring that those suspected of killing others understand the crime they are accused of committing, those suspects are assessed for mental health concerns. Then we declare them fit to be judged for what they did and try them in a court of law, never labeling them autistic. Meaning we assume that most people accused of committing murder were in sound mental health and not neurologically divergent when they did so.

How is it that we act differently when the murders take place in a public venue and multiple victims are involved? It is wrong. And I expect autism parents to shout that it is wrong and protect their children, not buy into a dangerous habit that harms our entire community.

  That is all.

1 comment:

  1. Responsible gun owners are always blamed for mass shootings and it is pathetic! The 2nd amendment (which I side with) was meant for defense against mass shooters and criminals in general. This is no different than blaming Islam itself on acts of terror because plenty of Moslems just want to live and be with their God. People really need to get to skipping and leave others alone...