|Darius McCollum image of an older African American Male|
with a short full beard. A blurred rail car behind him.
He is wearing a black ski cap, black coat with a dark blue
zipped up inner lining. Image credit Adam Irving
“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”―
Darius McCollum memorized the MTA map by age eight, spent his entire adult life volunteering for the MTA, and was criminalized and jailed for it. He was given a diagnosis of Asperger's by a prison doctor at age 40. He has all the characteristics of a prodigious savant. But we will never know, because, at age 53, he has been given the final blow to the crime of being autistic while black, damned to an institution where he, who is not violent, does not belong.
I would like to live in the dream that had Darius McCollum been born in say, 1992, he might have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome while still in grade school. Perhaps, if he hadn't lived years before people acknowledged or accepted that Black children could be autistic too he would have made the evening news for volunteering at the MTA while still a young autistic child. Perhaps he would have been rewarded for his intense interest in the transit system and earned a training internship with accommodation for his disability. Perhaps he might have transitioned into a job as a disabled adult. Perhaps when the MTA rejected his repeated applications for work, he might have found legal representation and sued for discrimination based on disability. Maybe, in a parallel universe, Darius McCollum is living a happy life doing the only thing he has ever wanted to do, work as an MTA employee.
Perhaps he would not have felt the urge to drive a bus six stops on its route, flawlessly picking up and dropping off passengers as any driver would do, at age 15.
But I know that Ta-Nehisi Coates is right. I always wake up from these reveries feeling gut- punched in the truth that everything lands with great violence upon the black body.
Darius has the world's thirst for entertainment and the media's lust for ratings against him. News stories about Darius are less like human interest reporting and more like circus creations at a world's fair where he's the oddity du jour and his suffering saga is a marriage of stereotypes, Jim Crow minstrel shows of a disabled black body. How can we expect justice when the structural racism of government overreaction to any nonconforming Black male body stands like a mountain in every Neili, Arnaldo, and Darius' path?
At age 53, the doom of this verdict is the final hammer blow to this singular mind. It is too much like the way the widow of Blind Tom Wiggins' slaveholder tricked his mother into signing over custody of him with the promise of freeing him then used of the courts to declare him mentally incompetent simply to enrich herself. Tom Wiggins is known as the last slave in America because of this abuse.
I haven't studied all the publicly available charges piled up against him. But from what I have read, they are marked by McCollum following proper procedure as he did while volunteering. He gets "caught" because this is not behavior he has the impulse control to eradicate on his own. When he was in another state, I wondered why it was not okay to give him a small bus, a supervised rural bus route, and allow him to spend the remainder of his days driving it. He has been labeled a thief and given a devastating punishment for compulsive behavior. Meanwhile, he has become the subject of a movie, and others will profit from his suffering.
What do I mean when I claim that Darius is caught in the sinkhole of racist ableism?
Sometimes it is easier to see the reality of this when side by side comparisons happen. So let's look at turning points in the lives of two teenagers with the same diagnosis of Aspergers.
Blogger Brobrubel summarizes criminal justice and government overreach by reminding us of what justice looked like for Jack Robison, and Neili Latson both were teens with a diagnosis of Asperger's Despite the use of an ableist definition of autism, Brobrubel shows the disparity in our criminal justice clearly.
Here is his 2011 essay, Autism in black and white.
Please read it and try and understand the reality of being Autistic While Black in America.Then share this, and remember that we who are African American are the first to feel this weight of violence but we are not the last. Injustice expands like a balloon if those who believe they are protected from it ignore it.