I wrote a piece for NCR yesterday about the man with special needs who’d been kidnapped and tortured on Facebook Live, by four of his peers. The primary reason I wrote it was that, in my opinion, this story was not getting the attention it deserved in the media.
A few people were quick, however, to point out that it WAS getting plenty of attention. “The Today Show” and ABC News had featured the story, they said, which I hadn’t known and is, of course, great. My overall impression though had been based upon what I was seeing throughout the day on the internet, and on the reticence of some (including Chicago authorities) to call it a hate crime–which, in my view, it certainly seemed to be.
Later that evening, I came across an article by journalist Shaun King, a Black Lives Matter supporter and activist, who said he would not be speaking out on the matter since, after all, the arm of justice came swiftly for the four African American suspects. All are in custody. He contrasted this with various times where the victim was black and justice was NOT served, and said that is where he will continue to put his energies.
King’s perspective was good food for thought. It is silly, in my opinion, that people are blaming black activism for this cruel act, or using it to somehow “prove” that racism against white people is worse/equal to/the same as racism towards black people. (Cultural context matters here.) And I would never expect any one individual person, Shaun King or otherwise, to come out and decry something simply because he or she is of the same race as the perpetrator. However, just because someone is held accountable in a court of law doesn’t mean that the conversation should end there. This crime, which certainly may have had something to do with race (how much though is something we can’t really know for sure), is in my view about a lack of empathy and a general disdain for the dignity of the human person. And particularly the human person living with developmental disabilities. It reflects a dangerous and quick-spreading coarsening of the culture, and a big problem with American young people in particular. And THAT is what my article was intended to be about.
I have two daughters, ages nine and seven respectively, who like the victim in this case are developmentally delayed. They have Down syndrome. So I am ever aware that they are at a much greater risk of being abused than my other children, and will be for the rest of their lives. I am also aware that it is a relatively small portion of the population that has a loved one living with these challenges. Raising kids with special needs, whatever the needs happen to be, can be lonely, confusing, and exhausting. My heart goes out to the victim’s family–talk about your worst fears for your child being realized!
One reason why I suspect that raising differently-abled children is so difficult is that people don’t really know what to do with it. Should they feel pity? Should they tell their kids not to stare? Is it okay to ask questions? And, as far as the culture at large goes, the writing is on the wall. It’s estimated that up to 90% of prenatally-diagnosed babies with Down syndrome are aborted. So while most everyone I’ve met seems to like my kids okay, the statistics speak for themselves. But you see, it’s not just my kids with special needs that the culture has a problem with–consider the fellow swim dad I encountered at practice one evening, me sitting there with my sweet four-month-old, and him telling me he was SO GLAD to be done with that HORRIBLE PHASE, while he eyed my little Beatrice like she was a blood-sucking mosquito. (I didn’t say it out loud, but I wondered how much of the hands-on work he’d actually done with his infant anyhow. I doubted it was much. I also doubted his infant ever necessitated him killing time on a humid, chlorine-laden indoor pool deck two nights a week, which really makes you wonder why we act as if babies are such killjoys when it’s really these rotten older kids that hold our feet to the fire. But I digress.)
And so four young people torturing a classmate with special needs live on social media, well, it’s a stark example of sin and hate, but I think many are concerned not so much about the potential racial aspects of the crime, but moreso about the fact that the man had special needs. Some are calling it an instance of “ableism”, which I suppose is just another way of saying that we’ve reached a point as a society where people have little use for folks living with challenges, and the inconveniences they might bring along with them. (As if life is ever all that convenient in the first place.) This is of course something we should all be gravely concerned about. This is where the real story lies. It is also something we should perhaps no longer be surprised by. Just look in your own backyard–voters in my state of Colorado recently legalized physician-assisted suicide, for example, under the ridiculously stupid euphemism “death with dignity.” Sick and probably dying? Meh. Just end your life, which is obviously useless if you’re weak and suffering. Or consider that less than an hour from my house sits one of only five late-term abortion mills in the United States, where women travel from all over the world to have their pregnancies (read: babies) terminated by the man who wrote the definitive textbook on abortion.
But the real problem is bigger than that, even. I fear we really are seeing entire generations of people growing up without the capacity to empathize, think critically, or recognize a person’s humanity, and social media plays a significant role here. Be brave and take a look at Sherry Turkle’s research. Think about how even just the dating landscape has changed, how friends aren’t meeting face to face so much anymore (or how if they do, they are all looking down at their respective screens), how the pervasive hook-up culture is transforming the notions of romance and love. Heinous acts against one’s fellow man aren’t really anything new, but the types and degrees of things we’re seeing now are definitely concerning.
At least, they are to me.
The truth is that I hesitated to write my column yesterday, for fear of further fueling racist sentiments directed toward black people. This is presumably the reason many did not speak up. And, I get it. Four of my children are black, and yes they have encountered prejudice and recently, some unfortunate racial bullying, so I am just naturally sensitive to such things. (As I, and fellow white people, ought to be). But two of my kids also have Down syndrome, and just because this story has the potential to be spun the wrong way it shouldn’t mean that we ignore this issue or merely chalk it up to, as a Chicago police officer called it, “kids making stupid decisions.” Of course they WERE bad decisions, and that is the whole point. If we can’t look at these things and see what is happening, really happening, in our world, well, we’re in trouble. There is a definite problem among young people today. It transcends politics and socioeconomic status and yes, even race. I don’t know if it will get any better. I DO know that I will do my best to raise loving, happy, compassionate, and well-educated children. I will try to stand up for the “little guy”, the vulnerable among us, and I’ll teach them to do the same. I will continue to promote healthy, connecting, life-giving activities for my kids to participate in.
I’m convinced that the best way to combat all the garbage in our world is to pray, and to live life to the fullest in our homes. I cannot control what others do, say, or believe (though as a blogger I can occasionally offer my humble perspective in hopes that it might be encouraging to someone), but I can try to do good stuff in my family. It’s sad to know there are people out there who would find sport in hurting kids like mine, and yet it is also discouraging to consider what has brought them to this point. At a time when the world ought to have been filled with promise and hope for a future of possibility, the lives of those four individuals are now forever changed. The trajectory is set. The culture of self and nihilism has claimed four more victims, in addition of course to the dear gentleman who was the victim of their cruelty.
I hereby challenge any and all media outlets, mainstream or otherwise, to facilitate thoughtful and reasoned discussions about the increasing problems facing young people in our culture, and the discrimination (which, frankly, begins in the womb) against differently-abled individuals. There is a story here worth telling.