Thursday, December 19, 2013

Invisible Autistic Filicide Victims

"We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but  about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers." 
 - Martin Luther King Jr. Eulogy for the Martyred Children (1963)

Melissa Stoddard, biracial, autistic, age 11,
tortured and murdered by her stepmother and father
photo credit. Herald Tribune
Tuesday December 17th marked the one year anniversary of the murder of Melissa Stoddard. While the press continues to follow the attempted murder of Isabelle Stapleton by focusing on her mother Kelli, Melissa, who died horribly after sustained torture by her father and stepmother, is forgotten. She is part of The Autism Wars memorial timeline for intersected autistic and disabled victims of murder.

Randle Barrow, who was found murdered on December 14th of this year, was only 3 years younger than Melissa. They both shared the same label of autism. They both smiled from photographs taken in happier days. Randle's mother apparently drowned him, disposed of his body in a river, and then took her own life. In Randle's  case, family members called the Alabama Department of  Human Resources (DHR) to report concern for Randle's safety. DHR failed to act to protect him. Randle's school, which has the disturbing name of The Riley Behavioral and Educational Center for Autism, called DHR to report that Randle's mom "was struggling physically
Randle Carlton Barrow, autistic, age 8, murdered
by his mother Delicia who then took her own life.
and had slurred speech"  on the Tuesday preceding the murder. DHR failed to act to protect Randle. None of this seems to matter to anyone. No one seems to care that Randle Barrow is the latest victim of murder - suicide. Murder apologists continue to respond in posted comments about the difficulties in parenting autistic children rather than reacting to the horrific nature of this pattern of filicide - suicide that seems to be accepted as an okay thing to do?!? Children and disabled adult victims are treated as collateral damage for exhausted parents, and parent commentators see this gruesome ending as some inevitable choice. What the hell!?!

Filicide - suicide is extremely rare in general global society. It is becoming increasingly common in our community. Worse, each small article about an autistic person of color*, being murdered appears to be not worth a footnote or comment by autism advocacy organizations, autism bloggers even activists. Kelli Stapleton, white, high profile, mother of Isabelle, whose community actively gave financial and emotional support for her efforts to get whatever therapy she thought Izzy needed, attempted filicide -suicide. The media considers every new development in Kelli's trial news worthy. Social media considers what is happening to Kelli Stapleton worth continuous articles, a status, a share or a mention in a plethora of blogs.

Alex Spourdalakis with his mother Dorothy, who murdered
him with the help of his godmother
Alex Spourdalakis' very public abuse and murder were discussed to such a degree that Alex's case was brought to the DOJ with a demand it be tried as a hate crime. Exactly what should have been done for Melissa Stoddard's case.  When someone beat Ashley Hamilton such that her face was unrecognizable, she only made news until she left the hospital. After that a handful of dedicated activists, like Emily Titon and Amy Sequenzia, tried to follow her case and see where she was placed and what her needs and level of safety were. Ashley Hamilton lives in poverty. She is now a ward of the state of Georgia. But no one cares about Ashley. Because Ashley is poor and nonspeaking, and her 15 seconds of victim photographs have a longer shelf life than concern for her eventual autonomy and safety.

Beyond the horrific nature of the murders, attempted murders, and assaults themselves is the greater question of what societal culture is producing parents and care givers who are increasingly coming to the conclusion that murdering their autistic loved ones will be at best forgiven and understood by other parents. It is an increasingly frightening situation, one that has me avoiding the news at times just to evade the nauseous feeling I get when hearing parents making comments that erase the filicide victim and eulogize the murdering parent having never met either party. Meanwhile I am surrounded by parents in their 80s who have lovingly cared for autistic children, now in their 50s, with no help or support all their lives. Saying not having help or respite or supports is an excuse for murder is just not acceptable and speaks to the way we socialize our society to ingest ableism and vomit it all over tragic events like these. I should never have to reach out to a parent and say "read the news again and imagine this child was not disabled.". If you can't see the injustice of filicide because of the disability of the victim, then it is time to do a serious ethics audit on yourself.

A board member of Autism Speaks recently declared that I only attack. He said I take offense at everything real or imagined. My son is visibly nonwhite, clearly nonspeaking , and those differences intersect with his disability to put him at extremely high risk for being the victim of a crime.  Tell me, if you were me would it offend you that every child who shares the same intersected heritage as your disabled son and is the victim of violent crime is erased and ignored not only in general but by the greater community of autism activists and advocates while they cry for justice and a voice for all? I am offended. Injustice is offensive. And everyone who can do something tangible to bring attention to these murders should be inclusive of all the victims regardless of race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation and gender identity.  It disappoints me to have to continually repeat this. It distances me from collaborative activism.

 Fight for all of us. Our intersected loved ones matter too.

In Memory of Melissa Stoddard, 
and all those victims who quietly wait for the respect, remembrance, and justice 
in death they did not have in life. 

* People of Color is used to mean everyone identifying as nonwhite. Some use the term to imply African American, or Black But on this blog it is always used as a term inclusive of all nonwhite people. 

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