Torture of Young Man with Intellectual Disability Posted on Facebook is a Clarion Call to Action

Statement from Global Down Syndrome Foundation President & CEO, Michelle Sie Whitten, in response to the brutal beating of a teenager who is differently-abled in Chicago:

Torture of Young Man with Intellectual Disability Posted on Facebook is a Clarion Call to Action

On January 5th I received a flurry of emails from friends, families and colleagues with the subject line “Hate Crime in Chicago against a man with intellectual and developmental disability.” I have to admit, while I read the related headlines I could not bring myself, even to this day, to watch the video.

As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, the wonderful news that she will most probably outlive me due to increased lifespan is mitigated by my fear that she may not be safe in this world without me or my husband, Tom.

Global advocates for people with Down syndrome on World Down Syndrome Day at the Colorado Capital

Global advocates for people with Down syndrome on World Down Syndrome Day at the Colorado Capital

What this horrific, inhumane and criminal attack highlights, in stark relief, is that life-threatening forces are at play against people like my daughter who are different – today, here, now. It is not 1970s Willow Brook. Right now, it’s the torture of a young man with intellectual disability by Chicago teenagers, terrorists targeting and murdering people with cognitive disability, a high school football player in Idaho victimized by his teammates because of his mental disability, and the shameful and unbelievable physical and mental abuse carried out by staff in a Pueblo Colorado care center for adults with intellectual disabilities (in my own backyard).

The perpetrators of these crimes against people who are differently-abled need to be brought to justice. In a bizarre turn of events, the Chicago teens posted their acts on Facebook and are being brought to justice. But what of the people in Pueblo and those being abused and murdered because of their IQ, in the US and around the world, who have no justice?

I believe this Chicago hate crime is a clarion call to those of us who have loved ones who are differently-abled. We need to organize, advocate and support organizations like The Arc and the Anti-Defamation League AND hold those organizations responsible for making sure perpetrators are prosecuted and convicted. We need to take a chapter from the history books of the NAACP or the ACLU.

I believe we should be supporting programs like the Ethan Saylor Alliance Partnership that educates police officers on how to handle protagonists and victims with intellectual disability, and programs that also teach people with intellectual disabilities and their families how better to protect themselves.

At the Global Down Syndrome Foundation our mission is research and medical care benefitting people with Down syndrome but everything we do is within the context of social justice. We work closely with ARC Thrift and the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, and we have invested in a research program at the University of Denver aimed at creating effective curriculum for adults with Down syndrome. One of the modules, “Healthy Living and Safety” covers safety behaviors related to home, transportation, drug and alcohol usage, cyber predators, and appropriate stranger and colleague relationships.

In today’s world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. If you are a parent of a child who is differently-abled even more so. Just advocating for the appropriate services and education for your child is exhausting. But we are no different from any marginalized population from days of old to today. We DO have power, the ability to advocate and to create a tidal wave of change for good.

At the end of the day, if not us, who?

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