Disabled people around the globe face a crisis of violence and abuse, a crisis nearly as old as humanity itself. Throughout history, disability has been viewed with revulsion, stigma and hatred. Things may have improved somewhat yet the trend of animosity persists, it’s roots buried deep within our civilization. The horrific murders of 19 disabled individuals at a care facility in Japan proves, once again, just how deadly ableism remains. For those of us who are disabled, this killing spree represents an attack on our very existence; not a lone incident, but rather a symptom of a much larger problem.
On July 26, disabled residents of the Tsukui Yamayuri En care home in Sagamihara, Japan, were brutally stabbed in their sleep, leaving 19 dead and 26 injured. The attack was carried out by 26 year old Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of the facility. His reasoning, outlined in a chilling letter sent to the Japanese government in February: to euthanize disabled people for “The sake of all mankind…” This anti-disability motivated act of violence is the worst mass-killing in Japan’s history since the second World War. Disturbingly, the story barely registered on America’s media radar outside of the disabled community and was reported with phrases like “mercy killing” by the Japanese media.
This tragedy is absolutely heartbreaking and deeply unsettling. I find myself filled with sadness, anger and fear for disabled people everywhere. This is unfortunately just one example of the pattern of violence our community endures. Those with physical and mental impairments are a widely targeted group when it comes to things like abuse, sexual assault, police brutality and hate crimes. Mistreatment of this nature often goes hand-in-hand with dehumanization, devaluing of certain lives. A trend that has cost disabled lives across history, from Ancient Sparta to Nazi Germany.
Personally, I’m fearful of how easily something like the Sagamihara attack could happen in the United States. Around 1.4 million Americans live in nursing homes, more than 200 thousand of which are non-elderly disabled people. We live in a country where it’s far easier to buy an AR-15 and 500 rounds than it is for a chronically disabled person to get a wheelchair. There are citizens and elected officials alike that don’t believe everyone “deserves” healthcare. We have a man running for president that openly mocks disabled people, who’s companies have been investigated multiple times for ADA violations. Our movies, TV shows, books and news stories continue to reinforce the narrative that being disabled is a life of inherent suffering.
As a society we must continue to dismantle the negative perceptions and systemic oppression that disabled individuals experience. Ableism is not something the disability community can fight solely on it’s own, we all must play a part. This violence, in all it’s many forms, cannot be driven out by the apathy of non-disabled people. Elie Wiesel, the late Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” To those who’s minds and bodies work differently, I am with you. You are not alone, you are loved and your lives have value.