Springsteen photo by Shayne Kaye
It seems there are some nasty human rights abuses being committed by the government of the state of South Dakota. The U.S. Department of Justice has intervened, but that may not be enough. It’s one of those situations that’s so outrageous and infuriating that it may be time to call in Bruce Springsteen.
Yep, it may be time for the Boss to use his boycott superpower and refuse to do concerts in South Dakota. That probably wouldn't be too hard for him, when you think about it.
The people being abused by South Dakota’s government are disabled folks. A huge number of them end up getting involuntarily and permanently trapped in nursing homes just because they need assistance with the basics of daily living like getting out of bed and getting dressed.
Way back in 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C and E.W. that such arbitrary segregation violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented passionately—that shows you what a brilliant decision it was.
But we all know how those monumental Supreme Court civil rights decisions go. As soon as Brown v. Board of Education came down, state governments didn't exactly jump up and start desegregating. Some still needed a swift kick in the ass.
On May 2, the DoJ sent South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard a 35-page letter saying the state spends approximately 83 percent of its Medicaid long-term care budget “on expensive nursing facility services,“ which is way out of fiscal whack. Most states, according to the letter, spend about 40 percent of Medicaid long-term fund on programs that enable disabled folks to live in their homes and communities. Here in Illinois, I hire a crew of people to assist me everyday with stuff like transferring in and out of my wheelchair. The state pays their wages.
But if I lived in South Dakota, I’d probably be in a nursing home. And that would be hell. The DoJ letter says, “Nursing facilities in South Dakota are institutions characterized by structures and rules that limit residents’ independence and community integration... Medicaid-funded residents rarely are permitted to have a private room or private bathroom, and they are often assigned to rooms with a roommate whom they do not choose… Residents are subject to regimented bathing, meal, and medication times.”
The letter says a 74-year-old Native American man told DoJ investigators that he once left his nursing home without permission and went to buy cigarettes at a nearby gas station. The nursing home staff called the sheriff, who took the man into custody and returned him.
The letter warned the Governor that he’d better knock off this kind of behavior.
I think this is definitely the kind of discrimination that deserves a response of the Springsteenian magnitude. But I don’t know how this celebrity boycott stuff works, do you? Do the celebrities jump in to draw attention to an injustice or do they wait until it’s already getting a lot of attention and then stoke the flames? It seems like it’s usually the latter.
If I can’t get Springsteen to refuse to do business with South Dakota, how about the NBA? I think it’s quite reasonable to ask the NBA to solemnly swear that as long as South Dakota continues locking up disabled people like me as if we committed a crime, no NBA All Star game will be played in that state.
And if all else fails and South Dakota refuses to join the 21st Century, that may leave no other option but to break out the big guns and call in Bono.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple, "expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."