The torture and beating of a disabled teenager broadcast live on Facebook in early January was so horrific that even some pundits and trolls on the far right expressed outrage. But it’s not because the victim was disabled. It’s because he was white and the alleged attackers were black.
For example, on the website Infowars, which wages an endless war on info, Paul Joseph Watson spent about fifteen minutes talking about the beating‚ fourteen and a half more than he needed to make his silly point that none of this would have happened without the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter demanding that we all run right out and savage the nearest white person. And then the hastag #blmkidnapping popped up. According to CNN, that hashtag was mentioned 480,000 on Twitter within 24 hours. The accompanying tweets usually lament how the media and law enforcement downplay attacks of white people at the hands of people who aren’t white. One tweeter called the alleged attackers “4 of Obama's thugs.”
Who needs this pseudo sympathy? It’s all just crocodile tears. The right wing ire will fade with the headlines while people with disabilities will continue to be frequent victims of violent crimes. In fact, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2009 and 2014, disabled people were twice as often victims of violent crimes as people who are not disabled.
Disabled people will also continue to be killed in disproportionate numbers by police and law enforcement. Research released last spring by the Ruderman Family Foundation concluded that one-third to one-half of those killed by law enforcement officers between 2013 and 2016 were disabled people. These include people whose deaths received a lot of media attention, like Eric Garner and Freddy Gray.
The teen beaten in the video, and many disabled people like him, will also be routinely and repeatedly victimized in more subtle ways by screwed up political priorities. Every year United Cerebral Palsy ranks all the states based on how well they support disabled Medicaid recipients to live in home and community-based settings outside of nursing facilities and institutions. The beating victim lives in Illinois, which UCP ranks near the bottom at forty-seventh. Illinois has remained near the bottom since UCP began keeping track in 2007. Thus, thousands of disabled people in Illinois who need some public assistance to live independently languish in limbo on service waiting lists for years and years.
But as far as the disabled teen in the video goes, I’m sure his fifteen minutes of fame amongst the rightwingers has permanently expired. His story can no longer be twisted to stoke a white supremacy narrative. It can’t be used to inspire a new oh-poor-me hashtag. So who cares about him and his kind anymore? His dehumanizing trauma has already been exploited to dehumanize him anew.