(Content warning: mass shooting, murder, death, disablism)
I am not taking the San Bernardino shooting very well at all, both for personal and political reasons. I have delayed emotional reactions, so it hasn’t fully hit me yet. But I know I will be upset. I will be angry. I will want to hurl imprecations at the world again and again for the injustices visited upon people who are disempowered, dispossessed and dismissed. I’ve been too cynical to believe in a just world for a long time, but what happened yesterday just adds to the ever-growing stack of things that make me furious at certain members of the human race.
This, in many ways, is personal. I lived in San Bernardino for a year, between 1989 and 1990. By this point, I had already been identified as needing special-education services, and had this happened twenty-five or -six years ago, one of those victims could have been me. I don’t know if I personally received services at the Inland Regional Centre or an earlier equivalent, but it’s possible. I know people who live in the Inland Empire – disabled people – and I couldn’t stop thinking about them last night.
The shooting may not have been deliberately targeted at people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an example of violence towards people with disabilities. The twenty-one survivors, and the family and friends of the fourteen people who were killed, will suffer severe trauma. There will still be the association with disability and lives unworthy of life.
Just a disclaimer: don’t you dare try to blame this horrific event on Islam and claim that DAESH (ISIS) is connected in some nebulous way if there’s no evidence for it. Terrorism knows no race, no colour, no creed: it’s the application of violence to ideology in order to achieve immediate results by fear and intimidation. Terrorists can come from any country, city, community or neighbourhood. I do not give a fuck whether the terrorists responsible for this act have an Arabic- or Islamic-sounding name or a European-sounding one. Should we blame the entirety of Christendom for every cruel act that has occurred in the name of Jesus, like the Crusades, or do we, as Westerners, recognise that not every Christian is a terrorist? In the same vein we should avoid doing the same thing to Muslims. And even if DAESH is involved, that still doesn’t mean that every single Muslim on the planet is a terrorist, just as every white Christian isn’t Timothy McVeigh or Anders Breivik.
You should also avoid blaming the shooting on mental illness. People with psychiatric disabilities are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than they are to be the perpetrators. Making out that mental illness is the cause is contributing to stigma directed towards people with – or perceived to have – mental-health struggles. Restricting the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities isn’t going to stop mass shootings. This isn’t about the easy targets of brown Muslims and people with disabilities; it’s part of a larger, systemic problem, and any effective effort to fight mass shootings will take those complexities into account.