Day in Washington Disability Policy Podcast. I Dream of Missouri – A Disability Response to the Events of Ferguson.
Transcript: Hello and welcome to Day in Washington. Day in Washington is your Disability Policy Podcast exploring and discussing issues of interest to the disability community. Today, I want to deviate a little from my usual legislative and regulatory analysis and talk to you about whats going on out there, in the real world beyond the papered Capitol Hill offices of Washington DC. I want to talk to you about Ferguson, Missouri.
I dream of Missouri. Having spent more than ten years of my life there, having family still living there…in many ways, even though I’ve now spent nine years in the Washington DC metro area, I still think of Missouri as my home state. But the Missouri I dreamt of last night wasn’t of Midwestern hospitality, family values, and strong communities. It is a Missouri where the streets burn with tear gas and its citizens cower in their homes fearful from their own government. It is where peaceful protesters are treated as deadly threats and where media and both traditional and non-traditional are corralled and controlled.
When a young man dies it is a tragedy. When a community speaks out and is forcefully silenced, it is a tragedy. When the nation responds not with immediate anger at the injustice or calls for action, but instead with platitudes and calls for calm, it is a tragedy.
Teargas, and less-leathal weapons, because none are truly non-lethal, no-fly zones and martial law. Detaining press, preventing people from assembling peacefully…This is not the America that many of us know – the land of the free and home of the brave. The land where a rag tag group of rebels overthrew the great British empire. Where abolitionists took the nation to war to ensure freedom. Where civil rights was a movement that helped a nation grow up and truly envision that promised equality. We glorify our rebels and protestors of history and yet today, we call them potential threats to safety and dangerous. We criminalize and dehumanize them.
No, it isn’t the Missouri I knew. But in truth, it is the Missouri that was likely always there. It was always there and most of us…most of us choose to pretend that the inequities in our communities and neighborhoods don’t exist.
To the President, to Governor Jay Nixon, to legislators and policymakers I say:
This isn’t a politically expedient issue. It was the issue of “expediency” that in part caused the tangled ugly events of this week. Matters of race and disparity and inequality and injustice aren’t expedient and they deserve more than recognition of it as the “heartbreak” of a single family.
This is more than the initial incident, the death of Michael Brown. But to speak of it only as a single “heartbreak” is to invalidate the feelings of fear and anger of an entire community. Their response tells us about the heartbreak of a community. It tells us about the feelings of helplessness in the face of perceived injustice and of the oppression protest.
This is a community who didn’t trust and didn’t have faith in the system. This is a community that saw no other way.
Mr. President, Governor Jay Nixon, legislators and policymakers, this is about responsibility and accountability. This is a failure of the system YOU represent.
The system failed. It failed Michael Brown.
It failed Eric Garner, 43, who had asthma, was pulled to the sidewalk onto his chest and restrained in a chokehold by an officer, a chokehold that killed him.
It failed Ethan Saylor, 26, who had Down syndrome, went to see a movie and when he refused to leave was wrestled to the floor by deputies, held down, and handcuffed with such force that he suffered a fracture in his throat cartilage, that killed him.
It failed Keith Vidal, 18, who had schizophrenia, was tasered, then shot, and killed when his family called law enforcement for help calming their son down.
In many ways, the disability community has much in common with the African American community and it is, in part, why I did this podcast. This is more than disability, or race, or even law enforcement responses. It is the disenfranchisement of communities who are seen as “other.” It is the harsh line of not being seen as a member of the community being being seen as a danger to the community based on who and what you are, and that perception is on our televisions, in our governmental offices, and in our own biased responses when faced with events such as those that have taken place in Ferguson, Missouri.
I am thankful to see so many people at vigils tonight around the country. I am thankful for a more peaceful night in Missouri. I am thankful for those journalists and citizen journalists on the ground who did not flinch in telling their story. I am thankful for those who reached out seeking a peaceful dialogue. And I am thankful for those who are angry and are demanding change.
My beloved Missouri is hurting not just because a young man was killed, but because we “othered” our own people, dehumanized them, took away their voice, took away their feeling of security in their own country, treated them as something other than what they are – citizens. It is perfectly valid to be angry. And make no mistake, I am angry. And like my brothers and sisters across the country, over the days and weeks and months ahead, I hope to use that anger to call for change, to call for accountability, to call for respect, and to call for an end to the deaths of Americans for nothing more than who they are. We are only just beginning.
And tonight, tonight I hope to dream of a better Missouri.
This is Day Al-Mohamed with Day in Washington hoping that you will be well, be safe, and be informed.