As I write this, in the hours after the San Bernardino shooting, we are still in the middle of the now familiar multifocal splattering of reports that happens after shootings. But even in this constant dull thudding of mass shootings to which we’ve all become accustomed, the San Bernardino shooting stands out in several ways.
More people were killed than in any mass shooting since Sandy Hook. The shooting was not by a lone killer bedeviled by personal demons, but a group of three who agreed together to destroy as many lives as possible. The killers escaped the scene.
Most unusual of all: the choice of target.
The Inland Regional Center is a nonprofit doing important work in improving the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. They arrange activities, therapies, diagnoses, respite care. They serve tens of thousands of people with disabilities.
When I first heard the news, I thought that disabled people were being specifically targeted. It was a kick in the stomach. I broke down and wept, snuffling and sobbing on the floor. My middle son, Edmund, has a very rare genetic disorder called Cri du Chat syndrome. He has intensive physical and cognitive disabilities. It could have been him.
When Edmund leaves home and goes out in the world—to school, out with a friend—I am heavy with the thought that he may be mercilessly mocked. It doesn’t seriously cross my head that he will be physically harmed. However, I can’t say the idea that someone would target developmentally disabled people entirely surprised me—it’s not like it’s never been done before.
There are indeed eugenicists in the world, of many different degrees and kinds.
To be the parent of a child with intensive disabilities is to hear people muse about whether your child’s life is really worth living. To hear respected scholars muse that the world might be better without your child in it. To see parents who kill disabled children treated not with scorn reserved for child killers, but with sympathy for choosing an unpleasant solution to their problems.
I can only imagine what people with disabilities hear directly.
Early in my child’s life, I took Edmund to a pediatrician. The pediatrician complimented me on what an amazing job I was doing taking care of my child. How wonderful I was. Already I was getting sick of being complimented for merely taking care of my son. Which should, after all, be expected. Our society is certainly ablest, but leaving children exposed on mountaintops is still frowned upon. So I replied, a little rudely, “Well, it’s not like I chose this. I’m just doing what I have to do.”
He shook his head vigorously. “That’s not true,” he said. “You could have strangled him.”
I am also the mother of two non-disabled kids. No medical professional has yet complimented me for refraining from murdering them. But despite the familiarity disabled people (and those who love them) have with the animus that exists toward disability, it became apparent as I watched various media that others see disabled people as vulnerable, harmless—and unlikely targets.
The story soon morphed—the attackers were targeting other county officials in a rented space. This was not the work of violent eugenicists, but something else. That’s when I saw disabled people disappear from the media.
During the two press conferences I saw at which local police and FBI emerged to answer questions about the shooting, not a single reporter asked if any disabled people had been killed.
One asked if children had been killed, another asked why the Inland Regional was a target. But not disabled people. I did not read about or see a single interview with a disabled person.
As the possibility of terrorism started to be bandied about, the idea of disabled people as a possible target was dropped from any consideration. On social media, a few pointed out that the attack had more similarities to Boston than to, say, the Washington Navy Yard. But no one mentioned the possibility there might be parallels to Charleston.
I overheard an analyst on CNN say something like, "It was incomprehensible people would attack this target unless someone else [i.e., someone non-disabled] were there."
Many disabled people, however, have no problem finding this comprehensible.
Let’s say it is true that disabled people were mere bystanders; that this attack had nothing to do with them. In addition to all their wretched murderousness, all the bloodthirsty cruelty the killers showed to the people into whom they sprayed bullets, they were willing to do irreparable damage to thousands of disabled people.
The pain, fear, and disorientation those present must have felt—many of whom will have greater trouble coping with such drama. It’s unbearable to think about.
And the killers have taken away their safety, the place they went for guidance and assistance and fun. Due to its rarity, the Cri du Chat community is a close-knit one. Several people I know took their family members to Inland Regional regularly, and touted the place as a fantastic resource.
I know I will hold Edmund extra close tonight. And tell him I love him, and how much better the world is with him in it.