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On March 6th, 2011 George Hodgins, a 22-year old autistic man living in Sunnyvale, California, was murdered by his mother. While there is no evidence that the young man had FXS, that really doesn’t matter. This is about a tragedy and the way some think about those with a disability.
Zoe Gross, an autistic self-advocate, wrote a powerful editorial asks us all to think about what happened in a different way than some of the media have approached the story.
Last Tuesday, George Hodgins was shot and killed by his mother, who then killed herself. George lived here in Sunnyvale and he was 22 years old. I didn’t know George, but I can’t stop thinking about him. Maybe it’s because we have a lot in common — we lived near each other, we were the same age, we’re both autistic, although we led very different lives. I would like to have met George, but I can only mourn him. And I can try to make sure that his story isn’t forgotten.
In the wake of this tragedy, I read a lot of articles that asked the readers to imagine how George’s mother must have felt. But I didn’t see a single article that asked the reader to empathize for George, to imagine how it feels to see your mother point a gun at you. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how hard it must be to live with an autistic relative, but I didn’t see anyone talking about how terrible it be to die knowing that your parent, who you love and depend on, has decided to hurt and kill you.
Because he was autistic, George is being erased from the story of his own murder.
The story of George Hodgins’s death is being discussed and presented as a story of a mother who snapped, and the story of other parents who have felt the same way. It’s being told as a story about a lack of services for families with special-needs children, as though a lack of services is a justification for murder.
When disabled people are murdered by their families, this is the story people want to hear. It’s the same story that we saw in newspapers after Katie McCarron was murdered, and after Jeremy Fraser was murdered, and after Glenn Freaney was murdered, and after Zain and Faryaal Akhter were murdered. The story goes like this: it is understandable that someone would kill their disabled relative if they don’t get help to care for them.
I don’t think this is a true story.
Why is the story being told this way? Because we live in a world that doesn’t acknowledge the value of our lives as disabled people. Because so many people in our society can’t imagine a disabled person living a fulfilling life, so they don’t see the tragedy and the wasted potential when one of our lives is cut short.
As disabled people, we have to take a stand against this kind of thinking. We have to get the word out that our lives matter, that our lives are our own stories and not just the stories of our non-disabled parents and relatives and caretakers. We have to let people know that they are missing part of the story.
Because the story of George Hodgins’s murder is also the story of the disabled community losing one of our own. It’s the story of the other disabled people who were murdered by their family members, and it’s the story of the society that thinks so little of people with disabilities that these murders are all too often justified as “understandable.” Most of all, it’s George’s story — the story of a young man who enjoyed hiking, who was always looking to learn new skills, who had his whole life in front of him.
Now George is gone, and only his memory remains, and already that memory is being distorted by people who want to tell his story and leave him out. That’s not going to happen tonight. We’re here to remember the real story.
It’s obvious that many in our society still regard the murder of disabled people as unimportant, or even desirable. But I’ve also learned that disabled activists can also have an effective on public perception, if we can find a way to get our voices heard.
On behalf of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, I am asking you join us in taking action. On March 30th, help us organize a nation-wide day of mourning for disabled people killed by family members and caregivers. Our goal is to hold vigils in cities across America to memorialize murder victims. Through your help, we hope to amplify our message: that disabled people deserve to live fulfilling lives free of violence.
If you want to help us take a stand against the violence facing our community, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.