Updated 3/19/2012 with Kassiane Sibley's remarks and links to photo and video coverage of the vigil. Scroll donw
Image description: a candle burning against a black background. Image source: By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
On a rainy Friday night, March 16, 2012, about 25 people gathered to remember George Hodgins and all disabled people killed by family members. Zoe Gross's remarks are reproduced below. She had also prepared a list of disabled people murdered by family members, which we read aloud, one by one. It was like the long tolling of a bell. Then Zoe invited others to speak; these are the ones I remember and my frail memory of what they said: Kathryn Hedges read a statement by Kassiane Sibley; distance prevented Kassiane from attending. (Update 3/19/2012: Kassiane's remarks are reproduced below). Mark Romoser spoke about the value of all human life. Landon Bryce's neurotypical friend spoke of how his perspective has been broadened, how much he has learned, by getting to know Landon. Steve Silberman talked about the "feebleminded" and "epileptics" murdered by the Nazis in the T-4 program, many of which must have been autistic, who we then remembered. I spoke: I wondered if it was hard for George to have a mother who did not treasure his life.
One of George's teachers from The Morgan Center remembered George, his ready smile, his engagement, his love of swimming and hiking, and that he is missed now and will continue to be missed.
Around the country, those who couldn't attend the vigil light candles to honor George's full humanity and his life.
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, tha tour 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.
Kassiane Sibley has kindly given me permission to reproduce her remarks, which are also posted at her blog, Radical Neurodivergence at The Words Said for George
I hate writing for murdered people. It does no good. They're still dead, and people always try to make what I say all about themselves & then they get all mad and hateful at me. But it isn't about them. And it isn't about me, either. It's about the person who is dead but shouldn't be.
This time, it's about George, a pleasant 22 year old man who will never see 23. Before George, it was Katie. It was Christopher. It was Ulysses. It was 100s of autistics before them, know and unknown to me.
These murders are not mercy killings. They are murders, and I am 100% confident in saying that no parent who truly loves their child can kill them. Love does not work that way.
Those of you who are not autistic may be inclined to sympathize with George's murderer. Maybe what you know about autism is tragedy-and-terror style awareness, all about devastation and loss. Maybe you know her, maybe you liked her. Maybe she was your neighbour. Maybe you can't wrap your head around the reality that you had coffee with a murderer. Maybe trying to find mitigating factors makes it easier to integrate that you know someone who killed her son.
Those of you who are autistic are probably feeling more like what I feel-saddened that yet another of our number was killed. Maybe, like me, you are disgusted at the race to exonerate the murderer in the media. And, if you are like me, you are terrified that everyone is blaming lack of services, stress, everything but “HIS MOTHER SHOT HIM” for George's death.
I hate writing for murdered people. Again and again and again I have to defend the very right of the victim to be treated as a human being in all reports, for his very personhood and the personhood of myself and those I hold dear. This stuff shouldn't need saying. My outrage should be the norm, not the exception.
The tragedy here is not autism. The tragedy here is that George, like countless autistics before him, was murdered. The tragedy is that people feel more for his killer than they do for him.
Steve Silberman kindly photographed the vigil; the photographs can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151401301460313.815702.830415312&type=3
CBS Channel 5 in San Francisco covered the vigil: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/video/6851186-memorial-held-for-autistic-sunnyvale-man-killed/
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
We're calling for volunteers to organize vigils in their local communities on or around March 30th. You may never have organized this kind of event before, but please know that you'll have support - our first vigil was a success, and we can help you as you work to organize yours. If you want to help us take a stand against the violence facing our community, please write to me at email@example.com.
Send a message to society that the disability community has no place for the kind of "mercy" offered by Robert Latimer and others who view us as having lives not worth living. The time has come for us to fight back. On March 30th, help us make it happen.