#JusticeForEthan – Time to Break the Silence

From the Archive: Originally posted 9/11/13

See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil

Today I was happy to wake up early (anyone who knows me knows that’s rare).  But today was the interview with Debra Alfarone on radio blog with Gail Zahtz.  I was hopeful that we’d get to hear why Debra was the only one in television who seemed to understand how outrageous the #JusticeForEthan story was.  Why was she was the only one with a camera who thought the story needed to be told?  I expected to hear about some connection to Down syndrome or disability.  I didn’t.  What I did hear was another person who has the same questions about why it happened that I have.  I also heard someone else, someone who people listen to, say that this could happen to anyone!

Debra, like Ethan’s family and the rest of us in this “movement,” has so many good questions that deserve answers.

The biggest question is “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?”

Unless someone talks – the deputies, the sheriff, the governor, the witnesses, the public, the media – unless someone speaks up we may never have #JusticeForEthan.

As those thoughts rattled in my brain, I noticed a tweet about another article on #JFE.  It said: “Urging all to read award-winning special ed teacher’s reflections on the death of Ethan Saylor #JusticeForEthan.”  I clicked the link and found a specific explanation for the very thing I had been pondering – why nobody (at least not enough people) was talking.

That award-winning teacher’s name is Ryan Mick.  He starts out telling the story again for anyone who hasn’t heard it (and let’s face it, that’s unfortunately still a lot of people).  Then, he says this:

“It was then that I realized something:
Ethan’s death was a terrible injustice,
but the more pernicious evil has been the silence that followed.”
In the past eight months, I’ve often said that there is only one thing we (those of us who have felt compelled to talk about this from the beginning) ALL agree on:  this was an unnecessary and avoidable tragedy that should never happen again.  Many don’t believe the incident had anything to do with Down syndrome or disability.  True, his having an extra chromosome did not kill him, but something tells me there’s more going on here.  Call it instinct, call it bias, call it experience, whatever you like, but I truly believe that this can not be explained as an “accidental” death like the sheriff’s office wants us to believe, or the militant cop culture run amok.

Ryan’s article uses a phrase “silence as privilege.”  I’ll let you read his explanation and how it pertains to the events of the last eight months.  For me, this article hit home.  Finally, someone has managed to explain to me  why the media hasn’t covered this story and why this story only causes certain people to be outraged.  Finally, there’s an explanation I can wrap my head around.  I now have a way to understand why basically good people just don’t “get it.”

In my article about the comments on Emma’s petition I talk about the two main groups of people who have written the most passionate responses: people who have family members with a disability, and people who are against police violence in general.  Now it’s clear to me that these two groups, people who have experienced something that connects them to the story, can not keep silent.  On the other hand, there’s no need to register and react to this story if you don’t think it can happen to you.

Man in a tree
Most people don’t think they’ll have to live with disability.  That’s not statistically correct.  People in the majority don’t think police discrimination and violence is something they have to worry about.  People of color know differently.  It is customary to have “the talk,” especially with male children, about how to respond quickly and respectfully to police in order to avoid jail or violence.  This incident makes me wonder if the need for that talk is spreading.
We may never know how much of a role Ethan having Down syndrome played into the decision making process of the three security guards called to deal with a non-paying movie patron.  We can hardly ever prove discrimination of any form unless the perpetrator admits it.  We don’t know if there were things that could have been done proactively to avoid this tragedy.  Some of us feel the need to try and find out.  Some think that incorrectly places the responsibility on the disability community.  I think we have to consider all options and possible outcomes.

That can only happen if we break this silence.  We NEED to have a bigger dialog.  This week, with the help of some phenomenal people, we’ve started branching out.  We’ve reached people in other communities.  We need to continue this trend.  We NEED to get answers to the remaining questions:

  • How did Ethan’s fatal injury occur?
  • What specific training did they have?
  • Why didn’t they listen to Ethan’s health care worker?
  • What exactly made them feel threatened enough to use ANY force?

I feel hopeful that we’re headed in the right direction.  Progress may be slower in this case than in others we’ve seen in the news recently, but we will press on.  We do not have the privilege of silence.

Justice For Ethan

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