Erin Kelly, a writer with Cerebral Palsy, speaks about the tragic rise of disability hate crimes.
When I first stumbled upon this video, I thought I heard the reporter wrong. I paused for a few minutes before playing it again—and again.
I played it a third time—and this time, it evoked every single negative emotion I could possibly feel.
The video highlights the final scene in “Paul’s Story” – the short film (see trailer below) about disability hate crime that’s taking the New England territories by storm. Paul, played by native James Elsworthy, sits numbingly against the wall as his neighbors pound on his windows, throwing what looks to be lit matches or candles into his home while screaming, “We’re going to burn you!”
I tried to calm myself down, at least enough to start writing this story, but then— I read the headline: “Disability hate crime spreads.” It added a layer of stupidity on top of shock and shame.
I didn’t know what disability hate crime was—let alone the fact that it’s as widespread as it is—prior to watching that video and skimming through the article that went with it.
However, the insanity doesn’t stop there. As far as the US is concerned, this type of crime has been lurking in the streets since the story of America was written. It spread like a disease throughout the twentieth century, and is once again showing its face—making thousands of disabled individuals feel vulnerable and powerless.
In 2007, 79 cases of disability hate crime were reported in the US – a 0.44 percent increase from those reported in 2003. That number has skyrocketed since—and is still on a steady rise. In fact, a 2012 article published by The Guardian reported that this form of crime is at its highest rate since its first reported offense over a decade ago.
My shock turned to anger when I read that, currently, there are no hard and fast laws in place against disability hate crime, which increases the need to bring it to the forefront—exactly what police as well as victims are hoping “Paul’s Story” will do.
Moreover, that video mentions James Elsworthy himself has a learning disability—a piece of the puzzle that, in my opinion, makes this situation go from important to urgent.
As I was doing research for this story, I found the sad truth lying at the heart of this now global tragedy—very few are willing to speak out against disability hate crime, much less put the scars it causes on display.
The scope of this is an extremely bitter pill to swallow. I think there’s a point where crime isn’t “crime” anymore—and this definitely crosses that line. To be physically and emotionally abused for something you can’t control or change about yourself is not only low, but it’s inhumane.
Sadly, it’s no more shattering than the story of the eight year old disabled boy whose parents sold him in a case of human trafficking—both of which highlight how it’s not uncommon for perpetrators to physically abuse their victims, leaving them beaten, broken, or even dead.
It all boils down to the reason why so many disabled individuals are targeted in the first place: their inability to fight back.
As a person—as a woman with Cerebral Palsy, that puts a huge red flag up in my mind. To think that I could be a target somewhere down the line is unfathomable—and in a very real sense, unacceptable.
It puts my world into perspective even more—so much so that I felt I had a responsibility to not only write about this, but also try to do the topic some justice.
It speaks volumes about the black hole of society. Even worse, crime like this is becoming the norm.
With so many questions left to answer, I think one remains clear—if it’s taken this long to shed the tiniest bit of light on such an unthinkable tragedy, how long will it take for it to stop?
It’s up to us to make our voices heard. It’s time to open our eyes and look out for our fellow man.
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