Saturday, June 6th there was a March in DC, protesting the death of George Floyd, by black disabled people; #BlackDisabledLivesMatter. Many black people with disabilities have been brutalized by the police and some killed because of ignorance and lack of understanding about our community. This is due to racism and ableism. The black disability community joined with the disability community at large and marched together in a protest. It was a beautiful display of unity and strength.
A large number of national disability organizations, like the American Association of People with Disabilities, where I serve as Vice Chair, have issued statements of support for an end to racism. We, in the disability community, grieve with the Floyd family and many others who lost a child or family member at the hands of the police. At some of these protests, Black Deaf People held up signs that said, “Sign his Name.” This means in American Sign Language, spell out George Floyd’s name. We all need to spell out and shout the name of George Floyd; a slain man that may change the world. We, in the disability community, must all support the global cry for change.
Many black people live in poverty and have no access to healthcare, employment, fair education, and are excluded from so much more than white people. Education is a means to competitive employment, and as I always say, “competitive employment means freedom” in this country. Black people should have the same opportunity to engage in education as white people. Author, Jonathan Kozol, taught us that great inequality exists in the classrooms in America in his book, “The Shame of the Nation – The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.” It is time for equality in education— it is time for justice.
Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland were all black Americans who died at the hands of the police or while in custody. Eric, Freddie, and Sandra are also people with disabilities. The Ruderman Foundation estimates that up to one half of all Americans killed by police are people with disabilities. I live with epilepsy and many people with epilepsy have died at the hands of the police while having a seizure. This should be a rallying cry to all of us to support this current global protest for police reform right now.
Emmett Till was abducted and brutally murdered in 1955; I was two years old. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 and I was 13 years old; George Floyd was murdered in 2020 and I am 66 years old. How many deaths does it take to see change? How many lifetimes does it take to institute policy that is fair to all citizens of this nation? I hope that this time, momentous change happens before another name is added beside George Floyd’s to the list of lives lost. I want to live to see this day come. I do not want to see the knee of racism continue, because #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackDisabledLivesMatter.
If you are reading this; I ask you to be part of the change. You can get involved in your community with groups working to see reform in the police department or use your own social media to communicate support for #BlackLivesMatter and for #BlackDisabledLivesMatter. You can join some of the groups that are working for change. You can write blogs or write Op-Eds, and you can do something more powerful than anything else—you can vote! You have the ability to change the ways things are done in this country and see reform when you vote.
Lead On! #BlackLivesMatter; Lead On! #BlackDisabledLivesMatter