Statement On Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting
TW: shooting, death, murder, ableism, anti-Semitism, suicide mention, abuse mention
LAST is not a news site, and while we sometimes post news stories we think are relevant to our community to our news page, we don’t normally comment on the news of the day. Nevertheless, in the wake of yet another tragic shooting in the United States, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Florida, we feel compelled to say something.
Before making any other statement we would like to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victims; Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, and Peter Wang; who lost their lives under such horrifying circumstances. Furthermore we would like to extend our sympathy to the whole of their community that is now left with picking up the pieces, and figuring out how to go forward after such a great loss, and in the wake of the terror this event has created.
The reason we find it necessary to comment on this tragedy in particular, is that yet again the media has put forth claims from an unnamed source that the shooter may have been on the autism spectrum (Sun Sentinel). Claims such as this have a deep and negative impact on our community. The defence team for the shooter has made a statement, in an interview with CNN, that they will be exploring using mental health issues and “the possibility of autism”, as part of their defence. CNN published this claim without providing any context about autism (CNN).
We cannot overstate how irresponsible it is that the mainstream media has run with this statement, presenting an unsubstantiated link between Autism and violence to a public who, in spite of having achieved some “awareness” of autism, is often misinformed about what autism actually is.
The simple facts are that there has been no credible research linking autism with violence, much less anything that would suggest that autism could be linked with the particular forms of extreme violence that produce mass shootings (ASAN, Interactive Autism Network , Psychology Today). There is evidence linking a history of domestic violence with mass violence (NPR) and linking a history of animal cruelty with mass violence (CBS News), both of which were factors in this particular shooting (Washington Post).
This is not to say that Autistic people are immune to radicalization, that we are incapable of violence, or that there are no Autistic people whose actions are hurtful to others. Like any other community there are some Autistic people who go out of their way to be kind and gentle to others and who commit themselves to standing for justice, even when it’s difficult. There are Autistic people who are bullies and bigots, who go out of their way to hurt others. Mostly there are a great, great, many Autistic people who fall somewhere in the middle; just trying to live their lives.
In the rare cases when Autistic individuals do become involved in violent extremism the reasons are much the same as when individuals from other communities become involved in violent extremism.
Extremist groups, prey on people, often young men, who feel isolated and disadvantaged, and give them a convenient scapegoat for their anger. Often these groups reinforce feelings of persecution, making it harder for people in the group to form connections outside of the group, as anyone expressing disagreement is seen as an enemy. There is a need for greater media and scientific literacy to help those who may be vulnerable to such propaganda think critically about the messages they are receiving. Blaming autism for violence, only serves to distract from genuine, and much needed, efforts to prevent future events like this one.
Even if an argument could be made that the shooter has autism; and lets be clear, the facts are still coming out and there has been no official confirmation, at this time, that this is the case; mass shootings are not a symptom of autism. There is no link between autism and premeditated violence. The shooter did not commit this crime because of his alleged diagnosis.
By positing a link between autism and violence (in spite of the lack of evidence that such a link exists), media outlets, like the Sun Sentinel, and CNN, fuel misconceptions and stereotypes about Autism that directly impact the safety of Autistic people. Autistic people are no more likely than non-Autistic people to be prone to violence, but we are at a much greater risk of becoming the target of violence. We experience high rates of abuse, and of sexual abuse in particular (D.S. Mandell et al.; Brown-Lavoie, Viecili, and Weiss), high rates of suicide (CBS News), and there is some evidence to suggest that high rates of co-occurring mental health conditions may be related to trauma that Autistic people experience (Daniel W. Hoover, Taylor and Gotham).
The Disability Day of Mourning website already names nine individuals who have died as the result of abuse, neglect, and murder in 2018 at the hands of their caregivers. A disproportionate number of those murdered by caregivers, and listed on the site are Autistic. The names do not include the names of those who died at the hands of police due to systemic ableism, they do not include the names of those who died of suicide as the result of bullying, and they do not include the names of those whose deaths have gone unreported by the media. Our community is already facing an epidemic of violence; not violence caused by Autistic people, but violence perpetrated against Autistic people by non-Autistic people, and perpetuated by systemic ableism and unfounded stereotypes; stereotypes such as the misconception that Autistic people lack empathy. Irresponsible reporting in the wake of mass violence only serves to put our community at even greater risk.
Since the shooting, reports have surfaced that the shooter had repeatedly made threatening, violent, anti-Semitic, racist, and Islamophobic, comments online (CNN article 1, CNN article 2). Given the link between domestic violence and mass shootings and the shooter’s alleged stalking of his former girlfriend (NPR, Washington Post), questions should be raised about his choice of Valentine’s Day as the day of his shooting spree. The white supremacist militia, Republic of Florida, initially claimed the shooter as a member, and has since retracted that claim (CBS). The school targeted in this shooting had a high population of Jewish students (The Forward). The motive of this crime has not yet been confirmed, but at the very least these reports raise questions about whether anti-semitism, white supremacy, and gendered violence were factors in this shooting. At the very least these questions deserve a thorough investigation. Focusing on an unsubstantiated link between Autism and violence, distracts from real and difficult questions that need to be asked.
In closing, LAST would like to express our solidarity with the Jewish community, as this incident has raised real fears, regardless of whether the motive of this crime is ultimately proven to include anti-Semitism. In the current climate of increased violence those fears are real, and they are fears no community should have to live with. We would like, in particular to express our solidarity with Autistic Jewish people, who are facing both fears of anti-Semitic violence, and fears of backlash against the Autistic community.
We are struggling towards a world where no one need fear violence or discrimination because they are different, but we are aware how much work there is still left to do. It is incumbent upon all of us to speak out against injustice, hatred and violence. Now, more than ever, we need to unite. We need non-indigenous, white, and gentile Autistics to step up and have the backs of those of us who are going to be the most impacted by extremism and violence. We also need to be gentle with each other, and with ourselves. Hatred will not be defeated in a day, this will be a marathon. News like this can raise a lot of fear, and it’s important to take the time needed to support each other, and care for ourselves, as we continue the fight against hatred and oppression, but it is so very important that we do continue.
Manidoo Makwa Kwe (Website and Social Media Co-ordinator),
and the LAST executive council.
This type of news can be difficult to process. If you are experienceing distress and need to speak to someone please consider using one of the following resources:
Distress and Crisis Ontario: Click Chat Now on the top of the home page for text based support
Reach Out: Crisis support for anyone living with mental health or addictions concerns in Elgin, Oxford, Middlesex and London. Click the Chat Now on the website or call 519-433-2023.
LGBT Youthline: Call: 1-800-268-9688 or Text: 647-694-4275 or click to chat at the top of the homepage
At^lohsa Native Family Healing Services: 1-800-605-7477
If you or a loved one have been the victim of a hate crime, or you have information regarding a hate crime:
the London Police’s Hate Crimes Helpline can be reached at: 519-642-1900 *be aware that this helpline is an initiative of the London Police Service, and only call it if you are comfortable being in contact with the police.
If you have concerns about a loved one’s involvement in extremism the following link may be helpful as additional reading:
If you are aware of additional resources that you feel should be added to our resources page that are not listed, please feel free to Contact Us.