Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Disability hate crimes vs. bullying

Intro to the story from the BBC news in the UK:

A handful of violent and degrading attacks on disabled people have provoked outrage among the press and public. But are they isolated cases or one end of a spectrum of intimidation and violence that many disabled people encounter?

Tom Shakespeare is an academic based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He is also a person of restricted growth. He was travelling on the city's metro recently when he was verbally humiliated and intimidated by a group of schoolgirls.

Was he a victim of a disability hate crime? Mr Shakespeare thinks not, but others in his position would be less forgiving of their tormentors.

According to Mr Shakespeare, what happened to him was bullying - and this should not be confused with some of the extreme offences that have been committed against a few disabled people.

"I think there's a danger of exaggerating," he says. "There's been a small number of truly appalling situations, but in the most part people don't hate disabled people."

Mr Shakespeare believes that people who are, themselves, insecure through social exclusion or lack of self-belief, pick on others.

"Disabled people are often the victims - we are vulnerable and, perhaps, remind people of their own inadequacies; it makes them feel better to put us down."

Last year, a little to the south of Newcastle, Christine Lakinski - a woman in her 50s with learning and physical disabilities - had collapsed in the
street near her home when she was set upon by a neighbour.

She was covered in shaving foam, urinated upon and filmed on a mobile phone as she lay dying. Despite the horrendous circumstances of her death, the police were unable to prove that her assailant, Anthony Anderson, was motivated by hatred of her because of her disabilities. Mr Shakespeare, a campaigner on disability rights, doubts too that this amounts to disability hatred.

Yet Miss Lakinski's brother, Mark Lakinski, is in no doubt that this was a disability hate crime - it was something she had experienced for most of her life.

"Christine might as well have had a target on her head saying 'attack me, victimise me'," he says, reflecting on her death in July 2007 and Anderson's trial three months later.