Access Living response to hate crime against young man with disability

In the last few days, people in Chicagoland and around the country have been following news about the recent crime committed against a young man with a disability who was living in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Below is a statement from Access Living in response to the crime and the news of the event.

Access Living response to hate crime against man with disability

Along with our disability colleagues across the country, Access Living is horrified by the abuse and violence committed earlier this week against a young man from Crystal Lake, Illinois, identified by news reports as having a "mental disability." In the wake of this tragic event, our hearts go out to the young man, his family, and his community. Access Living is pleased that news reports indicate authorities have identified the case as a hate crime.

While this recent crime is shocking, violence against people with all kinds of disabilities is not new. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were 88 reported hate crimes against people with disabilities in 2015, and 95 in 2014. Experts suspect that the unreported rate is far higher. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2009 and 2014, the rate of violent victimization against persons with disabilities was at least twice that for persons without disabilities. Illinois is one of at least 30 states with hate crime laws that include disability protection. The crime against the young man from Crystal Lake is just the latest example of the need for every state to include disability in hate crime statutes. The crime also underscores the need for Illinois and all states to tap into available resources ready to provide guidance on disability rights and issues in order to address lack of awareness about, inequality of, and crimes against people with disabilities.

Though violence against people with disabilities is more common than against non-disabled people, crimes against people with disabilities are not always treated with the same equity as crimes against non-disabled people. Across the country, there are many examples of family members who murder their disabled children. Tragically, courts and public sympathy too often lean toward the family perpetrator, framing the crime as a "mercy killing" and justifying the murder because the disabled person was a burden and better off dead.

Race, too, can play a significant role in the prosecution of disability hate crimes. It is clear that in Chicago and in all parts of the nation, there are obvious discrepancies in enforcement and prosecution of the law based upon race. In Idaho, a black disabled teenager was raped with a coat hanger by three white members of the high school football team. The prosecutor did not pursue hate crime or sex crime charges. According to a recent CNN article , the prosecutor said, "I think it probably would have happened to anybody that was in the same kind of circumstances and mental state as the victim here." Plainly, disability was being used as an excuse to minimize the crime.

In the end, the Idaho perpetrators were charged with "injury to a child," which carried no jail time. In the crime against the young man from Crystal Lake, the victim is white and the four perpetrators are African American. Unlike the three football players in Idaho, the perpetrators have been immediately charged with multiple crimes which carry jail sentences and bail has been denied.

Clearly, the case of the young man from Crystal Lake is about more than disability. Based upon comments made by the perpetrators in the Facebook videos, based upon the unwarranted backlash against Black Lives Matter, and based upon response and comments coming from all communities, the existing state of race inequality, political polarization, and prejudice will play a role in how this case is portrayed and prosecuted.

No matter whether they are disabled or non-disabled, and no matter race and economic class, all victims deserve to be recognized and all victims deserve justice. Perpetrators should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Yet, disability, race, and income continue to play a significant role, and each is an area where more work needs to be done.

For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice), (email).
Gary Arnold
Public Affairs Manager