The Disability Day Of Mourning happened on March 1st. Across the nation, disability rights activists gathered to hold candlelight vigils for disabled people who were murdered by their caregivers or institutions as the case may be.

What is the Day of Mourning and why does it happen?

The Disability Day of Mourning started in 2011 thanks to several organizations that focus on disability rights. Among them are ADAPT, Not Dead Yet and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

Since that time, over 400 disabled people have been murdered. The vigil started because when disabled people do get murdered it goes unreported. According to a white paper published by the Ruderman Family Foundation, when it does get reported, the victims are generally dehumanized. The killer caregiver or parent is painted as an oppressed angel in waiting. The victim is painted as a burden or a violent monster.

Disability rights groups say that these portrayals incentivize more murders.

According to disability rights groups, this dehumanization spills over into the courts. Juries routinely allow themselves to be swayed by caregivers claiming that they were overwhelmed by their disabled family member that they had no choice but to kill them. Sometimes, it doesn't get near the jury. Prosecutors also buy into the narrative so much that they wind up making a defense attorney completely unnecessary.

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Judges, assuming the prosecutor even bothers to bring such a case to trial, give out lenient sentences. The Day of Mourning exists to do what the media and the courts do not: Acknowledge the victims.

What can the media and governments do?

For starters, these cases need to be acknowledged as hate crimes, according to disability rights groups. According to the FBI, hate Crime charges can be brought if the crime was motivated in whole or in part by a person's membership in a particular group.

Since most of the caregivers involved tend to claim they are overwhelmed by the person's disability it would fall under the "in part" category. This means updating our hate crime laws. Several states don't include disability in their hate crime laws.

Secondly, we can ban the "overwhelmed guardian" defense. We banned rapists' attorneys from asking victims what they were wearing, It stands to reason that we can do the same for this defense.

The media can also do its part. In most other cases, the media focuses on the victims. However, in these cases, the victims rarely get mentioned or outright blamed. According to Ruderman Foundation and organizers of the Day of Mourning, reporters can treat disabled victims the way they treat other crime victims. They can also do more to investigate these "overwhelmed" parents more thoroughly. Many of the people who commit these crimes claim that they had no resources but an even tertiary investigation would reveal that many of these families had access to services but chose not use them.

Changing the narrative is the best way to stop these murders.

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