judgment

Years ago, a colleague of mine told me that I was the least judgmental person she’d ever met. I laughed. Hard. I told her that she really needed to get out more. She said, “No, really. You are.” I secretly took pride in her words.

I have spent a lifetime trying not to judge others. Trying to be open to their perspectives and belief systems no matter how far afield they might be from mine.

But there is a time to judge.

A place that demands that we judge.

This is it.

Last week, I held my breath as I watched the video of Baltimore ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancee in the face, then dragging her limp body out of an Atlantic City elevator, kicking her legs into place when they didn’t comply.

I judged him.

I did not vilify him. He did that himself. He is on video punching his fiancée (now wife) then dragging her body out of an elevator. He made himself the villain in his story.

Last week, Minnesota Vikings running back and 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges after allegedly beating his four-year old with a stripped tree branch, resulting in numerous injuries including cuts and bruises to the child’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum, along with defensive wounds to the child’s hands.

I judged him.

I did not vilify him. He did that himself. He texted his son’s mother that she would likely be “mad at me about his leg. I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch.” He made himself the villain in his story.

Last year, Issy Stapleton’s mother tried to kill her.

I judged her.

I did not vilify her. She did that herself. Kelli Stapleton told a judge that when she drove her daughter out to the middle of nowhere in her van and lit two charcoal grills, she did so in an attempt to kill her daughter. She made herself the villain in her story.

Last year, Jude Mirra, then eight years old, died a horrific death at the hands of his own mother.

I judged her.

I did not vilify her. She did that herself. Gigi Jordan took her son to a hotel room where she forced him to ingest a lethal combination of pills. She made herself the villain in her story.

Not judging one another is admirable when we’re talking about race, color, creed, who we love, who we marry, how we choose to identify ourselves. Not judging when men are punching women, parents are beating toddlers, and mothers are killing their autistic children is not admirable. It’s cowardly and it’s dangerous.

I’m judging.

I’m judging because if I don’t, I tacitly approve the conditional devaluation of human life. And I’m not willing to do that. I’m not willing to stand by in silence. I am not willing to allow anyone to believe that no matter how difficult my life with my autistic daughter were ever, ever to become, that it would be okay for me to kill her because caring for her is hard. I am also not willing to allow them to believe that it would somehow be understandable if I were to kill her because her life is hard and death would be a better alternative.

Gigi Jordan is said to be pursuing an “altruistic filicide,” defense. While that pithy turn of phrase might make the top ten list of pop psychiatric delusions, it is just that, a delusion. In reality, there is nothing, under any circumstances, altruistic about the murder of a child. Ever.

In a preview of an upcoming interview, Kelli Stapleton says that, “the jail of Benzie County has been a much kinder warden than the jail of autism has been.”

Matt Carey at Left Brain Right Brain wrote brilliantly over the weekend,

One can just bet that many comments will take the form, “no one should kill her child…..but…..”

There is no “but” in this. No one should commit murder. No parent should kill her child. Full stop. Period. “But” does not apply.

Variants of this are “don’t judge her” and “until you walk in her shoes”.

“Judge” means to form an opinion.

For those who write that: the mother tried to kill her daughter. I will form an opinion about this–this is wrong. I don’t have to “walk in her shoes” to say that. Why won’t you form an opinion? Why does her daughter’s disability have anything to do with forming this opinion?

Parenting is difficult. (rewarding as hell, but yeah, difficult.)

Parenting an autistic or otherwise disabled child can be extremely difficult. (Rewarding as hell, but yeah, sometimes extremely difficult.)

Teaching children with disabilities is challenging too. Caring for them in residential schools can also be difficult. If hard becomes justification for murder, we have not only desperately lost our way but given license to anyone who can’t handle it anymore – teachers, caregivers, personal care assistants –  to kill our children. Because they’re autistic. And caring for autistic people can be challenging.

That’s where the “but” takes us.

There can be no but.

I am not willing to hold my tongue in the name of ‘understanding’ or civility. I don’t understand and there is nothing civil about murder.

I am judging.

26 thoughts on “judgment

  1. THANK YOU for standing out among the masses . . . I’ve not yet been able to bring myself to comment much on many of these, my heart and mind simply cannot handle it right now.

    So many people *defending* them, making excuses for them. My stomach turns.

    You’ve said what I’ve been thinking.

  2. Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: Physical violence against another human being is wrong. It should be punished – if not legally then spiritually, morally, ethically. It should be condemned in strong terms. Perhaps some who might dispute this, but I think the overwhelming majority of people agree with what I just wrote, and I think you agree as well given what you wrote above. I’m comfortable making this statement and putting a period on the end of it.

    But here’s the hard question: In judging someone’s behavior, what do you hope to accomplish? I ask this neither rhetorically or facetiously. I ask sincerely, because I am deeply concerned that people (and I am not referring to you, Jess) sometimes pass judgment solely to make *themselves* feel better. Sometimes it relieves the hurt of a past wrong. Sometimes, it relieves the guilt of contemplating a future wrong or living with a current wrong. But, I believe in my heart that the only real value in judging another (especially publicly) is the hope that judgment – and the power of the collective – changes that person’s behavior or changes the behavior of others.

    I suspect, given all the reading I’ve done this past few weeks, that one of the largest goals – at least specific to autistic persons – is to change public perception about the value of autistic lives. Judgment may be a critical *first step* toward changing perception. But, it cannot be the only step. Too often, when we condemn a behavior, we preach only to the choir, because we communicate judgment in a way that those who most need to hear our message simply cannot receive it.

    We have to DO more. Nothing is going to change unless we DO more.

    The way we determine what to do is by looking critically at the behaviors we want to change, identifying the WHY, the WHAT and the HOW of that behavior and implementing strategies that get at the root causes to prevent them from taking root and continuing to grow.

    What I think many (not all, but many) people who ask that others “walk in the shoes” of an aggressor are really saying isn’t that we should “understand” in the sense of forgiveness, acceptance or leniency. What they are asking – albeit inartfully or even insensitively – is that we examine critically the questions of why such tragedies happen from the perspective of the perpetrator so that we are better equipped to protect anyone from every being victimized in that way again.

    If all we do is sit behind our keyboards, or in our church pews, or at our podiums and condemn the behavior of others but do nothing to actually try to comprehend what caused the behavior we condemned, we add nothing to balancing the equation.

    • “What I think many (not all, but many) people who ask that others “walk in the shoes” of an aggressor are really saying isn’t that we should “understand” in the sense of forgiveness, acceptance or leniency. What they are asking – albeit inartfully or even insensitively – is that we examine critically the questions of why such tragedies happen from the perspective of the perpetrator so that we are better equipped to protect anyone from every being victimized in that way again.”

      Okay, so. There’s an entire field called criminology, which seeks to understand, sociologically, the basis and nature of criminal behavior, with the aim of prevention.

      But the framing in which this is done is not such that it gives credence to the reasoning or actions of the people who commit violent crime. (I’m not talking about victimless crime or crimes of survival here.) Yes, we seek to mechanistically understand why, for instance, spousal abuse or murder happens. But not in a way that validates the reasoning of the people who do those things or their actions.

      We’re not asked to “walk in their shoes.”

      That’s very different from the understanding that is typically asked for and given to parents who murder disabled children.

      When a man loses his job, and in despair, murders his entire family, sets the house on fire, and commits suicide, we seek to understand the thinking that led to those actions so that we can *undermine* it, not to validate it. Crimes like that are rightfully understood as having roots in narcissism and pathological machismo. We’re not asked to understand what the murderer might’ve been going through; we condemn the thinking that he had a right to rob his children of their lives as a response to his own feelings of inadequacy.

      Only, somehow, when the victim was disabled, are we told we need to talk in the shoes of the perpetrator.

      Yes, we need to evaluate a perpetrator’s thinking and motivations critically, in order to develop prevention efforts.

      Not in such a way that validates them.

      • Thank you very much, chavisory. This, and your comment below about judging behavior versus judging a person, are some of the most insightful and balanced comments I have read. I appreciate that you actually read and considered what I wrote, and the time you took to respond. (This is a completely sincere statement. Truly.)

        I studied both sociology and criminology, and I spent a year working in the sexually violent predator unit of a DAs office, so I understanding the framing you describe.

        I am capable of that kind of detachment, but I know not everyone is (and that is absolutely wonderful, because were we all so detached all the time, imagine what would be missed). So, I’m not saying people should quiet their emotional reactions to tragic events – quite the opposite. And I would never say we should do anything that validates suicide, homicide, abuse or intentionally harming another person. I DO understand the offensiveness of saying, “Murder is wrong, but …” and I agree with a comment on the FB feed that the “but” invalidates the antecedent. But, to me, that is different than asking that we not only condemn the act; we also examine its causation as a means of protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our community. I don’t think we should ask “why” so that we can excuse what murders or abusers do. (Although, there is a distinction between “legal” excuse and “moral” excuse that wrinkles this entire conversation.) Either way, though, I think we should ask why because it honors the lives of the murdered / abused and it moves toward ensuring this doesn’t happen again.

  3. Here’s what I think a lot of people are fundamentally mixing up:

    We can absolutely judge an *action* as bad…I mean some actions are not so black and white, but some really are….

    And that does not mean we’re judging a *person* as worthless.

    And I really think that we can draw a bright, clear line between attempted murder, and any number of other parenting mistakes that parents of disabled kids might feel “judged” for. Like, there can be honest debate over the advantages vs. drawbacks for a child of public schooling vs. unschooling, or various styles of therapy, or methods of discipline, wherein sometimes one thing will be fine for one kid and not for another, parents will make mistakes and learn and grow from them, in the way that we are all, every day, just doing the best we can with incomplete information or understanding.

    Like recently, in the aftermath of the rescue of the Land twins (the 22-year-old nonverbal autistic twins found locked in their parents’ basement), someone actually said to me, “You can’t say that there’s one right way to parent.”

    Which, no, I can’t…but I really, really CAN say that locking your disabled kids in a soiled, unfurnished basement for 6 years, is a wrong way to parent.

    It is not judging the worthiness of *people* to say that some *actions* are incontrovertibly wrong.

  4. We are all born with basic instincts. One being the survival instinct and our instinct to protect our young from adversity. Those instincts never dwindle, even when “our young” are well into adulthood so why would we not be outraged at the act of hurting another human being or a parent taking their childs’ life. If we don’t speak out then we accept that it is ok to “remove” anyone disabled, poorer, or who we see as more disadvantaged than ourselves and that is opposite to basic human instincts

  5. And in those circumstances, I feel it is our duty to judge. I am in your court; there is NEVER a reason to murder a child….NEVER. I’m not the parent of an autistic child, but I am a 5 night a week caregiver to an autistic 4 year old and his very “busy” 2 year old brother. They are BOTH a handful and the four year old could try the nerves of a saint, but NEVER in my wildest imagination, could I (or his mama) think of murder. Hell, I can’t even think of discipline without thinking “this poor baby is trying SO hard to be “good” how on earth can I offer up a proper punishment.”

    I wish more people saw autism as just another part of the person and not some villainous disease that needs to be eradicated. God knows it’s hard on the parents and caregivers. I’m only with him five 9-hour nights a week, and it exhausts both me AND my 14 year old who helps; but this precious boy is the FARTHEST thing from a burden, he is blessing that I, as only a caregiver, am eternally grateful to have the pleasure to be a part of his development.

    Sorry for the “book” but I have VERY strong feelings about the “buts” offered up in excusal of murder or attempted murder of a DIFFERENTLY ABLED child.

  6. I am the lucky mother of an aspie child who managed to rescue myself and my children from the other parent, who was talking about killing us all.
    I was lucky to have a court that believed me enough to grant us a piece of paper protecting us from him, and a police department that went above and beyond to protect us. Most criminal courts are lenient with first offenders, and often disbelieving of claims about what goes on behind closed doors, when it is your word against another.
    We disbelieve parents and caregivers who talk like this because it is monstrous. It is hard to accept that a human you know is actually inhuman. We deny it.
    Go ahead and judge. Judge that they are serious, when they speak of doing harm, and get help.

  7. We try our best not to be judgemental. But it is hard. I lost one of my students, who was technically not my student at all. We were working on getting him classified so he could receive services. Before the school year started his father killed him. Knowing the child very well, I imagined his screams during my waking hours, and they haunted my dreams for months. That man was not just judged, he was condemed and damned and cursed repeatedly. Sometimes, judgement is necessary. It’s not okay…and it is okay to think that.

  8. YES! YES! YES! You should judge, and you say it so well. Good for you girl. It’s just too bad that not enough of us do. It’s too bad that money and profits make the judgements for the teams and in our society. Even the police look the other way and don’t charge these “bums”.
    So you stick to your guns and judge all you want, it’s needed.
    Love you,
    Dad

  9. This comment is in response to coverage about the Gigi Jordan trial. I understand there is no justifying murder but I think (after researching this case), that there is no justifying the actions of child molester or the actions of an ex-husband threatening a woman’s life. It seems to me that these two men are the villains in this scenario who drove a desperate mother to a desperate decision.

    • Marlene, I wold ask you to consider reconstructing that sentence.

      “There is no justifying murder. (Period.) I also think, after researching this case, that there is no justifying the actions of a child molester or .. ”

      Both are true, but when you put them together with a “but” the latter is meant to mitigate the first. It doesn’t.

  10. I, too, judge. I judge parents who harm their children, and I judge other parents who defend those who who harm their children. I have to. I am raising two sweet, darling, vibrant autistic children, both who are so similar to little London. Both who are living in a world that justifies the murder of children just like them, that says “yes, but raising kids like them is hard,” as if that makes the violence okay. It breaks my heart and terrifies me. I can’t NOT judge, even for one second, if I want the world to be safe for my children. I won’t live forever. My children will grow up and be adults long after I am gone. They are safe with me now, but what will happen when aren’t always with me? We have to judge, to ensure my childrens’ safety, to ensure the safety of all autistic people, children and adult, and to honor the memories of London and all who were similarly killed by loved ones.

  11. Reblogged this on Hiraeth and commented:
    Mourn his death as you would the killing of a non-disabled child in the hands of their parents and caregivers #JusticeforLondon

  12. Pingback: Ableism and homicide | End Autism Stigma

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