#AdvocacyMatters: In The Aftermath

May 27, 2022 / #AdvocacyMatters

In the immediate aftermath of tragedy, emotions can take on different appearances. Grief and disbelief quickly lead to questions: Why did this happen? Could it have been stopped? What would cause someone to do this? In the absence of facts, voices often fill the vacuum created by these questions… voices of misunderstanding, voices of prejudice, voices of hate.

On Tuesday, 19 children and 2 adults were senselessly and indiscriminately gunned down inside their 4th grade classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Quickly, two conversations emerged. One focused on the ease of access Americans have to high-powered weapons, ammunition, and body armor in this country. The other began to mischaracterize and demonize mental health disorders as the cause of this latest in a string of school shooting tragedies.

While our nation’s gross inequity in access to mental healthcare is well-documented, using this fact as a scapegoat to avoid discussing effective, substantive solutions to try to reduce - if not eliminate – mass shootings in our communities and across our country cannot be tolerated. As is often the case, blaming marginalized communities for society’s ills becomes all too convenient. The data, however, thoroughly debunks these claims. In an article published by the Journal of American Medicine Association shortly after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, researchers reported that less than 4% of criminal violence in the U.S. can be attributed to those with mental illness. Further, the article found that people with mental illness were 3 times more likely to be victims of violence than to be perpetrators of violence.

Just hours after these lives were taken Tuesday in Uvalde, Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini took to Twitter with some jaw-dropping comments:

“They should’ve never closed the asylums in the 1970s
HUGE mistake”

Unfortunately these discriminatory, ablest attitudes aren’t limited to just a few voices, and often impact both policy and public opinion. On the very same day of the shooting, DRO submitted testimony regarding Ohio House Bill 439. This bill proposes to expand the criteria under which people can be forced into treatment in a psychiatric hospital. In a world where advocates are fighting to expand access for people who want to live and receive services in their homes and communities, reinforcing and magnifying the stigma around mental health issues with more forced institutionalizations would have devastating and far-reaching impacts.

Hate and ugliness can’t be defeated by hate and ugliness. In the face of tragedy we must elevate ourselves beyond the convenient excuses, and instead relentlessly pursue truth. Ableism and intolerance are still ableism and intolerance, even when draped in the shroud of resolve. Because #AdvocacyMatters, we must move beyond these damaging stigmas that have plagued our communities for so long.

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