Friday, July 23, 2010

When Push Comes to Shove

As I sat down in front of the computer with a cup of coffee to skim the news,  this article was one the very first one I had the misfortune of reading. The article contains a link to a video, but videos at Yahoo! don't always load and play as they should. So I've linked to the same video at YouTube.

You can see it clearly... three big burly cops, walking alongside each other, in a big swaggering macho fashion taking up much of the space on the sidewalk. A young woman with an obvious physical disability is walking in the opposite direction, trying to navigate around them. The cops can see this well in advance. They make no attempt to move out of her way, even though her mobility is obviously impaired. But that doesn't stop one of them from offering a helping hand - by giving her a big 'ol shove out of his way, and sending her to the ground before continuing on his way with his buddies. A passerby rushes to the woman's aid. I wonder why those cops seemed in such a hurry to get away from the scene Maybe they were in a hurry to to get to the donut shop while the bavarian cream, jelly filled and honey glazed crullers were still plentiful.

I wish I could say I was shocked by this video, but I'm not. Angry and saddened, yes. But not surprised as I've seen too many videos and read too many news stories like this one to the point that when it comes to police misconduct, I don't think there's much that would surprise me any more. But I'm not desensitized to them either. And it's certainly not going to discourage me from speaking my mind about them because people need to be more aware (as more and more are) about the magnitude of the problem of police brutality. Look, I don't hate cops. Hate is a pretty strong word so it's not one I'm going to use indiscriminately. So while I don't necessarily hate them, I think it would be fair to say that I don't trust them. And more people don't these days, and not without good reason. And if you belong to a disadvantaged/marginalized group, that mistrust factor can only increase. People of colour - particularly young men of colour - know this all to well. And I'll bet if you asked people with mental illness or other disabilities, a lot of them could probably recount similar stories as well. I know I certainly had my share of encounters with cops, particularly when I was younger and I'd get stopped by them for no apparent reason and they'd start asking me questions - most likely because of the way I looked and walked. I looked odd spacey or like I was on drugs and being a young male in the 16-25 age group probably had something to do with it as well. And the naive and not very street saavy young dude I was, I answered all their questions. I had nothing to hide after all, so why not? Thankfully I'm a lot smarter now and if I do get stopped by cops now (which is less often than it used to be) I just politely and firmly tell them that I won't be answering their questions.

Look I'm not going to deny that there are good cops out there. Of course there are and I've met some of them. But for a number of reasons, the bad ones are just too many and the whole unspoken code of ethics (or lack thereof) in their departments, commonly known as "the blue wall of silence" - guaranteed to produce a consistent pattern of abuse and misconduct.

So maybe it would be fitting to end here with a quote from the article:

"The officer didn't like the fact that we used the word police brutality - he said things have changed,...[b]ut when you see that video, you know there is a lot of work to be done."
Yeah, no shit. I'd say that's putting it mildly. And I fear the whole institution of police may be past the point of reform anyway.

One way or another, there needs to be a change. Maybe it'll come, maybe not.

In the meantime, I guess cops are going to continue to push people around - literally and figuratively.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I Want YOU To Join us at RoundInSprials

I know the title of this entry would probably be far more effective if I could have used a PhotoShopped picture of that classic U.S army recruiting poster - you know, the one with Uncle Sam pointing right at you; except it would be ME pointing at you instead. That's right...I, along with my fellow members, want YOU to join us in this great grassroots online community experiment! Intrigued? Read on...

If you look at my (as of yet incomplete) blogroll list, you'll see it there. But unlike the others listed, it's not a blog. So what exactly is RoundInSpirals you ask? Well I'll try to be as brief as I can: It's a discussion forum - a grassroots one that has it's origins in the Yahoo! Answers groups. I started frequenting there in October 2008 and was immediately hooked. Mostly I read the Politics, Psychology, Sociology and Gender/Women's Studies sections. I asked a few questions and answered a lot more. I established my own reputation there and also got to know some of the other regular contributors better. These were for the most part very bright, intelligent people - even those whose opinions I didn't always agree with. But of course the Q&A format was very limiting and didn't allow for discussion. So I wondered if I contacted other regulars to see how they felt about setting up a private, membership by invitation only discussion forum. I posted a general question to see how others would feel and the responses were, for the most part, lukewarm at first. But then a few weeks later. A learned that one or two other regulars (whom I didn't know at that point) had the same idea I did. I contacted these two, introduced myself and said I had the same idea. From that point on everything happened so fast. There was a huge buzz of excitement and before we knew it, we sensed we were creating something greater than each one of us; something we know could have huge potential if done right. One of my contacts asked if I would like to help her and join the administration/moderation team, and I immediately accepted. She created a board using proboards software and we discussed who we would like to invite. The reason for this selectivity was because we had a huge concern about the varieties of trolls and other troublemakers from Y!A who we knew could really wreck what we were trying to achieve. And so by New Year's 2009, our new community was born and rapidly growing.

Now almost a year and a half later, we're still around with a good core membership. We've had the usual ups and downs that every discussion forum has. Some members have left, and out of 100+ registered members, there have been only two we've had to ban permanently. So on the whole it has been a modest success. However we've faced one challenge and that is trying to grow as a community. Like any other forum, we've had some attrition, but what we need to make up for that is for new people to join. Unfortunately, since we're a private community which relied on word of mouth for new members, recruiting new blood became increasingly difficult. We tried adding an open discussion forum which, unlike the other sections, was visible to the general public. The idea was that new posters would join in discussion and if they showed a good track record (ie; no trolling attacking others etc.)then we could make them full members. But the only people who took advantage of it were some of the very same destructive trouble makers we wanted to keep out in the first place. It soon became apparent that we had to try something else and closed the open board. That's when two other members came up with an innovative solution. With the use of phbb software, they designed an "offspring" community (and again invited me to help with moderation which I accepted. And specifically designed it so it would be more visible to a broader audience.

And thus RoundInSpirals was born. We're only a few months old and off to a great start. But we could always use more members.

And that, dear readers of bloglandia, is where you come in.

We want you to come join us. If you're reading this right now, chances are that you are a politically and socially conscious person...and likely very intelligent too.(OK I'll stop with the sucking up and boot-licking now!)Just the sort of person we want. While a significant number of our membership could be described as liberal, progressive, politically left-leaning, people of all affiliations are welcome. I mean, it would soon start to sound like an echo chamber and get boring quickly if we all agreed on everything.

So c'mon....stop by and visit us. Join in on the discussion. Sure the internet is full of political, philosophical and social justice forums. But there's always room for one more. And with you're help, we can make it into something even bigger than it is right now. And we would love to have you be a part of it.

That's right...we want YOU!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A PSA on the use of 'retarded'

I know that as of yet, I haven't really introduced myself. Or talked about the nature of my own disabilities. So with this entry, I'm going to try kill two birds with one stone; I'm going to write about the latter while at the same time venting about something related that I've always had a huge bug up my ass about.

If you've been keeping up to date with issues that keep arising in the small but rapidly growing disability issues blogs, then you may have noticed some seem to come up more frequently than others. One is the use of ableist language and the role it plays in perpetuating the oppression of PWD. Certain terms are 'off limit's. And one among these is the word 'retarded'. Why? Because using it as in insult stigmatizes people with this condition and only reinforces a system of privilege and oppression.

But there's another reason I personally dislike the word retarded as pejorative. And that's the fact that many people using it in such a way really haven't the first fucking clue as to what it actually means.

Mental retardation -- according to wikipedia -- is defined as "a generalized disorder, characterized by significantly impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors with onset before the age of 18. It has historically been defined as an Intelligence Quotient score under 70." The entry also notes that although at one time the definition "focused almost entirely on cognition, [it] now includes both a component relating to mental functioning and one relating to individuals' functional skills in their environment." So while the definition has broadened a bit as a result of better clinical understanding, it's still a very specific and limited definition. But that hasn't stopped a lot of willfully ignorant fucksticks from throwing the term around casually not only to use it as an insult, but somehow they've also got this notion that it's an appropriate term to assign to someone with ANY kind of disability. Not only have I seen it done to others, I know this all too well from my own personal experience.

I have more than one disability. At the age of three, I was diagnosed as having bengin congenital myopathy (or benign congenital hypotonia). In a nutshell it's a rare condition characterized primarily by weakness of muscles or lack of Type 2 muscle fibers. It's unlike muscular dystrophy in that it doesn't get progressively worse over time, and actually in many cases improves with the onset of puberty (as it did in my case). But it's a permanent and lifelong condition. I also have attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity. And I have also struggled with depression. The cumulative effect of having these conditions is that each one excaberates the other, thus impairing my overall functioning in a way more severely than just one of these conditions would in isolation. This meant I had a myriad of symptoms that manifested themselves. On was my eyelids, which often had a tired, droopy appearance.

"Are you retarded?" was a question I got asked very frequently, usually from my peers, and not in the pejorative sense, but asked as serious inquiry, albeit with undertones of othering, reminding me that there was something visibly different about me. These were invariably the same ones who would subject me to harassment and discrimination.

But it wasn't just me. As a teen, I also knew two other kids with visible disabilities. One had a mild form of cerebal palsy, the other one had a condition I can't remember the name of, but part of his symptomology was protruding eyeballs and some speech difficulties. In the eyes of many other kids, were "retarded". Their indiscriminate use of the word was a lot like their indiscriminate use of the racial slur 'Paki', to describe any person of colour from south Asia or the middle east. And it's not just kids or people who are simply uneducated. I've heard all manner of people using the term in this way.

Sometimes I don't know which is worse...using a legitimate word like retarded in an ableist, derogatory way or using it in earnest without really knowing what the fuck it means in the first place. Either way, to those of you reading whom this applies, I would like to ask a favour...

Stop. Doing. That. Shit - Seriously.