March 1st marks the Disability Day of Mourning, during which the global disability community comes together to honor and remember the victims of filicide. Filicide in this context, is a parent or relative murdering their child or adult relative with a disability, either through action or inaction. This violence extends beyond murder and results in a vicious cycle of the ways in which these actions are justified, discussed, reported on, and replicated.
These crimes exist within the context of a broader pattern: a caregiver or relative murders their disabled relative and then the media turns around and depicts these murders as being justified and probable due to the “burden” of caring for or regularly interacting with a disabled person. Then, if the murderer even has to stand trial, they are often given sympathy for how difficult their life must have been and the decision they “had to make” and they’re often dealt lighter sentences, if they’re sentenced at all. The victim is ultimately blamed for having been such a “burden” and then they’re eventually forgotten about. This sort of media coverage says if someone kills their disabled child, they will be met with sympathy and attention and their punishment will likely be negligible.
When a non-disabled child is murdered by a parent or caregiver, they’re met with harsh criticisms, rather than sympathy, understanding, justifications, or explanations. No one dares suggest that if the child had been easier to care for or if they were easier to “deal with” and if the family simply had more support, then this wouldn’t have happened. No, the caregiver is justly punished, and the individual is mourned and honored.
Sadly, this simply doesn’t tend to be the case when a disabled person is murdered by a relative. We exist in a world in which disabled lives are often seen to have lesser value than non-disabled lives. In this world, we’re asked to stop and understand how someone can commit these heinous acts. We cannot continue to live in a world in which killing disabled people is normalized and met with excuses and support.
It’s not okay to think that murder of any kind is justifiable, and what kind of message does it send to disabled people, especially disabled young people, who continuously hear these stories? Not to mention the parents and relatives of disabled children. It builds upon the ableism running rampant in our society and results in greater incidences of internalized ableism on top of it. It only further drives home the false, disgusting notions that disabled people are problems. That we’re unworthy and undeserving. That we’d be better off dead than disabled.
These acts are not comprehensible in the least and communicating that we understand how someone might be driven to murder their disabled relative, only further reflects how far we as a society still need to go in shifting our beliefs about disability. When we say things like “every parent of a disabled child has had those kinds of thoughts” or “you have no idea how hard it is” or “if you could be in the shoes of a parent of a disabled child then you’d understand how difficult it is”, we are simply making excuses for something that is wholly inexcusable.
Even if we say we would never approve of murder, if we attempt to bring understanding to how someone could murder their child, or if we ever position it to be something that’s bound to happen, we are minimizing, normalizing, and excusing this behavior. Not only that, but we’re also supporting murderers and abusers. Lessening it in this way only perpetuates harmful narratives and endangers the lives and safety of disabled people.
On this Disability Day of Mourning, and each day, we must remember that disabled lives are worth living. Disabled people deserve to live full lives and those who steal their lives from them need to be met with justice.
To be an ally in this fight for justice, we need to center disabled voices and the voices of the victims of filicide, rather than just highlighting the perpetrators. We need to call these crimes what they are: murder. We need to insist that disabled people have equal protection under the law. We need to learn better ways of addressing both the conscious and the subconscious roots of ableism in our communities.