At The Expense of Others

I actually had an entirely different blog post in mind, one more related to Apraxia. But after the Chicago incident involving the assault on a special needs man it was difficult to write about anything else. Writing about anything else felt like a personal waste of time as this incident is truly what is on my heart and brain.

Assuming you have seen the news about the four assailants who assaulted a young man with special needs, you can understand my frustration and the need to personally vent. If you want to read more about the story, you can read the story here.

As an advocate for Apraxia Awareness, I often witness parents and children discuss bullies. Even on Facebook group pages, it is common to see a parent post about some classmate making fun of or criticizing their child for the way they speak, act, or lack of physical abilities.

Unfortunately though, this Chicago incident is not as simple as a playground, school bully.

Some people will claim it as a political issue given the political statements that were made, some will say it's racial, but in all honesty, the underlying issue or cause of this situation is so much deeper and more subtle than we would like to admit.

One of my co-workers volunteers at a local horse ranch to assist special-needs children in riding horses as a source of physical and emotional therapy. We are both heavily involved in some form to assist the special-needs community and, having this in common, the Chicago incident definitely hit home with us.

We both asked the simple question of Why. 

Why would anyone do that?

Debating on the usual causes of bullying- Maybe they were bullied as kids? Maybe they are insecure? Ultimately, there was no clear answer. We personally reflected about potential reasons as to why someone would do what these four assailants did, but no answer seemed sufficient.

It seemed too easy to blame it on some racial motivation or even a political issue. Perhaps these were factors, but there must have been another reason as to why they chose this man as their victim. They actually persuaded this man to enter their vehicle, and the victim agreed. They could have asked and convinced anyone else they knew or were acquainted with to ride in their vehicle, but they specifically choose him.

Why assault a man that can't defend himself?

That's exactly it. He could not defend himself. He does not know any better. He probably thought that these assailants were potential friends as he knew one of them from school.

Worst of all-these perpetrators knew his weakness and preyed upon it.

The true cause of this incident? These perpetrators saw themselves as superior to this special-needs man. They felt that this man was inferior to them, that they could easily manipulate and subjugate him with violence and verbal abuse since he was weaker than them, less intelligent than them, and more gullible than them.

This special-needs man was a lesser human being than them.

These perpetrators, like many bullies, target those who they consider weaker. Within the special-needs community, bullies often identify and prey upon these individuals merely due to how easy it is. They are known as easy victims, often labeled as "special," "different," or (my least favorite word), "retarded."

A minority group labeled as intellectually and physically challenged is easy prey for predators. Bullies who purposefully target the special-needs community does so, since they find themselves superior to this 'inferior' class of people.

History shows us time and time again the true dangers of feeling superior to others. Yet here we are, in a society that thinks the arrogant superiority, for lack of a better word, of Hitler or white-supremacists is completely different than those who feel superior to those considered special-needs. (Earth to everyone-thinking you're superior to anybody does not make you a pleasant person)

We can lie and pretend that people do not feel superior to the special-needs community, but it is difficult to argue as such when the distinction is made clear from early childhood and throughout our educational experiences. Personally speaking, my early education in Elementary school was organized by almost a totem pole of intellect.

There were three types of students based on intelligence, behavior, etc:

1. GATE: This was the honors group known as an educational program for "Gifted and Talented" students.

2. Normal: These were the average students, run-of-the-mill, that were not in special- education nor honors.

3. Special-Education: Those considered special-needs that needed a unique course of study to accommodate their abilities.

I know not every school has the same structure, but generally speaking all schools have something similar with honors, average, and special-education courses. Children are raised in a system that automatically organizes them based on intelligence and these children recognize these clear distinctions as well. I knew I was in special-ed whereas my friends were either in normal or "GATE" classes since they were more intelligent, better at math, and so on and so forth.

Children learn these distinctions at such a young age and sadly it grows with us, this totem pole of intelligence. Even now talking about classmates from Elementary school, we often say "Susie, she was a GATE kid" and "Remember Jimmy? He was that nice boy in special-ed."

It is silly and mean. In reality we were all kids, not 'GATE kids' nor 'special-ed kids,' yet we use these names and labels as an easy way to remember the individual. I know it's wrong, but if we are honest, we are all guilty of it.

I wish more people knew, especially those assailants in Chicago, there is no difference between the honor kids, the average ones, nor those in special-education. Sure there are different labels and names in this world, but a single identifier does not signify any more or less importance of a human being.

This lesson is apparently a difficult one, and one that cannot be learned out of a textbook. We are all equal humans. The janitor is just as important as the CEO. The dishwasher is just as vital as the restaurant chef, even Chef Gordon Ramsey. The valedictorian is equal to the worst student in school. No matter what "class" you are in, does not entitle you as any better or worse than any other "class." Yet somewhere along the way, these Chicago assailants thought they were superior to their victim. That they were in a superior class and their victim was inferior due to his special-needs label.

They could have targeted anyone else, but they sought out this individual. He was an easy victim and frankly, they saw him as a lesser-being than them. That is the only rationale to possibly explain why someone could do this to this special-needs man. They thought they were better than him, so they could do whatever they wanted to him-verbally insult him, physically abuse him, and even partially scalp him with a pocket knife. It takes a special level of stupidity, hate, and sheer arrogance to objectify and harm another individual the way they did.

Another haunting thought comes to mind is the fact that even telling this story we classify the victim as "special-needs" due to his education and medical diagnosis, yet if we were to evaluate who is "special-needs" based on character alone we would come to a different conclusion.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Though these words are applied to racism, they can also be applied to the special-needs community. If we truly valued people and judged by their character, regardless of whether or not their special-needs, we would truly excel. If these assailants in Chicago did this-they would not have harmed this man.

Unfortunately, events such as these are a reminder that we do not have the full luxury of being judged by our character. Our society judges based on looks and intellect alone. We live in a society that constantly seeks to label and classify people as if their objects: Type A, Type B, and Type C. We even seek to label children under the categories of "Honors" and "Special-Education." This constant labeling, classification, and objectification is heart-wrenching since we know that our value as human beings transcends beyond mundane labels.

 Good people see past these labels. Decent and humble individuals know that a label does not dictate if you are better or worse than others. In contrast, these assailants only saw their victim as a label and acted upon it. Their victim was seen as an object they could harm. They did not see him as a fellow man. They saw him as "special" or even a "retard," which I guarantee you they called him that given their colorful language used in the video. These individuals preyed on him and treated him as the hollow label they saw him as and nothing more.

Back to the infamous question of why anyone would do this? There is no correct answer. However, I cannot help but to feel that these perpetrators felt superior to their victim given his circumstances. How could they feel superior to him? They, along with other bullies, felt that being 'different' made their victim inferior to them.That their underlying labels dictated who was superior versus inferior, stronger versus weaker, and "normal" versus "special."

Stories like these are beyond frustrating and disappointing. There is no legitimate rationale to explain why it happened. Nothing can truly explain why bullies target and harm others. Sure, there's the explanation of perhaps they were bullied themselves or they're insecure, but it just doesn't add up with this Chicago incident. I honestly believe though that monstrous individuals, like these assailants, acted upon falsely thinking they are superior to their victims. And when you think you're superior to others, you feel the need to prove it even at the expense of others.