Among the many issues that leaders in this country must prioritize in order to restore dignity to our communities is the care and wellbeing of our mentally disabled citizens. For decades now, patients with mental disabilities have been overlooked and under-cared for by administration after administration, and left in the care of a handful of charities who work tirelessly with scant resources to integrate these individuals into society.
Adding to the growing number of challenges that families and parents of children with mental disabilities face is the sheer number of individuals affected by the autism epidemic in this country. As the parent of a 19-year-old autistic teen, I know first-hand what it takes to guarantee that my son has every advantage available to him that will keep him on a level playing field with his peers and siblings. Unfortunately, not every family has the resources to ensure the same for their children. This is where the community must step in, but it is already evident a mere five days into 2017 that we as a country are failing these individuals.
How did I already reach this conclusion? Simple: The arrests of four individuals in Chicago and subsequent hate crime charges filed against them for their alleged role in the kidnapping, gagging and physical torture of an 18-year-old mentally disabled teenager.
So desensitized are these alleged criminals, that they livestreamed their attack on this innocent individual and shared it on social media, hoping to go viral for their horrific acts. How did we get to be so cruel?
My son is safe in my home, and he is safe in the homes of friends, but to say that I do not worry about sending him out into the world on his own would be a lie. My son is not the one who worries me, it is the immaturity, callousness and cruel nature of others in our society that robs me of sleep most nights.
The mentally disabled population must be protected and cared for with compassion, and I am not just talking about safeguarding from assaults. Not too long ago, rapper 50 Cent was forced to apologize after he shared a video that depicted him mocking an autistic airport employee, declaring the 19-year-old to be “high as a motherf-----.” 50 Cent is a very well-known individual with many followers and fans. What kind of example was he trying to set?
Despite his apology, the damage was already done for many mentally disabled people. These incidents can set individuals with disabilities back sometimes years in their work on social skills and interactions. Should my son see a clip of the attack on the man in Chicago who is to say he’ll feel confident in going anywhere alone? We as a nation must do a better job in protecting these individuals, and as leaders, our politicians and officials must confront the lack of empathy we have for this population. We need better programs to show these individuals that we need them to be a part of our society, not marginalized because they’re different.
I know that the four suspects have been charged and will face punishments, but our society as a whole should feel ashamed for allowing it to happen in the first place.