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Facebook Attack Reminds Nation of Violent Reality Often Faced by People with Disabilities

Screenshot of Facebook live video of victim with face blurred

Screenshot of Facebook Live video of victim with face blurred

Washington, Jan. 6 – RespectAbility is outraged that a young man with disabilities was kidnapped and a victim of assault by four young adults who live-streamed the torture on Facebook. We are committed to ending violence against people with disabilities of all races, religions, colors, gender identities, sexual orientations, national origins, ages, genetics or political affiliations.

According the Bureau of Justice statistics, people with disabilities are 2.5 times as likely to be victims of violent crime as individuals without disabilities. Furthermore, people with disabilities between the ages of 12-15 and 35-49 are three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

Yet violent acts against people with disabilities often do not receive much public attention. Partially because this vicious attack was broadcast live on Facebook, members of the press and public are paying a great deal of attention. The footage quickly went viral online.

Hate crime charges, among other charges, have been filed against the four assailants.

On Thursday, Chicago Area North Detectives Commander Kevin Duffin said the hate crime charges are due to the victim’s “diminished mental capacity” and “the obvious racial quotes that they post live on Facebook.” Both mental health and race are factors listed in the state’s hate crime statue. It is important to note that not all states have hate crimes including disability.

“It’s half a dozen of one, six of the other,” Duffin said.

The four African-American assailants – including one who was a classmate and acquaintance of the victim – kidnapped and assaulted the unidentified white victim for numerous hours. One individual repeatedly shouted “F— Donald Trump” and “F— white people” during the attack.

Police have said the victim is with his parents and expected to recover from his injuries.

Photo of a boy with a cane in one hand and holding the hand of a little girl in the other. They are walking away from the camera on a deserted road. The image is overlaid with the text: “People with disabilities are twice as likely to be victims of crime than people without disabilities. People with disabilities between the ages of 12-15 and 35-49 were 3 times more likely to be victims of violent crimes; RespectAbility, Source:

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The disability lens is an important one that cannot be forgotten when examining cases like this – or of the large number of people of color with disabilities being killed by police.

People with disabilities, especially those with multi-minority status such as disability and racial minority, are among the most vulnerable when it comes to poverty, exploitation, victimization and violence.

Writing on CNN, David M. Perry said that much of the discussion about the video, which has centered on race, Trump and the live stream of crimes, is missing something very important: “the chilling, everyday, truth that to be disabled in America is to be at greater risk of violence.”

Perry points to another case in Idaho he has been following with a black victim with a disability who was attacked by three white football teammates. In this case, the local prosecutor accepted a guilty plea to a lesser felony with no jail time instead of pressing hate crimes charges. Perry explains the prosecutor did so because he did not feel it was a racially motivated crime, instead being a “vulnerable-victim motivated crime.”

“In other words,” Perry writes, “because the victim was attacked due to his disability, the crime isn’t being treated as seriously.”

And there are many other examples of this occurring – more often that not, the victim is a person of color with a disability, as was noted in RespectAbility’s report, Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success.

Whether the victim in this case was targeted due to his race, his disability or both, it is vitally important to not forget that people with disabilities are more often targets for violent crime. These acts of violence against people with disabilities, like racially motivated crimes, also are hate crimes and need to be treated as such.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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