Last August, Brent Martin, a 23 year old man with a learning disability, was beaten to death in an English city. One of his attackers is currently on trial for the murder, the other 2 having already pleaded guilty to murder. The prosecutor is quoted in a local newspaper as saying;
"They behaved like a pack of animals as they repeatedly punched, headbutted, kicked and stamped on Brent Martin – and that man, Brent Martin, never lifted an aggressive finger towards one of them.
"They did that to him until he was dead."
Mr Hedworth said the 17-year-old was one three assailants who carried out the attack.
The others, William Hughes, 21, of Washington Road, Sunderland, and a 16-year-old youth, who cannot be named, have each admitted murder.
"The three of them were, from start to finish, in it together," said Mr Hedworth.
"They did it for their own sport."
The defendant and the 16-year-old had each trained as amateur boxers and knew the consequences of violence, Mr Hedworth added.
"They set out quite deliberately to do serious harm to Brent Martin for their own amusement and to make themselves look big in front of their friends, even inviting others to hit him.
"As the attack went on its nature, its ferocity, and its perseverance made it quite clear they were not going to be happy till he was dead.
"Subsequently one or more may have regretted they went as far as they did but at the time they had no such sensibility – no restraint, no qualms and no mercy."
The court was told all three youth were bragging and "seemed pleased with themselves" immediately after the attack.
This was a disability hate crime. I can only hope that sentencing will reflect the terrible nature of this crime, and the need to challenge discrimination against disabled people.
I have just read that the Scottish government plan to update their hate crime laws to include attacks on people due to their disability or sexual orientation. Northern Ireland hate crime laws already cover attacks due to disability. I also just came across an organisation called Respond who seem to be doing good work (I have merely browsed their web site) and who are in favour of more recognition for the offence of disability hate crime. They have discussed the murder of Brent Martin in their evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the human rights of adults with learning disabilities.
What can we do about this? There are people who feel it is acceptable to harass or physically attack people for all sorts of reasons. How can we do our bit to make such behaviour less common and to promote respect and decent treatment of everyone? I've been told that I can't change the world and I should try to help Duncan (because obviously I worry about people taking advantage of or hurting him when he's grown up) progress as much as possible. Presumably this is so he stands out less and is not so much of a target.
I think this attitude excuses the people who commit the crimes from responsibility. It's the same approach that says women who are raped are sometimes at least partially responsible for dressing wrong/being in the wrong place/putting themselves in danger, when really it is always all the rapist's fault because it is always wrong to rape someone, no matter what they are wearing or have been drinking or whatever.
Over the few years, I have been reading about disability issues. Every time something comes up in the mainstream news sources and discussion forums, I have been appalled at the attitude of many people who would think of themselves as decent and/or liberal, but who seem to see disabled people, especially those with a learning disability as much less worthy of their respect and understanding. They talk about 'mental ages,' describe people as 'vegetables,' excuse unethical medical interventions. There's a blog I read occasionally; the author recently wrote a post explaining why he was going to continue to use the word 'retard' whenever he wanted and slagging off the 'PC brigade' who might be offended. Jeez. Now these people would not go out and beat up their neighbours with learning disabilities, but it all promotes a culture where it's acceptable to make fun of people for being different, and in which some thugs take things a bit further and do real harm.
I'm like an ant shouting in a shoebox here for all the difference this will make. I can only try my best in my own life, raise my children to be respectful and understanding and challenge the discrimination when I see it.
My thoughts are with the family of Brent Martin. RIP Brent.