Justifying Murder?

I’ve seen a recent resurgence of my fellow autism parents being accused of justifying murder. They are accused of justifying murder because they bring up the issue of inadequate family support when faced with stories of parents murdering autistic children. The claim against them goes like this: “By bringing up the issue of support, you are justifying the murder of these autistic children, there is no excuse for murder and now is not the time to talk about support.” I can give you one of a very large number of examples of exactly this attack, this example is taken from an admin on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism public Facebook page, which is a very popular forum:

But the time to talk about services is not now. It is any time BUT now. And if you can’t understand why connecting the two is justifying murder, then perhaps you should walk away and mull it over.”

Even though this reply was not directed at me (I didn’t comment on that or any other recent discussions there), I did “walk away and mull it over” and reached the following conclusion: Those claiming that bringing up the issue of inadequate support for autism is justifying murder, are (1) completely and utterly incorrect about the meaning of the word “justify,” and (2) are being hypocritical in the extreme as they use these murder incidents to push their own agenda.

First, the word “justify.” Providing an explanation for an action, is not the same as justifying the action. To justify something is to say you think it is right, proper, defendable, guiltless. I have never – not even once in all the forums and blogs I’ve read of this topic – heard a single parent of an autistic child say that murdering an autistic child is any of those things. In fact, they often explicitly say that no matter what motivated the murder – whether it was a mental health issue or whatever else – that the murder is always unacceptable.

Words matter – there is a huge and important difference between justifying something and explaining something. To explain something is to make it clearer, it doesn’t contain a judgment of the worth of the explanation – unlike the word “justify.” Anyone who treats an explanation as always being the same thing as a justification, is not only wrong, they are deliberately inflaming and upsetting the person who is trying to communicate with them. I have trouble reading the situation in any other way.

If you need an example that isn’t so upsetting, think of all the times you’ve heard people talk about the relevance of poverty, lack of education, and gangs when it comes to burglaries. Do we honestly think that bringing up these issues “justifies” the burglary? No, they go towards explaining the crime.

Bringing those issues up does not mean we don’t care about the victim of the crime. In fact they may be brought up with the intent of finding ways to avoid further future victims. In much the same way that bringing up factors like inadequate support services of autism families does not mean you don’t care about the child who has been murdered, but that people are trying to find a way to help avoid these stressors building up in other families.

It would be a different case if the stress of inadequate services was considered entirely irrelevant to these horrific murders, but then that claim should be made very expressly as a response: “The reason I don’t think you should bring up inadequate services for autism families, is because I consider that to be irrelevant to the murder.” That is not the same as what I’ve been seeing around, which is “don’t bring that up now, you’re justifying the murder.”

It’s important to understand too that it is perfectly possible and logical to show concern for both parties involved in a crime. We live in a society where we provide counselling and rehabilitation to criminals, as well as counselling and support to the victims. Do we think that people who do social work within prisons are evil, callous or don’t care about the victims, just because they try to understand and help the criminal? Surely not. Do we all accept that the safety and well-being of the victim takes precedence though? Surely yes, and we can see that understanding and rehabilitating the criminal is a way to further protect victims too. I don’t think it is rational or fair to condemn people for trying to help and understand a person who committed a criminal act, except where doing so would be putting that person in higher priority within society than the victim.

Again though, I have not seen any parents who think a murdering parent is more important than the child, I have seen plenty of people accuse them of this though simply because they tried to understand how anyone could do something so heinous as kill their own child. I would point out again too, that those who try to understand what factors lead to a murder, are trying to find ways to avoid it happening again.

What about the point that this is not the time to bring up issues of inadequate support services; that bringing up that issue now is insensitive and that people shouldn’t use a horrific murder to push their agendas? Despite seeing parents told not to bring up the service issue at this time, I have seen the exact same people using these murders to push their own agendas: They use these murders to highlight the attitudes the public has towards the disabled, where they are seen as treated as expendable, lesser human being, who are a burden, who would be better off dead. It strikes me as awfully two-faced to say “how dare you use this crisis to push your support-services agenda… when I’m busy using it to push my disability-attitudes agenda.” (In fact, the more cynical part of me wonders if this point isn’t behind the attacks on parents pushing the services-agenda; other people get annoyed when the spot-light gets taken off their own pet project.)

To make it very clear that pushing one agenda in this is no different than the other, consider the following two claims: “By talking about inadequate services for the person who murdered, you are justifying them murdering the disabled child.” How is that (essentially) any different from: “By talking about a murderer’s negative attitudes towards the disabled, you are justifying their murder of the disabled child.” Both statements are confusing explanation with justification, and the intentions of those talking about inadequate services is the same as the intention of those talking about attitudes towards the disabled: Both are trying to understand and find ways to prevent the murders happening again.

You may see one key difference though: You may think those talking about the attitudes towards the disabled are focusing on the victim, whereas those talking about inadequate services are focusing on the murderer, and thereby you may think those talking about services are putting the murderer’s interests and perspective above the victim’s. But this is not convincing at all. Poor attitudes towards the disabled and poor service provision negatively affects the entire family – including both the child and the mother. If you are part of a family in a society where people look down on the disabled as worthless, you will know that the mother also gets attacked and judged and considered faulty and worthless for the child she created, she will typically try to shield her child from these views and fight them tooth-and-nail – both her and the child are impacted. Of course when services are inadequate, not only is a mother left unsupported, so is her child. When people talk about inadequate services, this is relevant to both victim and perpetrator, it’s not solely about the person who did the murdering, and I consider it deliberately distorting to say it is otherwise. The mother-child unit is a close one; to care for one is to benefit the other, it goes both ways.

In summary: (1) It is incorrect and hurtful to claim that people are trying to justify the murder of autistics by bringing up the relevance of inadequate support-services; (2) it is perfectly logical and possible to try to understand and care about both a criminal and a victim; and (3) it is highly hypocritical to claim that others aren’t allowed to use an event like someone’s murder to push an agenda of inadequate services, whilst you push your own agenda (e.g. about attitudes towards the disabled).

My own views – if you care to hear them – are that it is very hard to figure out what motivates a murder without the intense investigation typical of a court-case, and I think it over-simplifies them in a way that does a disservice to both the victim and the perpetrator if we try to turn such events into a public service announcement – whether that announcement is about attitudes towards the disabled or about inadequate services. I have written before on complexities involved in figuring out motivations, looking at what historically motivates the killing of children. I have also written before on the frustration of all autism parents being treated like potential murderers. In neither of those posts did I hop on anyone’s band wagon, or try to turn a real disaster into a platform for some other cause. And I hope that anyone reading this post would not see me doing that either.

All I am doing is responding to the very poor, distorting, and hypocritical arguments I see on almost a daily basis now, attacking parents of autistic children who are desperately trying to understand how another parent could ever have taken a child’s life. Attacking each other like that lumps accusations and hurt on people who deserve neither, and just perpetuates the current climate in the autism community of parents against self-advocates – a division which is un-necessary, unhealthy, and counter-productive to the ultimate aims of both groups.

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10 Responses to Justifying Murder?

  1. Having been a social worker in prison systems for some years and a parent who’s been in some emotionally low spaces I say, Amen!

  2. jillsmo says:

    I like your brain.

    I feel like I’ve told you that before….

  3. Sidney says:

    Thank you for writing so clear and rational about such an emotionally loaden topic.

  4. Tovetootie says:

    I don’t see wishing to ‘problem solve’ or raise issues after a tragic event is justifying the event.

    Surely there is a responsibility to the victims to look at and discuss all aspects openly and see what changes in all/ any area could help prevent similar future tragedy.

    A recent example here; a tragic event as a 15 year old child kills his teacher in class.
    In the press, the child is described as ‘weird, loner with no friends’ and the public call is to lock him up for life and increase school security ( bouncers, metal detectors!!).

    To suggest that it is important to find out why the child acted in this way and what ( if anything) could have intervened…. or to raise the drastic closure of student counselling services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services nation wide in light of this…doesn’t justify the action of the child or the loss of of a beautiful dedicated woman (his teacher) at all.

    I really enjoy your posts. x I have a son with AS, and I find your blog a very comfortable place to be.

    • Thank you so much Toovtootie, hearing that means a lot. And your example of the recent event with the child and teacher is a good (though of course heart-breakingly sad) example of why we should try to find answers, and parallels very well with what my post is about.

    • Sheogorath says:

      To suggest that it is important to find out why the child acted in this way and what ( if anything) could have intervened…. or to raise the drastic closure of student counselling services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services nation wide in light of this…doesn’t justify the action of the child or the loss of of a beautiful dedicated woman (his teacher) at all.
      Quoted for truth. Explanation is not justification. Having said that, however, I have read (in a very few places) blogposts and comments where people say that they would do the same thing because of the lack of services that help their child. I think that may be the justification that the Autistic Community is referencing.

  5. Kay says:

    The killing of an autistic proginy can never be sanctioned. Firstly because it’s illegal.
    Secondly because in all societies where it’s illegal the autistic proginy can be relinquished to the stare’s care or orphanages in some other countries.

    Hence it undercuts the argument of lacking rescourses point blank.The ultimate full responsability can be relinquished. In the worst cases scenario those financially able to afford it may one day be charged a form of maintenance contribution.

    Rescource provision can become subjective by what some parents desire in extra specific terms that can’t be provided even when quite abundant levels of services have been given or offered. It did not prevent killings when parents became tunnel visioned over their options.

    A realistic fact is that in a society where mothers lack rescourses for even a basic subsistance existance is that significantly impaired young children or infants would be abandoned to die if not actively killed. The same as other mammals would do when rescources are too scace to invest for young that cannot become independantly viable.

    The fact that it as animal nature goes, to kill or let die the severly impaired, is what we fear to acknowledge.
    Even more so it that it makes pragmatic sense to dispense with such burdens. It’s reflected in many forms of prenatal testing and the majority electing for ensuing abortions when presented with risky results.

    Yet we can and ought to state the recognition that we have moved outside these natural laws in creating a civilized society, with laws to protect the “LIVE BORN” dependants, including disabled ones and to have options outside of the family unit, the state to care
    for them if needed.

    Love has nothing to do with the obligations that the parent of a disabled or even a healthy child has in being a member of a civilized society must adhere to.
    Likewise, any subjective views on the child’s possible unique worth or it seeming unnaturally awful not to love the child and be able to kill it. With the worst, most subjective red herring thrown in of innane hate crime claims. These just muddy the waters in regard to the simple facts of legal responsability and respecting of rights that are mandatory to be adhered to as well as consequences for breaching such.

    Simply put, we have laws to protect all children in our care and they have legal socially enshrined laws in regard to their rights being respected. These must be abided by all members of our civilized society with concommitant sanctions and penalties for those breaching these regarding children and other vulnerable persons deemed needing supports. Nothing mitigates such breaches except where legal insanity criteria is fully met.

    The best protection and most respectful to all children and disabled is to promote our simple laws, obligations, requirments of respect and option to relinquish since breaches have ensuing sanctions with high penalties.

    That’s the best way to protect the seemingly demand ridden dependant from being killed by “too much” or “too little love”. Keeping this focus protects other parents of the disabled being misinterpreted, regardless of how well they put any subjective content in response to such fatal events too.

    By objectively mesured by mainstream values, an autistic child’s family becomes effortful and fruitless. To make this more bearable, human nature will ascribe subjective values, meaning and possible purpose. How true or false much of it is, fact is we can’t prove it, at best feel it?! Helps some, maybe hinders others in the doing or sharing, doesn’t mostly matter, plus mostly helps people get by.

    Life or death are too high stakes for such or anyvarying subjective matter to be allowed in to play. It’s the one arena there is no place for any personal voice and the black and white legalese rules and language offer the best serve for members of our society. So keep to
    these..

    breaching such. ..

    • autismit says:

      I would argue that lack of appropriate supports plus a underlying tendency for mental illness leads to the insanity of parents killing their autistic children. We can’t do anything about underlying tendencies but we can do something about appropriate support. Therefore I would’ve thought discussion about appropriate support as a preventative measure is extremely valid and useful. As A&O says, it’s not an excuse but an explanation that can lead to better outcomes for all.

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