Black Chicagoans with disabilities stand solid against police terror

 by Leroy Moore

In 2004, I wrote a poem about a Puerto Rican activist who had a physical disability and fought against police brutality and wrongful incarceration in the city of Chicago. I’m talking about May Molina, who unfortunately died in jail because guards refused to give her diabetes medicine to her. The activism of the late May Molina can be seen in two young Black disabled activists, Candace Marie and Timotheus Gordon Jr., of Chicago today living in the middle of not only the aftermath and protesting of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, but also budget cuts in special education and the recent release of a Hollywood film, “Chi-Raq,” that have pointed the spotlight on Chicago.

Candace Marie and Timotheus Gordon Jr.
Candace Marie and Timotheus Gordon Jr.

Although we have seen over and over police terror against Black and Brown people in almost every major city in the USA, almost every time, the activism, journalism and concerns of people with disabilities is left out or just slightly mentioned like an afterthought. I argue that nine times out of 10 there is no in-depth coverage from a disability point of view and certainly not from activists with various disabilities, even though the vast majority of police killings involve people with disabilities.

From Ferguson to Baltimore to San Francisco, we still haven’t explored in the media and in popular mass movements how police brutality and popular culture, such as Spike Lee’s new movie “Chi-Raq,” play out in the disability community, especially the Black community right now with the recent police shootings of Black disabled young men in both Chicago and San Francisco?

San Francisco and Chicago are ground zero now because of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, the hiding of the video, “Chi-Raq” and, in San Francisco, the police shooting of Mario Woods, who, like McDonald, had a mental health disability. In both cases the public mention of their disabilities came from family and friends, not media or police at first.

Unlike disabled elder, the late May Molina, both Candace Marie and Timotheus Gordon Jr. are a lot younger, in their mid-20s, and were born and raised in Chicago. Both are involved with Access Living, an independent living center in Chicago.

Although we have seen over and over police terror against Black and Brown people in almost every major city in the USA, almost every time, the activism, journalism and concerns of people with disabilities is left out or just slightly mentioned like an afterthought.

A while back I interviewed Timotheus Gordon Jr., aka Black Autist, a Black autistic activist and journalist, about police brutality, journalism and activism when it comes to the Black community. Today Gordon continues to say it straight out:

“Chicago is on fire right now, and as an autistic self-advocate and media junkie, I have a front row seat in the display of turmoil and newfound activism in the city. Part of me is enjoying the discussions that have been unfolding in the last four months.

“For starters, we have the great debate on Spike Lee’s new film ‘Chi-Raq.’ I am ecstatic that someone is attempting to educate the world about the bloodshed in Chicago. However, I doubt if I would actually spend money to watch it in theaters, because I don’t endorse the underlying notion that the male and female genitalia are the reasons why Chicagoans are acting a fool.

“It is a copout; I don’t think violence can be solved by celibacy alone and having (consensual) sex is not really why gangs are killing each other, innocent people are killed, police appearing to have the license to kill without sound reasoning.”

Gordon continues to say it straight out, “Chicago is on fire right now, and as an autistic self-advocate and media junkie, I have a front row seat in the display of turmoil and newfound activism in the city.”

Candace Marie has a high profile online, and a friend told me that she has a history of working with youth with disabilities and advocating against police brutality cases, so I perked up and got in touch with her online. She has been active in the budget battles over special education since the head of Special Ed in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) stepped down.

Over the last few months, CPS has threatened to implement cuts in special education that that are now being considered. Candace called me after leaving a meeting on the budget cuts to special education where activists are seeing one story and CPS is telling a totally different story.

Candace Marie has been active in the budget battles over special education since the head of Special Ed in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) stepped down.

She told me: “An education newspaper in Chicago called Catalyst reported After a ‘thorough review’ of planned cuts to special education services, Chicago Public Schools officials announced during Thanksgiving break that the district would restore dozens of positions and bring total staffing to a level higher than last year.”

Candace went on to say: “That may be true for some, but it’s not the full picture. In reality the classes are another story; everybody is scrambling to deal with layoffs of many teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals!”

The special education cuts in Chicago are linked to the bigger picture of the shooting of Laquan McDonald. Candace told me that people in McDonald’s community and school knew he had a mental health disability and, as a matter of fact, it’s getting hard to track the history of his education in the media because some want to keep it hidden.

A similar system failed Mario Woods in San Francisco; this time it was the mental health system where Woods’ mother tried to get her son services but to no avail. Just imagine if the two systems had responded to each young man’s needs, they might still be here with us.

The special education cuts in Chicago are linked to the bigger picture of the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Beyond police and special education, other systems have failed youth with disabilities in Chicago. As a young Black disabled advocate, Candace has witnessed discrimination based on disability. For example, when she first joined the disability youth advocacy group, they were advocating against a nursing home for children with disabilities.

Come to find out that some of the nursing homes in Chicago stayed open even after many reports of large numbers of kids – mostly Black – died due to neglect. When she saw the power of speaking out, that was when she became an activist.

Candace Marie and Timotheus Gordon Jr. both agreed that the disability movement has a lot of successes and a foundation of seeing people with disabilities stand up for better laws and policies, art and cultural recognition, and to pass down their history. Both have seen people with disabilities at the protests of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, but most of the time they are not a part of Chicago’s disability rights movement.

However, from listening to these two Black disabled and other activists in Chicago, we all know by now that activists are not settling until justice is done for the cover-ups by the police department and government officials. They connect Laquan McDonald to the broader picture of Black disabled people killed by police who are still waiting for justice all through the state of Illinois – like Stepson Watts and Rekia Boyd.

Candace Marie and Timotheus Gordon Jr. both agreed that the disability movement has a lot of successes and a foundation of seeing people with disabilities stand up for better laws and policies, art and cultural recognition, and to pass down their history.

Gordon told me his thoughts of what is going on and what it means to him as a Black disabled young man: “My activism has been on the rise since November 2015. We have been fighting against the Illinois budget war, public housing inaccessibility, and broken public school system since at least the beginning of Gov. Rauner’s term.

“But with the Fight for 15 and the release of the Laquan McDonald tape, I believe more people of Chicago are starting to fight for their rights and call for the end of the scandalous Mayor Rahm Emanuel era. The wide-scale protests rival that of the string of Baltimore actions in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s murder.

“Not so fast! Don’t think Chicago is all of sudden turning into a place of justice and unity yet. The city still sweeps a group of important citizens under the rug: people with disabilities. How come we can mobilize and fight against the wrongful death of Laquan McDonald but not the dissolution of special education in public schools?

“Don’t think Chicago is all of sudden turning into a place of justice and unity yet. The city still sweeps a group of important citizens under the rug: people with disabilities.”

“I would go further: Where is the Black community when it comes to issues among people with disabilities, such as the special education cuts? How come the Black community chooses to holler when the police kill our own but remain quiet as a mouse when people with disabilities yearn to participate?

“I don’t know why there’s such a disconnect between the African American community in Chicago at large and Black people with disabilities. However, if the community continues to ignore the needs of Black people with disabilities and exclude them, then surely the at-large community will remain split into factions: “cool” Black people vs. “those people over there.” Inclusion of people with disabilities in movements and actions can help solve some of the major issues in the city and in ethnic communities within Chicago.”

As a young Black woman, Maria understands the importance of Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name and, like Gordon, still push them to be more open to the Black disabled community. Marie gives her perspective:

“As a Black Women with a disability, I think Say her Name is important. It’s a perfect movement for the time that we are in. All the elements of our community (talking about my Black community) don’t embrace disability identity much. We need spaces to support our young people’s growth.

“When I discovered I wasn’t the only person in the city of Chicago with disability, my confidence level boosted up tremendously. If we had more spaces for youth of color with disabilities in all youth development programs, our future, including activist movements that highlight Black liberation, would be so much brighter.”

One of Candace Marie’s 2016 goals is to reach out to Black organizations to put the issues of what Black disabled Chicagoans are facing, including police brutality, on their agenda and to create a bridge between Black organization leaders and the disability community in Chicago led by Black disabled activists.

Like all cities in the U.S., Chicago included, there is still so much work to be done not only eliminating police brutality but many factors that can increase the chances of being harassed by police. Candace shared with me a recent report entitled “2013 Disability Status Report Illinois” from Cornell University that have shed a light on disability in that state.

In the report, in almost every category from unemployment to school-to-prison pipeline, Blacks make up a huge percentage. Blacks are also a large part of the disability community and of people living in poverty and so on. And as we all know that police target poor Black communities, we see that the majority of recent cases of police brutality are among people with disabilities and Black and Brown people and, if you put the two together, you get people like Laquan McDonald and Mario Woods and so many more.

One of Candace Marie’s 2016 goals is to reach out to Black organizations to put the issues of what Black disabled Chicagoans are facing, including police brutality, on their agenda and to create a bridge between Black organization leaders and the disability community in Chicago led by Black disabled activists.

As we get ready for a new year, Marie, the organizer of Advance Youth Leadership Power, and a mentor to Gordon, in joining him in planning a forum around police and people with disabilities sometime in the spring of 2016. Stay in touch with Access Living, an independent living center in Chicago, where Candace Maria works, at https://www.accessliving.org. And follow Timotheus Gordon Jr. on his blog, http://blackautist.tumblr.com.

Krip-Hop Nation founder Leroy F. Moore Jr. can be reached at Kriphopnation@gmail.com.