Getting away with murder

The phenomenal Craig Wallace teams up with fellow disability activist Samantha Connor looks at the media bias in reporting suicide and murder of people living with disability.  

This article first appeared on the ABC's Ramp UP website.

Media reports on homicides of people with disability, particularly those with intellectual disability, are frequently sugar-coated and euphemised. This only serves to diminish the value of those who have lost their lives, writes Craig Wallace and Samantha Connor.

Suicide is anything but painless. So we should share sympathy for the loved ones of the couple convicted of killing their son in 2001, who were found dead in their western Sydney home on the weekend.

The couple killed their son Matthew, who had a disability, days before his 29th birthday, yet avoided jail after they pleaded guilty to manslaughter. They were instead sentenced to five-year good behaviour bonds.

Despite this latest tragedy, it's impossible to ignore the way the killing of people with disability continues to be minimised, sanitised and even excused by the media, the public, the judiciary and even closer to home in parts of our disability community.

Sure enough it was disappointing, but not exactly surprising, to see the usual green shoots of moral relativism in comments about the news on the weekend.

What wasn't expected was for such views to emerge on a social media space that specifically works to break the silence about violence and abuse of people with disability.

"Who am I to judge?"; "There's no wrongs or rights"; a "tragedy for everyone involved" were among the comments on the story.
Hang on - a tragedy for "everyone" involved?

Actually, it's a tragedy for the person who was murdered. Period.

No wrongs or rights? Who are we to judge?

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? The death of three people is a tragedy by any measure and judging is a fraught undertaking - let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.

But what if we apply that even handed tone to other murders?

Like John Glover, the 'granny killer' who murdered six elderly women in Mosman two decades ago.

How would his victims' relatives feel if he was portrayed as a merciful killer, because his victims were elderly people nearing the end of their lives or at risk of elder abuse?

Would we feel comfortable describing Glover's suicide in prison in 2005 as a fitting 'closure' in a tragedy for "everyone" involved, equating his loss with those of the elderly ladies he bashed to death?

It is hard to imagine such a warped view would stand. We judge some crimes in absolutes because the gossamer threads of moral order, justice and community safety demand we do.

And yet, reports about homicides of people with disability, especially those with intellectual disability, continue to be smothered in bland acronyms designed to soften the blow or sweeten the poison. Words like: unlawful killing, manslaughter, euthanasia, mercy killing or even killed "out of love" are all vapid terms that work to diminish the impact of the act.

The unlawful killing of one human being at the hands of another is universally acknowledged as the worst possible crime of which we are capable. To imagine culpability as somehow eased by the victim's disability is untenable.

Murder is murder; rape is rape; violence is violence. All are a product of power wielded for its own sake - no further explanation or excuses should be allowed.

Craig Wallace is the President of People with Disability Australia. Samantha Connor is a Board member of People with Disability Australia and an administrator of the Disability Clothesline.