Friday, October 23, 2009
Yesterday, I commented on an article in the Sacramento Bee concerning Scott Gregory Hawkins, a transfer junior at Sacramento State, who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in his dorm room. Scott was a history buff who had hoped to become a history teacher or history professor. He was a religious individual who had volunteered in a number of activities to help others, including working with inner city kids, working on an Indian reservation on the Idaho-Nevada border, and working in a mission school in Chile.
Scott also had Aspergers, believed to exist along the same spectrum as autism. Among other things, individuals with Aspergers evidence severe difficulties in social interaction. According to one of his dorm-mates, Scott "wasn't the best socially" and "didn't have many friends." Nevertheless, "he seemed pretty normal to me. He was just shy. A very smart kid, though."
His father mentioned that his Aspergers "sometimes made him a target for bullies."
Within an hour of posting my blog piece, I came across a news story that the US Senate that very same day had passed the "Matthew Shepard" Act that would help protect gays and lesbians from hate crimes. Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old student attending the University of Wyoming. Eleven years ago, he was lured into a car, and subsequently robbed, beaten, and tortured, then left to die tied to a fence in the middle of nowhere.
According to witnesses, Matthew was targeted because he was gay.
Matthew's murder raised an immediate public outcry, not just from the gay community, but from all of us sickened by any display of hate and intolerance. The murder and subsequent trial was front page news, and received wall-to-wall coverage on all the news channels. The gay community made sure that Matthew would never be forgotten. Meanwhile, politicians and activists pressed for the passage of a hate crimes bill, which was finally passed yesterday, and which is awaiting the President's signature to become law.
Suddenly, it occurred to me. What about Scott? The only news coverage was local. There was no public outcry. No mental health advocates spoke out. No politicians or activists rushed in to propose a hate crimes bill to protect those with mental illness.
On the rare occasions when someone with a mental illness happens to commit a violent crime, we hear all about it. Front page news, lead story, shrill voices urging that innocent people need to be protected from us. But the hard cold truth is society preys on us. We are the ones on the receiving end of outrageous and violent acts. But no one cares about us. We are different, mental, crazy.
Scott had a mental illness that drew attention to his social awkwardness. His Aspergers set him up for ridicule and abuse and bullying. But instead of retreating into a shell, Scott gave to the community, he dared attend college to realize his dreams. Two days ago, in his own room, someone outrageously and irrevocably shattered those dreams.
Who will keep Scott's memory alive? Who will speak out on behalf of those of us with mental illness?
All I hear is silence. Silence. Dead silence. Silence kills ...