The Dietrich, Idaho locker room assault victim needs to matter to organizations in disability rights advocacy and mental health advocacy. He needs to matter to human rights advocacy groups. He needs to matter to civil rights groups, and groups advocating against hate crimes. He needs to matter to advocacy organizations that fight to help survivors of torture.
The silence from national disability advocacy organizations makes it clear that when it comes to crimes against disabled victims, Black lives don’t matter.
This silence is complete and familiar.
This silence is a further indignity on this 18-year-old African American disabled victim. What happened to this innocent Black victim screaming in a cold storage closet of locker room at a public high school didn’t matter to the prosecutor. It didn’t matter to the town’s football team. The victim’s lifelong trauma didn’t matter to the judge, who shouted insulting accusations at the victim’s parents in open court despite the unredacted school report documents verifying that the crime not only happened, but there were witnesses to the crime. One of those witnesses tried to stop it but was threated with being raped and tortured the same way if he attempted to intervene.
When a Black disabled person is a victim of a crime, they are put on trial and everything is done to criminalize them and make the perpetrator(s) the victim. Any victim of color and his family must prepare themselves to be irreparably harmed again by the system that is supposed to give them justice. In the case of the Dietrich assault victim and his family, they all suffered for a series of verdicts that are slaps on the wrist because the perpetrators were prominent white members of a tiny community. The Black disabled victim in the all-white school is not supposed to matter.
He matters to me. He matters so much I wanted everyone to put a name to his face and to speak about him not as a victim but as a person who didn’t deserve this hatred and harm.
But I cannot ask his permission for that. He has attempted suicide so many times he is now in a assisted care facility.
Why have no disability organizations made official statements about this gross miscarriage of justice? Where are their voices? The evidence shows that this was a double hate crime. The victim was chosen because of his race and his disability. Even Dietrich’s mayor called the plea deal given ringleader John R.K. Howard “a slap on the wrist.” The judge in this case was also disturbing in his leniency in the rape case of a 14-year-old girl. Judge Stoker should be removed from the bench or be recused from rape cases. There is a petition calling for his removal from the bench due to his ruling in this case. It can be signed by clicking here.
But still no one has put out a statement of support for the victim. No disability organization is speaking up for him. Why do we have to prove crimes against our people are not the victim’s fault? Why must we prove that the same cult of compliance that leads white disabled victims to harm is operating in this case as well? Why does it take activists like me outraged and shouting at the world to get any movement from organizations who insist they are fighting for Black disabled people?
What do Black disabled victims need to do to matter enough to merit aid? With disability rights and mental health groups pushing African American youth to disclose psychiatric disability, one would expect swift and full-throated organizational support for young disabled victims in cases like this one. Yet silence, hesitation, and doubt linger and our community organizations remain silent.
The proof is in the school investigation report and the court documents on the trial of John Howard, the assailant. Disability advocacy organizations: Go read them and act.
We know this sexual assault happened by the school’s own report. We know that racial slurs were hurled at the victim throughout the assault. We know that this was an escalation of abusive physical and verbal assaults that occurred over several months, often in the presence of the football coach. We know that the leader of the three assailants had a troubled history and was sent to Dietrich to live with his uncle. We know that to this day, the victim believes those who harmed him were his friends.
I am not here to address the parents, the school district, and the assailants. I am here for the victim, victimized again by a system who blames him for the harm he suffered, humiliates him, forces friendships with abusers then is surprised when the confused victim still believes that his assailants are his friends. I am here to demand organizations respond. I am here to say I would not need to write this if this victim were white.
Make. Him. Matter.