Last Friday, a terrorist attack occurred in Portland. A local white supremacist had heaped verbal abuse on two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. Three men intervened to try to help these young women, and were violently stabbed. Those who stand up to hate, even at risk to themselves, deserve the title of hero. Tragically, two of these heroes, Rick Bestand Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, died of wounds sustained in the incident. The third, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, is now recovering from being stabbed in the neck after two hours of surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat. He is also openly Autistic.
As , Micah discussed his diagnosis in a 2015 profile in Venture Magazine, a literary publication affiliated with Mt. Hood Community College.
You got to understand that middle school was not a good point in my life at all,” Fletcher said. In fact, he was institutionalized for erratic anger. “It was a very dark center, so to actually have someone pick me and help me to write, it was one of the bright spots in my life at that point. I would be writing and that’s how I learned to process all these emotions that as an autistic child I didn’t understand what to do with…
…I’ll never forget, my favorite memory was the third time, I believe, I went to a slam,” Fletcher said. “This woman name Robyn Bateman comes up on stage and she’s an extremely talented poet and she starts doing this poem about this young man who’s autistic who she works with in this care center and she happens to be like this huge fan of hip-hop music as well and she goes on in this poem to describe him.
I can’t remember what she learned from him but her words were just so eloquent and so perfect for me at the time, because at that time I was very lonely. I kind of thought that I would never find someone like myself again because I also happen to be autistic and to hear this woman get up on stage and start talking about a person who’s basically another version of me…It was an incredibly powerful moment for me and an incredibly relieving moment for me,” he said.”
The shock of recognition Micah describes should be familiar to many of us in the Autistic community. Growing up on the autism spectrum can be isolating and lonely. There is power in those first experiences of connection to a larger whole. His words resonate tremendously for a simple reason: In describing his own experiences, Micah captures an essential aspect of Autistic culture, identity and life.
Micah is being recognized first and foremost for his willingness to stand up against murderous prejudice. He deserves to be known for his bravery. Better still, I hope Micah will come to be known for his poetry, his clear passion. With any luck, his talent in that area will be more widely recognized as a result of his courage.
The honor Micah deserves for putting his body in the path of violent prejudice is his and his alone. But we should also acknowledge Micah as an Autistic man, because in doing so we can help to dispel the myths and stigma that challenged him and all of us in growing up in a world that is too willing to define Autistic life in terms of fear or pity and never in terms of virtue.
Micah deserves a place in the conversation every time that some that should instead be blamed on political extremism. Keep Micah’s name in mind when those who should know better describe Autistic people as lacking empathy or the ability to care for others. Micah’s bravery should serve as part of the rebuttal when schools and workplaces resist including Autistic people out of fear and stigma.
If the media is to persist in trumpeting the real or imagined diagnoses of every shooter and stabber that can’t be easily pawned off on a convenient racial minority group, is it not reasonable for us to highlight Micah’s identity as an openly Autistic person when telling the story of his bravery? Autistic people, like all others, have our criminals – but we have our heroes too.
Some of you who have been in the Autistic community since its early days will recall the tendency then to posthumously diagnosis major historical figures as on the spectrum, sometimes with very questionable evidence. This was somewhat understandable – I remember what it was like growing up when there were few openly Autistic role models for our teenagers to look to. In those days, Autistic people who did reach great heights feared disclosure, correctly recognizing the condescension, disbelief and professional consequences that would come with it. In that context, it makes sense that we’d reach out to the past to try and find a source of pride, however tenuous the connection might be.
A lot has changed since then. Today, as our community has matured and a generation of Autistic people have grown up with the knowledge of their own existence as a part of a larger identity, we don’t have to diagnose the greats of yesterday anymore. We have our own role models and public figures who inspire us by their passion, their advocacy, their creativity, and their bravery in the face of danger. On Friday, Micah David-Cole Fletcher joined the pantheon of Autistic heroes.
Micah, we are inspired by your example and proud to have you as a member of our community. Thank you for your actions, and we can’t wait to read more of your poetry.