So, some schmuck named Luke Russell Coffee has been arrested for his participation in the 1/6 insurrection. I don’t blog about every arrest of every treasonous, Trumpist insurrectionist, but I have a particularly selfish reason for blogging about this jackhole: he beat on a cop using his crutch.
“Wait,” you say. “What is significant about that?” you ask. Parsing the sentence for information you’ll find I used the masculine pronoun. Is Coffee the only man arrested?
Okay, fair. He’s also not the only one who beat someone. Nor is he the only one who targeted a cop for violence.
No, I’m talking about the crutch.
You see, for as long as I’ve been using crutches, which is more than 20 years now b/c of my damn bone problems, I’ve had people joke – like literally, when I ride the bus regularly I get this from some stranger who thinks he’s Martin Lawrence at least once a week – about how it must be handy to always have a crutch to hand, since it means I have a convenient weapon to whack people with should I ever get angry at them.
The entire joke is premised on the idea that cripples are helpless, and so our violence isn’t scary: it’s inherently ridiculous that someone who uses crutches could also be frightening, thus the incredibly funny joke.
Hahahah! You? Doing violence? It is to laugh!
At the same time, people with disabilities are assaulted by cops at a more disproportionate rate compared to our proportion of the population than Black people. Yes, disability is a better predictor of being targeted for police violence than even race. Really. (There are even stats on which disabilities are most predictive and let me tell you, you do NOT want to be Deaf and poor in the overpoliced USA.)
These two dynamics really fuck shit up. On the one hand being seen as utterly powerless, to the extent that random jerfaces assume that someone who walks primarily on the strength of their arms (THINK ABOUT IT) couldn’t possibly do any damage to someone by swinging a hunk of metal at them. The whole idea is laughable. Yet on the other hand, cops consider crutches weapons and literally demand that we set aside our crutches – which we use to prevent falls, ameliorate pain, and for other important reasons – when we talk to them because they consider a crutch to be a dangerous weapon.
It’s like the virgin/whore dichotomy, only instead of being policed for purity on the one hand, and cursed for not putting out on the other, with the grand prize being rape, we get mocked and dismissed on the one hand, treated as a threat when we seek help on the other, with a grand prize of being beaten, tased, and/or shot and then charged with a crime for the heinous act of getting our blood on an officers’ clothing in the process.
So this fucking guy Coffee has now planted the idea of crutches as weapons in the brains of every (half)wit who sees the news coverage of his arrest, guaranteeing yet another round of mockery at the idea that people with disabilities might (helplessly! ineffectually! comically!) commit violence, while simultaneously guaranteeing that cops will continue to think of crutches as a weapon first, even though that’s nothing like their regular use.
In the real world people with disabilities have power and sometimes abuse it, just like people without disabilities. I don’t have stamina, but from decades of carrying my weight on my arms, I certainly have some upper body strength. I abhor violence, I refuse the use of violence on principle. It is not that I am desperate to use violence but incapable. In addition to my arm strength, my moral strength is ignored in this conception of persons with disabilities as being so powerless to negatively affect others that there is no moral choice to make. I don’t choose non-violence in this (mis)understanding of my abilities. I am non-violent by nature.
Of course, this also complicates the creation of justice for others as well. Think of how people who commit violence are portrayed as monsters rather than fully human persons who make a choice to commit violence. As a result, the person who commits brutal domestic violence behind closed doors but holds down a steady job where they do not abuse everyone in their environment is often seen as someone who can’t commit violence. The violent are monsters, remember? They wouldn’t be able to hide that. And thus victims of domestic violence, mostly women, have struggled to be believed when they report their victimization. In an analogous way, abuse of able-bodied people may be disbelieved simply because it is assumed that people with disabilities can’t possibly be aggressors, be abusers, be violent.
Yes, people with disabilities are far more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it, but society doesn’t help victims with disabilities either, when it trains everyone, including ourselves, to think of people with disabilities as helpless lumps.
I want the full credit for the choices of persons with disabilities: every single moment I’m not whacking you on the head is a moment I’m choosing not to whack you on the head.
And I want full blame for the choices of persons with disabilities: every single moment Coffee was whacking that cop on the head is a moment Coffee chose to whack a cop on the head.
And I want that credit or blame rewarded proportionately. I don’t want more credit for not crutch-slamming someone who jokes about my supposed helplessness than a 13-year old gets for not slamming a binder into the face of the douche who snaps her bra strap from behind. As it turns out, despite what Avengers: Endgame might have you believe, humans do not spend 20 minutes out of every 100 engaged in violence. Non-violence is normal. The point isn’t to make me a hero for not gashing someone’s scalp for being a comedic schmendrick. The point is that I’m a person with the normal, human power to make choices and deserve exactly the normal consequences, good and bad, for the choices I make.
Yet here I am, in a trap of TABs’ making. Without photos of gruesome injuries inflicted by Coffee, we have pictures of him raising his crutch up to swing down as a weapon, but no social image of the consequences of that violent choice. Because Coffee was beating an officer lost in the crowd, any injuries he might have inflicted are likewise lost from view. Visually, he has become a fitting symbol of the mythic cripple who chooses violence yet whose body is powerless to affect our world. At the same time, the indictment will be used as proof that crutches can be used as weapons, which will then justify cops’ violent assaults on persons who choose non-violence, but don’t want to be deprived of the tools they use for their stability and movement.
This Coffee has made me bitter, and now you are forced to ingest this bitter brew. The consequences of our violent choices swirl and ripple, creating new and ever changing patterns. These fractal currents never quite repeat, but remain recognizable until we act again to disrupt them. So don’t be like Coffee, or the open-mic schmedricks, or the cops who see every tool as a weapon. Let’s disrupt these dangerous currents together.