The Disability Pedestal
We expected better from Oscar Pistorius because he’s disabled. We were wrong.
Last year, John Christopher Champion, a Florida man, allegedly maneuvered his wheelchair around a convenience store counter, threatened the clerk with a knife, and ordered her to open the cash register. According to police, Champion told the clerk that the cops wouldn’t arrest a handicapped person.
These people aren’t bearing a cross. They’re jerking your chain. When criminals invoke disability as grounds for leniency, they insult every normal, law-abiding disabled person. “Why fucking live for other people when you’re having a fucked life? … I’m in a fucking chair,” Shayne Sime told the cop who tried to reason with him. The cop replied: “You’re not the only person that’s in a chair, Shayne.”
Justice is about more than compassion. It’s about the right to be judged on your own. You run your own race. You make your own decisions. Most people with prosthetic legs don’t shoot their lovers. Most guys who survive testicular cancer don’t run doping rings in the Tour de France. Something about beating cancer or overcoming a birth defect tugs at our hearts. It paralyzes our judgment. We don’t want to believe that people who have accomplished such things can do evil. Most don’t. But some do.
“Pistorius always wanted to compete with the best sprinters in the world,” writes Rosenberg. “We should have viewed him that way. We should have realized he was fundamentally an elite, hyper-competitive athlete. In that context, his apparent crime is not as surprising.”
Exactly. Pistorius deserves to be treated like anybody else. That’s what he taught us on the way up. It’s what he’s teaching us on the way down, too.
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Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.