Canadian police are investigating an anonymous hate letter that called a 13-year-old autistic boy "a hindrance to everyone" and urged his family to "move or euthanize" the child. The one-page letter was slipped under Brenda Millson's door on Friday at her home in Newcastle, Ontario, where she cares for 13-year-old grandson, Max Begley. There is no doubt that the ugly, hate-filled letter is absolutely deplorable, but it's representative of the stigma and discrimination that disabled persons and their families face every day.
"It scares the hell out of my normal children!!!!!!! When you feel your idiot kid needs fresh air, take him to our park you dope!!!" the letter reads. "What right do you have to do this to hard working people!!!!!!! I HATE people like you who believe, just because you have a special needs kid, you are entitled to special treatment!!!" (All punctuation and capitalization courtesy the original.)
The vile letter goes on to dismiss Max's value as a human being, saying, "Personally, they should take whatever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it to science. What the hell else good is he to anyone!!!"
According to the Toronto Star, Max's mother, Karla Begley who is in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, started hyperventilating when she read the letter. "It made me sick to my stomach to think that somebody hated my son that much, and they didn't even know him," she said. "But they just hated him because he was different. That's the only reason they had to hate him."
Although the hate mailer claims that she is a neighbor, and is speaking for others in the community that "don't have the guts" to do so, the letter went viral after a friend of the family shared the note on Twitter. The local community has since come out to show its support; dozens of Millson's neighbors cheered when Max came outside Sunday, as a TV crew arrived.
Despite advances in health care and treatment, disabilities and mental illnesses are still stigmatized, and discrimination remains a problem. Too often, persons coping with disabilities and mental illness are met with indifference, ignorance, and even fear and abuse, instead of compassion and understanding.
According to an international study conducted by Indiana University, sociologists found that while most people accept mental illness as treatable, a common "backbone" of prejudice persists, and individuals with mental illnesses are considered "undesirable for close personal relationships and positions of authority." The study's authors wrote that, "If the public understands that mental illnesses are medical problems but still reject individuals with mental illness, then educational campaigns directed toward ensuring inclusion become more salient."
Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services communications specialist Tom Gugliotti held such an awareness campaign, which showcased pictures of people holding signs that explain the discrimination they have confronted:
"My neighbors stopped talking to me when they found out I had schizophrenia."
"I couldn't find a study group at school — nobody wanted the 'crazy' kid."
"When the landlord found out about my illness, the apartment I wanted was suddenly rented."
Although the Crown Attorney's Office in Ontario said the letter about Max Begley doesn't reach the threshold of a hate crime, the letter has caused widespread outrage, and garnered support for the family. Hopefully, the hurtful note will spark a much-needed conversation about disability and mental illness, and perhaps even help change the discrimination that persons with disabilities continue to face. After all, while that discrimination may not be as viral and vocal, it is certainly just as hurtful.