Disability Rights Nation

Jan. 1-16
From Ragged Edge's
D. R. Nation department Jan./Feb., 1999

Monument to be erected to Tracy Latimer

Toni Eames inducted into Hall of Fame

Bus Association suit challenges new DOT rules

Behind-the-scenes work by activists got
civil rights leader to rescind opposition to lifts on buses

Kevorkian's media circus
a 'roller coaster' for activists
NDY vigil credited with hastening
murder charges for 'serial killer'

Jack Kevorkian's Nov. 22 murder of Thomas Youk on television's "60 Minutes" brought renewed talk that the rogue pathologist would be charged with murder under Michigan's new assisted-suicide law.

Not Dead Yet, the national disability group, began its vigil outside offices of Oakland County (Michigan) Prosecutor David Gorcyca Nov. 24, with just three national Not Dead Yet organizers: Diane Coleman, Steve Drake and Carol Cleigh. The group vowed to stay until Gorcyca charged Kevorkian with murder.

The three wanted a meeting with Gorcyca to demand immediate charges be brought. They also wanted to "discuss a way avoid jury nullification."

"We got two assistants who told us they already knew our viewpoint--and made it obvious they don't," said Cleigh. "They said they would file charges when they had evidence. We said we'd wait."

The vigil grew slowly. "Whenever staff came through, we asked them to 'charge Kevorkian now!'" A TV crew came; filmed the group for a "live at five" broadcast.

A planned candlelight vigil was canceled when the group found no media was coming to their vigil. "Our 'allies' took interviews they should have given us," said Cleigh. "A dark night."

By the next morning, though, people from across the country associated with Not Dead Yet had begun calling and faxing Gorcyca's office, said Cleigh. Numbers of protesters grew, some coming with flyers and signs.

"For hours we passed out flyers. Hundreds of calls had come in," said Cleigh. "When we heard Gorcyca was holding a press conference at 2, we were cautiously optimistic."

Gorcyca announced he had issued a warrant charging Kevorkian with first-degree premeditated murder, criminal assistance to a suicide and delivery of a controlled substance. Protesters had been shut out of the press conference, though--no room.

"A review of the tapes involving Mr. Youk and Kevorkian present sufficient facts and probable cause to support charges of assisted suicide,'" Gorcyca said. "Not withstanding Mr. Youk's consent, consent is not a viable defense in taking the life of another, even under the most controlled environment.'" Portions of the tape now in Gorcyca's possession had aired on "60 Minutes."

If convicted of the murder charge, Kevorkian could be sentenced to life in prison.

Kevorkian, 70, has killed 130 disabled people in his 8-year spree. He has been charged with murder before, the first for the 1990 death of Janet Adkins of Portland, Ore. That charge was dropped by a judge who ruled the state had no law banning assisted suicide; a 1992 charge was dropped for the same reason. Kevorkian was acquitted in three other trials involving five deaths. A fourth trial was declared a mistrial.

Gorcyca arrested Kevorkian under Michigan's new assisted-suicide law and asked that Kevorkian be held without bond.

"This is finally our Thanksgiving," Cleigh told the Detroit News. "We've been fighting for two and a half years to stop a serial killer in the state of Michigan killing people just because of their disability status. We've been screaming into the wilderness."

In the courtroom for the arraignment, NDYers saw "a sad day for justice" when Kevorkian was released "on a promise that he wouldn't kill again."

"The same promise he's given, and broken, before," said Cleigh.

"Stay tuned,"she tells activists. "This roller coaster ride isn't over."

"To remember all persons with disabilities who
have been killed by people seeking to excuse their
terrible acts with the mistaken notion of mercy."
Monument to be erected to Tracy Latimer

A memorial monument to Tracy Latimer, the 12-year-old girl killed by her father because she had cerebral palsy, is being erected by the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities.

"A couple of years ago we started to think about something that we might be able to do to express our views on the Latimer case in a more permanent and tangible way than simply having a protest every now and then or writing the occasional article for the newspaper," said David Martin, Provincial Coordinator of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities. "A couple of us had seen a story on the CBC news about the way monuments for War Veterans--the many monuments that we have all across Canada for the various wars, the Korean War, the First and Second World Wars--had been developed.

"We were struck by the fact that these memorials were created by small groups of volunteers at the very grassroots level," he said.

The group thought also of other monuments. "In Winnipeg, the women's movement has a monument at the Manitoba Legislature grounds. It raises awareness about their community and violence against women." The League felt they could create a similar memorial.

The monument, "a heart that is not quite complete and has been broken off at the top" and shattered down the middle is designed to symbolize more than Tracy Latimer. "The whole disability community has had its heart broken to a certain degree around the events of the Tracy Latimer case," said Martin.

"To remember all persons with disabilities who have been killed by people seeking to excuse their terrible acts with the mistaken notion of mercy," reads the proposed text. "To reaffirm the capacity of all persons to respect others' equal rights to live their unique lives."

Several thousand dollars have been raised so far, but more is needed. Donations may be sent to: MLPD, 200-294 Portage Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3C 0B9 CANADA.

Robert Latimer gets life sentence:
activists call it "justice"
A Canadian appeals court November 23 sentenced Robert Latimer to life imprisonment for the death of his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, who had cerebral palsy. Saskatchewan's appeals court ruled that a lower court judge had erred by departing from the mandatory sentence when Latimer's sentence had been reduced because the case was considered a "mercy killing."

"We are very hopeful that justice will be done--and seen to be done--for Tracy Latimer, who we assert is the victim in this whole case,'" Jim Derkson, a human rights advocate with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, told the Canadian press.

Under the new sentence, Latimer can apply for parole after 10 years. Latimer's attorneys are appealling the new court ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. Because the ruling was unanimous, however, the top court can refuse to hear the appeal.

Toni Eames inducted into Hall of Fame

Disability advocate, author and lecturer Toni Eames was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities in October. In 1968, Eames organized the National Society of Guide Dog Users (which later became Guide Dog Users, Inc.) and was an organizer of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. She writes frequently about issues surrounding assistance dogs and disability issues and works nationally with veterinary associations. Eames was past president (and currently vice-president) of the Fresno Chapter of the National Federal of the Blind.

Founded in 1981, the Hall of Fame honors "outstanding Americans with disabilities" for their achievements and contributions to humanity. Previous inductees include Judy Heumann, I. King Jordan and Ed Roberts.

Bus Association suit challenges
new DOT rules

Just six days after the Department of Transportation issued new accessibility requirements for over-the-road buses, the American Bus Association, a trade organization of the intercity bus industry, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, challenging the legality of DOT's final regulations.

The regulations require all large carriers that operate fixed-route intercity bus service to equip 50 percent of their fleet with wheelchair lifts by 2006 (100 percent by 2012). The trade group claims the 100-percent rule is unnecessary to meet demand, and says the final rule will impose an extreme cost burden on intercity bus companies.

The suit against DOT Secretary Rodney Slater alleges the federal agency's rules fail to consider . . .

--the most cost-effective method of providing accessibility;
--all forms of boarding options;
--the effect on continued bus service to rural communities.

ABA says DOT has failed to adequately review the safety of requiring passengers to ride in wheelchairs on intercity buses.

The bus trade group is also challenging DOT's new "denied boarding compensation" penalty, under which a bus company would have to pay compensation to a passenger with a disability if the carrier does not provide an accessible bus for any reason. ABA asserts the rule is arbitrary because it does not provide an option to dispute or appeal a passenger's claim. The suit also charges that the compensation estabilished by the DOT far exceeds the agency's regulatory authority, and asks the court to set aside the new rules and send them back to the DOT for further consideration.

© Copyright 1998 The Disability News Service, Inc.

After a national ADAPT takeover of the building housing their headquarters, the group agreed to meet with ADAPT to discuss dropping the lawsuit.

Behind-the-scenes work by activists
got civil rights leader to rescind
opposition to lifts on buses

A day before the Dept. of Transportation issued its rule requiring lifts on Greyhound and other over-the-road buses, DOT Secretary Rodney Slater received a second letter from Martin Luther King, III.

King's first letter, saying lifts would "result in millions of low-income Americans losing access to . . . intercity bus service" had stirred outrage in the disability community (see "Divide and conquer," D.R. Nation, Nov./Dec.). His second letter revealed a change of heart: "After much deliberation and after talks with groups and individuals on all sides of the issue, I stand in support of the position of the disabled community."

What had happened? Lots of behind-the-scenes work, say Marilyn Golden of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and Kate Gainer of the Multicultural Coalition on Diversity and Disability.

An Aug. 25 letter from DREDF Governmental Affairs Director Pat Wright to King noted the "organized effort by the over-the-road bus industry to pit the race community against the disability community."

"I am sure that when buses were first racially integrated, opponents of equality threatened that routes would be terminated because whites whould refuse to ride the buses. Is this not a similar situation?" she wrote.

Wright, a 20-year member of the executive committee of Washington, D.C.'s Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, sought from King "an opportunity to arrange a briefing for your members."

Gainer was contacted by ADAPT, she said, and since her group had a history with King's group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, she also arranged a meeting of her group with King. "We did a history and comparison of the disability rights movement and the civil rights movement, and brought him up to speed on the Greyhound situation.

"He immediately apologized when he saw the issue."

King had not been aware of the issue, she said. "He admitted to us that he had not done his homework."

Gainer says her group, the Georgia-based affilate of the National Family for the Advancement of Minorities with Disabilities, is now working with SCLC on "how the group can approach the issue of disability in the future."

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