Electric EDGE
Web Edition of
The Ragged Edge
March/April 1998

Electric Edge

An ADA death?
The death of a disabled man in Louisville is the driving force behind this issue of Ragged Edge. The story of that death, from a barrier illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, brackets our report on how the Americans with Disabilities Act remains unenforced, a story that Mouth magazine broke a week before we went to press.

The death is horrific, the reason horrific. Most horrific of all is the lack of any awareness as to the reason. Like most things that happen to disabled people, this death is considered a personal misfortune, tragic but accidental. Nothing more.

"Disability rights are trivialized by most people," says Steve Gold. "They are not considered civil rights. The fact that a person using a wheelchair cannot get into a store is not looked at as a violation" of anything.

Not even when it results in death.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had barely been signed when the U. S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, got a "declaratory judgment" from the courts against the Heart of Atlanta Motel which claimed integration was a "threat to business." Ollie's Barbecue in Birmingham soon sued the Department for a similar reason. That one was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court "very shortly after the Civil Rights Act passed," said Randall Kennedy.

There were "lots of cases" where the Department of Justice acted, Kennedy said. Right off the bat, he mentioned U.S. v. Gramer and U.S. v. Boyd - both involving segregated seating in restaurants. He could fax us lots more, he said.

We had wanted to talk to Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and civil rights history expert, to get some perspective on the problems our movement is now having with the current DOJ Civil Rights Division's Disability Rights Section.

The Section avoids enforcing disability laws, says Mouth magazine in its March issue, in a. 36-page section on "Justice Undone." The investigation charges that the Division doesn't really even understand the disability laws it's sworn to enforce. Mouth, which calls itself "the voice of the disability nation," gives readers voice after voice of interviews. In this issue, we use our own Ragged Edge to chew on all this stuff. Including the fact that, were the law enforced, a young Louisville man would still be alive.

One of the purposes of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - the one everyone refers to simply as The Civil Rights Act - was to give the Department of Justice more power to enforce integration, Kennedy told us. There'd been an earlier Civil Rights Act, though - one passed in 1957. Not too many people outside the Civil Rights movement knew about it, he said. It was the one that set up the Civil Rights Division in the first place.

Much of what we today think back on as the "civil rights movement" - the Brown. v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, the Montgomery bus boycotts, the sit-ins in restaurants - all happened before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Back then, the Department of Justice had to be prodded to act - "given the authority to act" is another way of putting it - and, said Kennedy, that happened with the 1964 law that many of us think of as the "start" of civil rights.

Lessons in history are useful.

This issue's not all bad news. Nadina LaSpina and Daniel Robert talk more about disability pride and identity, an antidote to the despair of the death in the doorway. Another antidote: a primer on finding out where all that telethon money goes. That'll get your adrenaline going.

Poet Jim Ferris's "Notes from the Surgeons: Drs. Sofield, Louis, Hark, Alfini, Millar, Baehr, Bevan-Thomas, Tsatsos, Ericson, and Bennan" brought to mind the joke "Isn't it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do a 'practice?' " Not funny.

Our interview with Theodore Kaczynski

An email to editor@raggededgemagazine.com gave us a diversion. "I have searched your website and cannot find your interview with [confessed Unabomber] Theodore Kaczynski. Where is it?"

We'd done no interview with Kaczynski, we replied (thinking it would've been nice if we had ... ) Where had they gotten the idea? Typing in the words "interview" and "Kaczynski," said the emailer, had yielded our website on a search engine.

A joke on us? Go figure.

If we'd done that interview, we'd have asked Kaczynski about his decision to confess his crimes. He'd reportedly done so rather than be tried in court "as a sickie."

Now that's a story.


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