Autistic Activist To Joe Scarborough: ‘I Am Not A Murderer’


On Monday’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough incurred much-deserved outrage when he made the stunning declaration that people like Aurora mass shooter James Holmes are “somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale,” and that while he didn’t know if this was true of Holmes specifically, “it happens more often than not.”

Amid petitions and demands for a retraction from autism advocates and organizations, Scarborough has released a statement clarifying his comments.

Although he failed to mention the controversy during Tuesday morning’s episode of Morning Joe, he did release a statement this afternoon. Here’s what Joe Scarborough had to say, in an email statement to Mediaite:

During a debate regarding the recent Colorado shootings, I suggested that the Aurora tragedy should make Americans focus more on mental health in this country. I also stated that my own experiences raising a son with Aspergers made me keenly aware of how important strong support systems are to those who might otherwise be isolated.

The growing Autism epidemic is a tremendous burden for children, parents and loved ones to endure. My call for increased funding and awareness for Autism and other mental health conditions was meant to support the efforts of those who work every day to improve the lives of Americans impacted. Those suggesting that I was linking all violent behavior to Autism missed my larger point and overlooked the fact that I have a wonderful, loving son with Aspergers. Perhaps I could have made my point more eloquently.

I look forward to continuing my work with wonderful organizations like Autism Speaks to provide badly needed support to millions of Americans who struggle with Autism every day.

Scarborough’s statement is unlikely to mollify those incensed by his Monday remarks, which don’t really match up well with his attempt to recast them. Here’s what Scarborough said yesterday:

“You have these people that are somewhere, I believe, probably on the autism scale, I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not, people that can walk around in society, that can function on college campuses, can even excel in college campuses, but are socially disconnected. I have a son who has Asperger’s who is loved by everyone in his family and who is wonderful, but it is for those that may not have a loving family and a support group and may be a bit further along on the autism spectrum, an extraordinarily frustrating, terrible challenge day in and day out. and so, I do think, again, I don’t know the specifics about this young man, but we see too many shooters in these type of tragedies bearing the same characteristics mentally.”

Calling for increased awareness for autism is all well and good, unless what you’re making people aware of is the false notion that “these people” are “somewhere on the autism scale,” “more often than not.” That’s not “ineloquence,” it’s gross irresponsibility, and the suggestion that the people who heard him correctly “missed (his) larger point” is just insulting.

The point here, though, is not to beat up on Joe Scarborough for his remarks, and his all-too-human attempt to save face. The point is that these remarks have caused harm, and that harm needs to be assessed, and fixed. In addition to The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and autistic labor journalist Mike Elk, other autism advocates and organizations have expressed the measure of that harm, and called on Scarborough to set the record straight on his program, where the same people who heard the lie can then hear the truth.

The International Coalition for Autism and All Abilities’ (ICAA) Emily Malabey released a statement yesterday, calling Scarborough’s statements a “sad yet strong illustration of the prevailing  ignorance and bigotry in our culture regarding disabilities, specifically autism,” and inviting him to speak on their radio program.

Perhaps more poignantly, New Jersey autism advocate Kerry Magro, who also has autism, recorded a video plea to Scarborough in which he explains that he is not a murderer:

Kerry didn’t “miss the point,” and neither did the hundreds of thousands of viewers who saw Scarboroug’s initial remarks, and who won’t be hearing this “clarification.” The only way to fix this is for Scarborough to tell the truth to those same viewers of his show. There is no evidence whatsoever linking autism to mass murder, and what limited research there is on the subject of crime and autism is fatally flawed and inconsistent.

However, Kasianne at the Radical Neurodivergence blog make the case that “neurotypical folks of the media: You are far more dangerous to us than we are to you. The mentally ill and the developmentally disabled are far more likely to be your victims than you are to be ours.”

Some stats for you, taken from this UK source:

10% of convicted murderers had mental health problems.
25% of the population has mental health problems.
95% of homicides are committed by people without mental illnsses.
People with psychosis are 14 times more likely to be attacked than to be the attackers.
25% of patients with mental illness have been the victim of violent crimes.
Clearly, people with mental illness have more reason to fear those without mental illness. Now, let’s look at some developmental disability statistics, shall we?

From The MA government:

More than 90% of developmentally disabled people will be sexually abused.
54% will be sexually abused 10 times or more.
Developmentally disabled adults have a 4-10 times greater likelyhood of being physically assaulted.
3% of these crimes will be reported.
There are no easily available statistics on developmentally disabled perpetators of crimes, in spite of the media’s efforts to paint any and every violent criminal who gets national attention as Autistic.

The fact that Scarborough chose to respond at all indicates that his heart is in the right place, but he seems to be the one missing the point. No one doubts that he loves his son, or that he cares about he issue of autism. The problem is that he said something false and irresponsible to a huge, influential audience, and needs to correct it. Most of the sources referenced in this article would, I’d wager, be happy to make themselves available to do that tomorrow morning. It just takes a phone call.

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