It was troublesome to observe people’s reactions over the shooting of an autistic transgender, legally named ‘Danielle,’ who last went by both names, Kayden and Danielle, on social media forums. It was interesting indeed to see people cling to elements of the incident and not the whole of the situation. To in essence watch strangers erase a person in exchange for their own cause fueled by individualized outrage. For the most part, the complexities of the case were smeared and erased by the outcry of injustice and call for rectification. All this before anyone took the time to gather the facts of the incident, the history of the person, and the factors playing into the situation.
I observed from afar, as people unraveled their agendas one by one, as tiny authoritarians transforming their silent voice to trumpet. Social media a-flash with tidbits of heroism and victimhood. Everything unfolded as predicated by the masses. Some game in which the dead are quickly tossed aside for personal rights and personal causes. People segregated simultaneously into the persecuted and judged. Sides taken. One against the next, as if one death in a million were an enormous barrier of bars set down to divide one sect. from the other.
What side to stand on? Or far better to hover on the sideline and watch the Titans clash?
Everywhere I looked someone was voicing an opinion, a strong, if not stubborn opinion, at that. A few, scattered in between, truly mourning and crying the loss of a life and the tragedy that will befall the police officer and his family, who was likely an unwilling participant in the death of a young man. A few, focused on the core of the matter, an unfortunate accident that would have best been avoided through proper support measures—be that family, medical, community, government and/or societal.
We reacted in the ways in which we could connect. What part of this person could we relate to? What part of this unfortunate event ringed true to us, to our experience? We did as humans do. We looked for ways to attach. From there the camps set out, and the real incident, what had actually happened, became distorted in the mass outcry of sprinkled injustices. The inhumane way in which he was killed. The static hum of debasing his gender identity. The radical call demanding change in the police system.
Over and over, people pitched their flags. Few taking the time to research, to ask, to dig around and find the truth of the matter, the truth of the person. Instead the news and resulting drama was stacked one atop the next to create imaginary platforms. Within seconds Daniel was elevated to sainthood; his halo constructed from various representatives honking about transgender, mis-gendered, misrepresentation, transitioning, mental illness, autism, police training, violence, and the list goes on and on. Here, a death was made into factoids and fractured far beyond the loss of one person’s life.
I watched myself become washed in the mayhem and waves of emotions—nothing new, nothing unfamiliar, and still devastatingly troubling. I was caught up in the unrelenting emotions that whispered: “Why and How?” I too, as a parent of an autistic son, and as an autistic woman myself, was visited by the hauntings of ‘what if?’ I too, was churned in the encroaching drama of social media hype. And everywhere, at every crossing, I found myself in the common place of trying to soothe and make better, to calm the approaching tsunami.
I researched to appease my dis-ease. And I found answers fast—readily available for anyone who took the time to look. Answers about Danielle’s background, Danielle’s transitioning videos, Danielle’s Facebook page, Danielle’s acquaintances. I received personal testimony about his past. I discovered the first fallacy, that of the name. Thousands twittering the injustice of calling ‘Kayden’ (who is dead, who was shot, who had extreme mental anguish) by his other name: Danielle. But they didn’t even know him. They didn’t know. And they didn’t even know his last chosen name wasn’t Kayden, but according to my source, another name related to another service dog.
But they had no clue. Instead they joined in the hype and picked up their imaginary picket signs, claiming their right to justice, masked as a dead stranger’s right. I heard from Danielle’s acquaintances and friends. Some claimed they weren’t surprised by his actions. They offered that he wasn’t he or she in his mind, and that indeed he vacillated between the two, between identifying with a male-gender name and female-gender name. They spoke to me of his extreme anguish and behavior, and threats to others, actions that were far beyond ideal. There were his own attempts on his life, or at minimum proclamations he would commit suicide, long before this incident. There was more, much more, that didn’t paint the picture of anyone close to sainthood, or anyone suited to be a role model.
And why did we even stop to think such a thing in the first place—to raise up a complete stranger to the status of hero? Perhaps because of the viral-video with his service dog. Perhaps because we saw something in Danielle that made us a bit braver in our own selves, and made us, particularly the autism community, feel less alone, less isolated. So in that way, given those circumstances and perimeters, despite his reputation as dangerous and violent, he did offer us connection.
In the end, beyond the loss of life, what is most tragic is the aftermath of the shooting, in the way in which society responds. The way in which innocent bystanders were attacked for not honoring and/or representing someone else’s viewpoint and platform. In the ways people lashed out one against the next to pin their opinion in the highest notch. In the ways the facts and history were swept under the proverbial rug in hopes of a ‘higher’ cause.
For me the tragedy is much deeper than a sad situation that might have been avoided with proper psychological intervention, proper transgender transitioning and awareness support, proper family support, and perhaps proper medication and more rigid police training. The tragedy, as I see it, is how as a people we are vastly becoming more and more divided. In totality, this tragedy serves to magnify the growing societal trend of individuals staking a claim by proclaiming their truth as the truth, and shunning all others who do not take up their cause or conviction. In the end, it is a testimony that leaves a bitter tangible taste in the palate, one that isn’t easily discarded, one of an increasingly growing self-centeredness.
“Too many people are only willing to defend rights that are personally important to them. It’s selfish ignorance, and it’s exactly why totalitarian governments are able to get away with trampling on people. Freedom does not mean freedom just for the things I think I should be able to do. Freedom is for all of us. If people will not speak up for other people’s rights, there will come a day when they will lose their own.” – Tony Lawrence (firstname.lastname@example.org) 12/28/95
Everyone deserves the right to rest in peace.