Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The disabled defense

   Oscar Pistorius,  the double amputee who was lionized in all corners when he ran in the 2012 Olympics – not the Paralympics for disabled athletes – on blade-like prosthetic legs, has always made it a point not  to be seen as having a disability.  Except, apparently, when it might keep him out of prison. 
   It looks like it won’t.  While he wasn’t judged guilty of murder in the shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day, 2013, he was convicted recently of “culpable homicide” or negligent killing, with the judge saying he was reckless when he shot bullets through a bathroom door while the couple were staying in a hotel room.  He was also convicted of firing a gun in a restaurant and through a car sunroof and of possession of illegal ammunition.  The odds are high that he’ll be doing some time when sentenced later. 
   Pistorius’ defense was that, being disabled, he felt helpless when he thought he heard a burglar or other intruder in the bathroom.  This feeling and the resulting fright supposedly lead to his shooting his gun.  The judge didn’t buy this from a man who had won fame and adulation for his remarkable physical accomplishments and was admired for not leading attention to his disability, noting that he could have called 24-hour security or police or run to the balcony and yell for help (after all, he was famous for running).  Also, the emotional frailty he showed throughout the trial, weeping frequently and vomiting on hearing descriptions of Steenkamp’s wounds, as well as the revelation that he was obsessed with guns and never went anywhere without one (perhaps feeling insecure due to his disability?), most likely didn’t help. 
   This is quite different from what Chrystal Morales is doing.  She is suing the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Southern California, saying that the teachers and administrators at the high school she attended in Newport Beach essentially let her slide and graduate after she suffered a traumatic brain  injury when she was hit by a drunk driver during senior year.  Ms.  Morales is asking that her diploma be revoked and that she be allowed to return to the school, since she was cheated out of a quality education when her assignments were waived and her grades were boosted after she became disabled,  leaving her ill-equipped and at a disadvantage after being allowed to graduate (she later left  a program at Coastline Community College for brain injured students, because she was failing classes) . 
   “They said, ‘Guess what?  You’re graduated, bye.  We don’t want to see you anymore,” says Tania Whiteleather, who is representing Ms.  Morales in the lawsuit, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. As the lawsuit alleges, Ms.Morales was given a book to read and report on in an English class but was never required to turn in the assignment. Also, she was receiving a D in math before the injury, but it was unexpectedly changed to an A-plus by administrators by the end of the semester.  
   Going from a D to an A-plus.  This is quite a trick.  It seems to me that Ms.  Morales is more the disabled hero for pointing it out rather than trying to take advantage of it. 

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