Hannah Cohen, the TSA, and Mr. George Orwell

planet of the blind

The story of Hannah Cohen, a disabled teenager who was beaten by police and TSA agents at the Memphis airport has not been sufficiently reported and appears to have been consigned to the outlier media. Video and photos of this human rights violation have spread across the internet and one would hope a federal investigation will ensue, for if beating a half blind, partially deaf, brain tumor survivor is allowed to stand then any semblance of decency and morality must be declared finally dead in these United States. According to the scant news stories one can find, her family is suing the TSA. This is right and proper. But where is Loretta Lynch? Where is the American Civil Liberties Union? How about one ounce of attention from NBC? Have we truly arrived at the point where the beating of a teenaged disabled girl by police is simply not substantive news? Have we in the fullness of time arrived at George Orwell’s putative life ahead? (“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”)

I make no special plea. How can one say beating a girl with a brain tumor and who can’t hear is categorically more appalling than the cold blooded murder of Trayvon Martin or the calloused indifference to the well being of Freddie Gray? It can’t be done. Shouldn’t be attempted. I’m no singular appeal department. Yet when Barack Obama said Trayvon could have been his son, I thought without hesitation he could have been mine as well, and Fox News be damned—with it’s racial contempt—he could have been my son and Hannah could be my daughter. If you imagine a boot stamping on a human face you must conceive that face belongs to someone in your family, for if you don’t you’re the pure product of privilege and you might as well admit the fact.

I will give NBC credit for reporting there’s a “Lord of the Flies” culture at the TSA. According to TSA whistleblowers, there’s overt hostility and retaliation directed at any employee who decries bad behavior within the agency.

The disabled are especially ripe for beatings by police—taserings, shootings, smackdowns, even murder. Americans with disabilities are victims of abuse at nearly three times the rate of their fellow citizens. Police violence against the disabled is legion. 15% of all 911 calls involve a person with a disability.

Where is the clamor in the media? How can 60 million Americans be targeted with such apparent impunity?

The answer rests in the able-bodied assumption that the disabled are simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time”—a canard familiar to black people and women and yet where disability is concerned there’s a special shiver to this—shouldn’t we simply be in hospitals and asylums? Of course we should. Why expect people in the village square to acknowledge disability in general and psychiatric disability in particular? It’s all too hard. Too draining. We don’t have enough money in the richest nation on earth to protect all our citizens. We never did. We were never interested.

Hannah Cohen was beaten because she was frightened, uncomprehending, unable to see, and could scarcely hear.

She could be your daughter or your aging mother.

I’m deeply troubled by the apparent shrug her story has received from larger news outlets.


Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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