“She has been convicted. Bail revoked.”
Those are the words I received in an email from a former professor of mine. Anna Stubblefield was convicted of two accounts of rape. The verdict reached my email on Friday at 11:59am.
I know, some people are happy. They think, “A rapist has been put in jail and now Dman and his family can begin to heal.” That statement is the furthest from the truth.
The disability community is in so much emotional pain right now. For myself and so many of the members of the disability community this is history on repeat. Over and over again we are denied rights, are silenced and locked away. All because society has placed us in a figurative box, we can’t be sexual, we’re not worthy of love and we’re not people. Having impairments dehumanizes us according to society. If we can’t speak the way society demands we do, then we’re truly invisible.
Twelve people—a mixture of women and men of many different racial backgrounds, all of them appearing able-bodied, ruined two lives, those of Anna Stubblefield and Dman Johnson. Did they know what they were doing? Yes. They had a different viewpoint though. Those people thought as they sat in the jury room that they had the power to “save the disabled boy,” “make things right” and “serve justice” because, “She should’ve known better than to be sexual with someone physically helpless and mentally defective.”
Let’s take a glimpse at who they really imprisoned. Literally speaking, Stubblefield is sitting behind bars. She’s not serving a life sentence so eventually she’ll be free. Or will she? Stubblefield can never get a job working in any kind of teaching position EVER again. Once she is free, finding a place to live might be difficult, as her name will be added to the sex offender’s list. She’s lost her place in the world. Her name will forever be tainted.
With the guilty verdict also came a second imprisonment: Dman’s. No, he’s not literally behind bars. Instead he’s serving a “life sentence” of being denied independence, his voice and a life of his own. His voice forever silenced by the State of New Jersey. Not once was he allowed to speak during a trial that revolved around him. Instead the prosecution made assumptions. They ASSUMED he was “mentally defective” and “physically helpless.” He will remain forever imprisoned in society’s perception of disability.
As a member of the disability community, I can’t help but feel angry, upset and guilty about the entire situation. I’m angry because it’s 2015 and the state of New Jersey still views disability through a eugenics mindset. To the state, Dman and Stubblefield could never have loved one another. How could they? Stubblefield is able-bodied and Dman is disabled. They still frame love as an emotion that is exclusively open and entitled to able-bodied people. In contrast, people with disabilities are believed to be non sexual—“She can’t have sex, she’s in a wheelchair,” or “He’s too mentally defective to consent to sex or know what is going on.” People with disabilities shouldn’t be sexual or romantically involved with each other or able-bodied people because they’re inferior, simply because society can’t or doesn’t want to process the concept of us having sexual desires or romantic relationships. The moment people realized Dman could be and was sexual was when the relationship between Stubblefield and him was torn apart. This is eugenics era thinking, an outdated way of perceiving disabilities and the people who have them.
I’m also upset because after all that we, as people with disabilities have experienced—sterilization, institutionalization, the fight for civil rights leading to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—all of these milestones are meaningless if society still views people who use different methods of communication or have “severe physical disabilities” as “mentally defective” and “physically helpless.” The outcome of the Stubblefield case demonstrates that we still have a long way to go as a society in terms of the acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. After the verdict, I’m wondering when and if our society will ever get to that point.
Lastly, I feel guilty. As irony would have it, I received the news of the verdict as I was on my way to a CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD) meeting. We were electing a new E-board and discussing various ways in which we can create change and make the overall CUNY experience better for students with disabilities. How could I think of creating change with and for my fellow disabled CUNY students when Dman was locked in the narrow box of society’s perceptions of disability and the one person who had the chance at helping him gain independence was sitting behind bars? All because they loved and wanted to be with each other? It just didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t. I get to spend time with each person I love and care about while the legal system denies Dman and Stubblefield that same opportunity.
My thoughts and support go out to Dman, Stubblefield, everyone that knows them and the disability community during this very sad and difficult time. If I’ve learned anything from this case, it’s that I need and will continue to advocate for and alongside the disability community, especially for the members of the community who use different forms of communication and are silenced by society. None of them will go unheard.
Danielle Lucchese is a second year graduate student in CUNY SPS’s MA in Disability Studies program. Born and raised in Staten Island, she moved to Manhattan last year at the start of her CUNY SPS experience. When Danielle’s not hitting the books or writing papers, she enjoys exploring New York City, photography, writing poetry, playing volleyball, reading fantasy novels, listening to music and spending time with family and friends.