What would Mr. Rogers say?
You know, when I read the first stories about the following incident, I was furious. I imagine I looked like a red-faced cartoon character with steam shooting out of my ears.
And I had tears in my eyes.
After a neighborhood spat, Darren Galbraith hung a sign in his yard directed at his neighbor, whose 13-year-old son has autism and other developmental disabilities.
It said, "CAUTION. RETARD'S IN AREA."
Despite protests from the community, the police and disability advocates, he refused to take it down.
Carrie Heaton, the boy's mother commented, "They've put up this sign now, that we feel is very discriminatory against my son."
I sat down and wrote an indignant post full of scathing comments such as "flabby bully and high-mileage wife", and noted the misuse of the apostrophe with, "who's the 'retard', you ignorant dipsh*t?"
Obviously, this incident was a huge trigger for me.
I put the post on ice, and walked away from it for a few days.
Since the initial reports came out, additional articles have followed-up on the story and given a more complete--and complex--view of the situation.
My self-righteous fury (which seemed to be so black and white originally) is now muddied down to many shades of gray. I thought about abandoning this subject completely, but it has been weighing on my mind.
It seems as if most of the adults in this boy's life are failing him, and it makes me feel so sad.
In the two years that the Heatons have lived in this Nephi, Utah neighborhood, the police have been called many times.
On one side are multiple neighbors who've complained about an unsupervised boy who throws rocks (at cars and at other children), exposes himself, pokes dogs with sticks, enters their homes uninvited and rummages through their belongings.
On the other is a mother who blames the situation on mean-spirited and bigoted neighbors who are picking on her son for his disabilities.
"People like to use him for a scapegoat. They're always threatening, if he steps on their grass, 'Well, we're calling the cops. We're calling the cops.' You know what? Call the cops."
Just like in her last neighborhood.
What was that?
The police have a different story. Heaton's son does have a history of throwing things at cars and going into other people's homes. He once walked into an elderly woman's bathroom while she was in the bath.
They've been loath to issue any citations because of the boy's disabilities, and have usually left the scene after giving Heaton a good talking-to.
And so the neighbors are beyond frustration, because the behavior is ongoing.
Due to ridicule, condemnation and publicity, the Galbraiths have taken down that horrific sign and social services are finally stepping in.
It's about damn time.
It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I truly think this boy has been failed by most of the adults in his life. In my opinion, this ugly episode might have been avoided had the police and/or neighbors contacted Child Services after each incident.
A few complaints from specific individuals could possibly be considered to be discrimination (God knows that there is still plenty of prejudice against those with disabilities---even in blogland---where the ignorant pepper their posts with "retard" and worse yet "f*cktard" in attempts to be clever).
But multiple complaints from a whole neighborhood? From two neighborhoods?
I think Ms. Heaton is in deep denial. Or maybe she's simply overwhelmed. Either way, her son is not living in a safe environment. She needs supports to help with him, and maybe this incident will force her to accept them.
I hope she sees this as a wake-up call.
At least for her son's sake, if for nothing else.