Our Lives Aren't Worth Defending

root - Posted on 08 July 2002

Leroy Moore investigates the senseless crime of murder committed against Joseph Timms, a Black disabled youth of San Francisco who was shot by the SFPD

by Leroy F. Moore Jr /Illin and Chillin

Webster defines ‘Self-defense’ as:

(1) Defense of oneself, one’s property, or one’s reputation.

(2)Law. The right to protect oneself against violence or threatened violence with whatever means reasonably necessary.

If you are disabled, especially a disabled male of color, then this definition doesn’t apply to you! You aren’t supposed to fight back and if you do, you somehow become the dangerous attacker. Then, there are two possible outcomes (1) because of your disability, i.e. mental illness, you must be eliminated by police or (2) you defend yourself successfully but end up in prison because you actually defended yourself! From the East Coast to right here in the Bay Area, disabled young males of color have found themselves in a life or death situation and have lost their lives or freedom either because of their attackers, the police or the U.S. justice system.

The recent case of self-defense of a mentally ill, Black, young man named Richard Tims that ended up with the police shooting, brought back a terrible memory of my thirty-third birthday two years ago. Just like Richard Tims, I, a Black physically disabled young man was on a crowded Muni bus standing up when a Black man ran to the front of the bus shouting "get out of my way!" Though I tried to get out of his way, he grabbed my book bag and dragged me to the steps of the bus while shouting ‘I’m going to kick your ass!" Fighting for my life I held on. Luckily my bag broke and my bag and I were safe on the bus.

Richard Tims’ case began when he tried to defend his life from three young Black males on a Muni bus who jumped him because he reacted when one of the young men stepped on his foot. He tried to defend himself with a pocket knife by stabbing one of his attackers but when this frail, one-hundred pound disabled Black man got off the bus he was shot up by police officers. Now I wonder what would have happen if I were yanked off that Muni bus on November 2, 2000?

The common reason for police to shoot is the feeling that their or other peoples lives are in danger but Tims, a one-hundred pound disabled man, was curled up in a bus shelter. This same excuse was used in the case of Margaret L. Mitchell of L.A. She was a frail, one-hundred pound homeless Black woman living with mental illness who was shot to death because she had a screwdriver. Idriss Stelley, a Black young man with mental illness was shot more than twenty times because police officers feared for their lives, though he had only a small Swiss army knife. Are disabled people of color that dangerous?

On December 20th 1995, Seth Woods, a Black developmentally disabled young man of San Francisco was walking home from his sister’s house and saw a group of Samoan teenagers that he knew. He tried to join the group but the group of teenagers turned on Woods and beat and stomped on him. In minutes Woods was face down in the streets, and had stopped fighting back. His bloody body was left on the sidewalk. After five days in a coma, Seth died. Moevao, one of the attackers was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle of November 10th, 2000 saying that he "got involved only after" Woods hit him in the face, apparently while trying to fight off the other youth. He goes on to say that he was just angry that Woods hit him and sort of scared. Woods was fighting for his life at that moment. What did Moevao expect at that moment! Are we people of color with disabilities supposed to be pushing bags and shooting targets for certain people in society and police officers!

If you do successfully defend your life, you have to convince the justice system that it was a life or death situation. But as a Black, disabled person your cards are stacked against you in the Halls of Justice. This is reality for Michael Manning, a Black young physically disabled man from Pennsylvania who was attacked by three young men at a gasoline station with a knife and a baseball bat (see Fighting To Stay Alive). Michael, who walks with a cane, successfully defended himself, only to be faced with a racist justice system whose main witness was a lying drug dealer, and a biased jury composed of people who could not understand his situation as a black disabled man. After experts clearly pointed out that the wounds on Michael’ hands proved that his actions were in self-defense and displayed how walking was difficult without his cane, the juror convicted Michael on first-degree murder. Michael Manning is now serving fourteen to thirty years because he defended himself in life or death situation!

What is society telling our disabled sisters and brothers? If we do defend ourselves we might be looked upon as dangerous and out-of-control, therefore giving police the green light to shoot us, or, our attackers might be shocked and afraid that we, as people with disabilities, will fight back so we end up dead because of fear. The last strike against our lives is our own justice system that has a lack of knowledge and sensitivity toward people with disabilities and is infected by racism, causing innocent people of color i.e. Michael Manning, Earl Washington Jr. and many more to be locked up in prison. So what do we do?

By Leroy F. Moore Jr.

Executive Director of

Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, DAMO


Sign-up for POOR email!