Monthly Archives: November 2009

“Skid Row Types”, “Mental Cases”, “Tough Guys” the Library Cops, and One Retired Teacher in a Wheelchair!


Dis-abled person: n.- A person one is able and entitled to dis, regardless of the standing in society (STANDING!)  or the status of the offending person, without fear of any social consequences.

(from “Emma’s Lexicon”  –a work in progress) 


I went to the city library today and while waiting to check out cds, a young latino man behind me, started calling me “Wierdo, in a wheelchair” “Don’t look at me” “What I said, what I said” and “bitch” and started posing aggressively. He continued this for some time, right in front of the librarian. NO ONE SAID ANYTHING, not even library personnel. Afraid for my safety and offended, I  said to the librarian, “This is hate speech, please call security.” When three public safety officers (the library cops! Did you know L.A. had library cops!!???!!)   arrived, they talked to him (man to man!) and  before even speaking to me,  dismissed him.  As I began to tell my story, they cut me off, and with hostile indifference for my safety, my civil rights  or for what he had said to me, told me they couldn’t do anything because of free speech which apparently includes harassment and hate speech. They told me that they didn’t know what happened since they weren’t there, refused to interview anyone who was, and added that they get all types in the library, including “people from skid row” and  “mental cases.”   They continued to tell me that this sort of thing happened all the time and there was nothing they could do, since they couldn’t arrest him.  

 But there should be some remedy (such as removal from the premises),  other than arresting someone or doing absolutely nothing at all! And regardless of what he said, verbally accosting a total stranger is more than just speech, it is aggressive and threatening.  Furthermore, it can hardly be city policy that people with dis-abilities, along with other protected classes, be required to accept abusive language in the course of accessing public services or working for the city.  I asked the officers, one of whom was Latino and the other two were African-American, “What if I used racist terms toward you?”  one of them asserted that that would be my right, that it was part of his job.  “No it’s not” I told him.  “It would constitute a hostile working environment and it would be wrong, and if I heard someone speaking to you that way,   I would say something.”   

Offended  by their indifference,  I asked them their names. Two of the public safety officers walked away, one muttering, “I’m through here.” I demanded to speak to a superior. and the remaining officer took me to a sergeant, who basically repeated the same policy and was equally reluctant to give me his name.  While I was talking to the sergeant,  Officer “Through Here” interrupted, quite angrily, reprimanding me in front of his supervisor,  as if I were a small child,  stating that he had feelings too and that he walked away to calm down. He stated that I had talked down to him.   The sergeant went on to tell me that they have to deal with knives and guns all the time.  I think he said this to assert how insignificant my complaint was, but it also illuminates how outrageous their reaction to me was, as well:  A retired school teacher in a wheelchair is too much for the library police to handle,  despite all the other “types” they come in contact with every day.  One uppity woman with an ambulatory device explaining the nuance of hostile working conditions, civil rights, harassment and hate speech and asking for names and badge numbers to  three fully armed and uniformed city officers  trained in weapons confiscation, is infuriating and justifies abandonment of  their duty to provide a safe environment for everyone.

 One  would-be witness did come up to me later:   -¿que pasó con ese tipo?  Preguntó (“What happened to that character?  He asked.)  -nada se pasó, -contesté (“nothing“, I replied).  Surprised, he expressed outrage that someone would be allowed to yell insults in the library like that.  

You would think that there would be a code of conduct in the library.  Can one YELL hate speech?  Is it a matter of decibels?  Are the badge wielding, armed, and academy trained (I was later informed) law enforcement personnel of Los Angeles, suddenly more schooled in the civil rights of L.A. youth, (I don’t think so), most of whom are harassed by the police routinely, simply for walking down the street?   than in how to handle assertive women in wheelchairs?  (Apparently!)  Or is it that PWDs have such low status, that we’re fair game everywhere we go?  (And are “skid row types” and “mental cases” less threatening than cripple gurls who have the audacity to take down names and badge numbers?) This is just one more example of the widespread acceptance of dis-ability discrimination!  Teasing me apparently is a right law enforcement is trained to protect,  my protestations, the actual violation, the instigating young man, the apparent victim.  

The sergeant, eventually did give me his name, and did walk me to my car, in response to my concern for my safety, so there was that.  But  he continued to justify the behavior of his officers, even going so far as to state that perhaps they had expected me to take my anger out on them and had reacted in anticipation and that I should consider that.  I told him that that’s where training should come in. –apparently they had been trained to respect “mental  cases”, “skid row types” and “free speech”  but not innocent citizens being harassed  or how to handle articulate women in wheelchairs who have the audacity to assert their rights and have a voice.  Hate speech and harassment should not be tolerated in public spaces.  No one, including PWDs should  be subjected to ridicule and humiliation for simply entering a public facility and such abuses SHOULD be seen as  a security issues. There is no reason to arrest this young man but he should have been told, in front of me, that he can’t speak like that, that he was to let me alone, and if he did not, he would be asked to leave, and his library card revoked.  


Check out the following video– what happens in this video,  happens to PWDs all the time, with not only the same indifference, but with patrons or others (in my case, the library cops)  actually jumping in to take the side of the offender.  Also note what happens when just two people take action— how it changes the entire social dynamic. 

A whole new definition of Chutzpah

Youth for Human Rights and the Politics of Exclusion.
Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that roughly translates to “nerve” as in “She’s got a lot of nerve.”  The classic definition is that of someone who has killed both his parents and then pleads to the judge for mercy because he is an orphan.

The first ad from “Youth for Human Rights” was probably brought to my attention via facebook.  It shows images of children from many ethnic backgrounds, and asks, “Can you tell which of these children was not born free ?  Can you tell which of these children was not born equal? Can you tell which of these childre  does not deserve to be treated with dignity? We can’t either?”  Missing from the ad, are any children with visible physical dis-abilities, children with and  non-conforming appearances and weight.  

Quite a statement, no?  There’s always more information in what is excluded than what is included. 

These are the children most likely to endure the daily humiliation and rights violations in the most “normal” of situations– the school yard, the playground, summer camp, assuming that these children can even get their “wheels in the door!”   

So I wrote a letter to the organization, and I include the email exchange below.  I also revisited the web page and found that there were several ads.   I don’t know if they were new, or if I simply hadn’t seen them the first time.  On reviewing all of them, in this human rights vision, I noted other oversights as well– gay rights, Palestinian rights, women’ rights that were either excluded or undermined by this campaign. 

Here is that exchange:

There were no children with visible disabilities, outside of normative weight categories. in your commercial. These students remain the segregated in all communities and often are the most ostracized. What is your vision and work regarding the human rights of children with disabilities?

Emma Rosenthal


From: YHRI 
Sent: Nov 10, 2009 12:29 AM 
To: Emma Rosenthal 
Subject: Re: youth for human rights, and children with disabilities. 

Dear Emma,

Thank you for your comment.  Of course we’re interested in rights for all, that’s the purpose of the whole activity.  I hope you can use these materials to forward your purpose in this area. 

Beth Akiyama



Ms. Akiyama, 
I personally find it outrageous that you would have the chutzpah to even respond so patronizingly to my suggestion, stating “Of course we’re interested in rights for all” without also stating that you were working to address these oversights nor the acknowledgment  that an entire segment of the population was excluded in your otherwise diverse image of humanity.  –making the marginalization of this demographic even more marked in their absence! 

The exclusion of pwds (people with dis-abilities) as well as of people whose appearance doesn’t conform to narrow constraints of acceptability (the children most likely to be excluded from public school, programs, etc and most likely to be bullied, harassed and ostracized by their peers) is more than a minor editorial decision, but is part of an overall and rather comprehensive segregation of pwds from most areas of public life.  

When I first wrote to you I had only seen the first ad. Having now viewed the entire series I am even more appalled.  You show several classroom and playground scenes, yet there are no pwds, even quietly, in the background.  In your human rights schoolroom, everyone is model beautiful and below average weight (for developed countries– malnutrition worldwide aside.) Most of the people with a voice in your videos are male, and the few spoken roles by women are not positive (the school teacher who doesn’t know about modern slavery and the young white woman who accuses a Black student of stealing from her). In the segment on nationality you have students from several countries, each stating “I am”, and the name of their country, including Israeli, but NOT Palestinian– a rather glaring oversight in the contemporary dialogue on human rights, and that ad ends by saying  “We are Mankind” instead of humankind, or humanity– an obviously more inclusive term.   In your segment on the right to marriage all of your couples are heterosexual, thin, young, attractive, and definitely NOT displaying ANY dis-abilities.  One of the couples, the man says “She’s my queen…. of course I’m The King.” –not exactly a human rights model of sexual equality.  In “The Right to Democracy”  a public forum, a city council meeting perhaps, is being conducted, and as the men scream back and forth, a small boy, gets on a chair and says into the mike “I have something to say.”  There are no women in the room at all,  How does that advance a human rights agenda?  Judging by the exclusion of pwds in your ads, pwds don’t have a right to access to education or to play (schools and playgrounds being the areas of highest exclusion, marginalization and discrimination for children with dis-abilities), we don’t work, go to court, (in a recent small claims case, the judge refused to let me present my own case!!!), We aren’t included in your social security ad, except perhaps the boy with the cast on his arm. Despite the incredibly limited housing stock that is wheelchair accessible, you don’t include us in the ad granting everyone else a right to housing, (In the U.S. families with small children and pwds comprise the largest sector of the population experiencing housing discrimination).  I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  In the entire series, there is ONE example of a pwd, a brief image of an athlete in a wheelchair– an image pwods (people wiithout dis-abilities) find comforting, (referred to in dis-ability studies, as the hero gimp) but an image of dis-ability most pwds find difficult to live up to. 

Finally, your last ad, states that these are “your human rights.”  “You don’t need to buy them or ask permission to have them.”   “No one can take away your human rights.” 

So, no, I don’t think I can use this material.  it would be in contradiction to the basic principles of full inclusion and the vision of universal human rights that I adhere to.    Human rights isn’t about nice pretty people, in expensive, well executed ads, with nice ideas. Human rights ARE denied, they ARE taken away, they HAVE to be fought for.  People DIE  defending them.  And, most importantly, they have to apply to everyone, even those whose image isn’t pretty enough for you slick campaign.  The only use of your material in my work would be as an example of the incredible unwillingness to recognize and include the issue of dis-ability rights, as well as Palestinian, gay and women’s rights, in the dialogue on human rights.    

Emma Rosenthal

BBC NEWS | Health | Feeling grumpy is good for you

When I “think positive” I get in a lot more trouble, than when I am prepared for the obstacles that may come before me. As a person with a dis-ability (pwd) many obstacles are REAL obstacles. There are also social obstacles. The most humiliating experiences with dis-ability came when I was in the most positive frame of mind.

The constant directive to “think positive” is about conformity, about forcing the individual who may have very real concerns about very real social or personal situations, to behave in a way that makes OTHER people comfortable.

As social activists how can we begin to build a better world if we cannot bear witness to each others’ experiences or discuss unpleasant and tragic events and situations?

BBC NEWS | Health | Feeling grumpy ‘is good for you

Announcing the Upcoming Book Release: Shifting Sands

Jewish-American Women Speak Out Against the Occupation

Whole World Press

Spring 2010

Edited by Osie Gabriel Adelfang

with an introduction by Cindy Sheehan and a forward by Amira Hass

Including contributions from:

Anna Baltzar

Maia Ettinger

Susan Greene

Linda Dittmar

Osie Gabriel Adelfang

Hannah Mermelstein

Tomi Laine Clark


Alice Rothchild

Jen Marlowe

Hedy Epstein

Kim Goldberg

Sandra Butler

Emma Rosenthal

On facebook:

On the web:

“I applaud Osie Gabriel Adelfang and all those who contributed essays to Shifting Sands. Jews, and in particular Jewish women, are the natural force to be in the forefront of the efforts to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, lives and future. From the opening pages about a Jewish prayer on doubt, through each and every one of the personal accounts, readers feel the wisdom of women on every page, as well as a deep sense of love for humanity—all humanity.Shifting Sands meticulously weaves the daily trials and tribulations of a military occupation with stories of real people who are dispossessed and subjected to daily doses of ethnic cleansing by a state drunk on power. Bottom line: the sands are truly shifting and this occupation is coming tumbling down, like all the other that came before it. When all is said and done, the women in this book—side by side with Palestinian women from Gaza, Jerusalem and Nablus—will form the foundation of a new Palestine and Israel that will flourish as one.”


Sam Bahour, Co-Editor of Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians, and Palestinian-American businessman in El-Bireh, occupied Palestine
August 17, 2009

“This is a moving collection of readings by Jewish women writers who are committed to the quest for justice and compassion in Palestine and Israel. They powerfully articulate, in their different ways, the axiom of our common humanity. It may have taken our whole life to reach that place (as one contributor put it), but those who are finally able to see, must stand up and advocate for sanity now, today.”

Deb Reich, translator, Abu Ghosh, Israel/Palestine

“Writing with personal modesty yet great humanity, these courageous women offer richly textured, revelatory accounts that will grip the reader’s thoughts and feelings. All the selections are finely rendered, insightful, and endowed with a determined sense of justice and compassion.”

Michael Parenti, author of Contrary Notions and God and His Demons