Huffpost Impact
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Liane Kupferberg Carter Headshot

Abusing Legal System to Discriminate Against the Disabled

Posted: Updated:

I'm not laughing.

In fact, I'm fuming.

A developmentally disabled 42 year old man named Robert Schiavelli was slapped with two court summonses for laughing too loudly, because his neighbor Daniel O'Hanian complained to the police that Schiavelli was "disturbing the peace."

Why was he laughing?

Because the neighbor likes to ridicule and intimidate Schiavelli about his disability. Schiavelli, a gentle giant of a man who lives with his mother, decided the best way to handle his neighbor's taunts was to laugh them off, because, he told reporters, "What else are you supposed to do when someone calls you a retard?"

At Schiavelli's arraignment, the judge refused to dismiss the charges, which carry a fine of $500 or 30 days in jail.

News coverage is focusing on the absurdity of fining a man for laughing in his own home. But I've yet to hear anyone label this for what it really is: abusing the legal system to discriminate against a disabled person.

Why is no one talking about the neighbor's ugly behavior? He's a bully. But it's as if the ridicule and contempt he's heaping on Schiavelli is so perfectly understandable, so acceptable, so normal, that no one even bothers to discuss it. Even the judge, who says he is "not inclined to dismiss the charges." Which is a lot like saying that it's reasonable to bully a disabled person.

Many people view the disabled as "less." Less human. Other. Retard -- that disdainful, all purpose put down, the ultimate playground zinger. And when you dehumanize someone that way, it becomes acceptable to taunt and sneer and bully and even kill.

Here's the definition for the crime of disturbing the peace: behaving "in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others."

Isn't that what Schiavelli's neighbor is doing daily? Seems to me the police slapped the summons on the wrong man.

I shivered when I heard Schiavelli's mother tell reporters her son has "an infectious, cute laugh, I love it. It makes me want to laugh."

Because my son likes to laugh too. Like Schiavelli, he also has seizures and neurological problems. I can all too easily imagine a day when some neighborhood bigot might decide to call the cops on my boy too.

And that's no laughing matter.