This I Believe

Lori - RHINELANDER, Wisconsin
Entered on July 20, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: equality, freedom
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Recently, I went into a local coffee shop, as I have many times over the last 9 years. It was always such a pleasure to go there–the soft music, the aroma of scented candles and fresh coffee. It was a welcome break from the chaos of my busy day. Imagine how I felt when the proprietor approached me and asked me to leave the premises and never return. She told me to tell my brother the same thing–that he was not welcome there. If he ever stepped foot on her property she would call the police and have him removed–even arrested!

The implication was that my brother was stealing. She had no proof of course, because he is not a thief. But he is disabled. His disability is not glaringly apparent. He doesn’t use a wheelchair or a white cane. But he is different, and disabled all the same. He doesn’t have a job and in fact has never been employed. He cannot drive a car. He has to walk everywhere, or ride a bike. He has a lot of time on his hands most days, so he may window-shop. He’s not a rich person so he doesn’t always purchase something–but often he does, usually with dollar coins. And while that’s annoying to some, it’s not a crime! He is a kind and caring person, a good person; the kind you would like to have for a neighbor. But he is not a thief.

Since this unfortunate incident I filed complaints with state and federal agencies. Although my brother is in a protected class, it seems he may not be disabled enough, for anyone to care. A business owner can refuse service to anyone they please without providing a reason. They can accuse you of anything, without any reasonable proof, and refuse to accommodate you, just because they want to. If you’re disabled, a different color or religion, you’re supposed to be protected. But often you are not. Our jails and prisons have housed many who were guilty of nothing more than being different.

I’ve never had anything like this happen to me and I have to tell you, it was a devastating experience. At first I was incredibly angry. But afterwards I was terribly sad; heart-broken in fact. It’s a feeling I cannot seem to shake. It occurred to me that this is how people who are different are often treated in our society. I feel for them. It wasn’t until now that I realized how devastatingly personal something like this is. I’m a better person for it, because now I truly understand.

Business owners to protect their property. But I ask them to consider walking in my brother’s shoes for just a moment and think about how they can best go about that. Excluding people just because they are different, is wrong. It’s called discrimination–not always punishable–but wrong just the same. THIS, I believe.