To the Editor:
As a person with a federally recognized disability in the form of a mental illness, I continue to experience discrimination in my local community. Since November, 2013, this has been my unfortunate experience with a small, privately-owned business in downtown Rochester, New Hampshire.
Despite the stigma and stereotypes of mental illness, at no point in time did I become violent or threatening towards the owner of the business in question. Paradoxically, it was the business owner who descended to the level of discourtesy, profanity, personal put-downs, and threatening me with violence.
When I called my local police to report his threat, he then banned me from ever entering his store. Should he change his mind in the future, so as to allow me to enter his store as a regular paying customer, he would not need to make any accommodations whatsoever for my disability, except to allow me to politely and respectfully buy products and services with cash in hand.
Discrimination, it turns out, can sometimes be perfectly legal, at least in certain cases. Even if the business owner in question issues a threat of violence, it can still be perfectly legal—as long as the discrimination is practiced by a privately-owned business, as long as the threat of violence does not cross a specific and well defined line, as described by New Hampshire statute, and and as long as the business in question does not explicitly state on a conspicuously posted sign, for example, “People with mental illness are not allowed to enter this store.”
Even if you’ve been on good terms for several years with a small, local business, you can suddenly find yourself facing unjust discrimination, as I have, after you disclose to the business owner that you have a mental illness. It’s apparently next to impossible to prove in a court of law that ongoing discrimination is disability-based and thus illegal, if the reason for the discrimination was never explicitly stated by the business in question, even if the customer had previously been on good terms with the business owner for many years and the beginning of the discrimination coincided time-wise with the customer’s matter-of-fact disclosure of her or his disability.
Besides, who’s going to give the benefit of the doubt to a person with a mental illness who’s written letters to the editor in which he proclaimed he was the second coming? Even with time and date stamped emails clearly showing hostility and vulgarity on the part of the business owner, I face an uphill climb, just trying to get the local news media interested.
When, in 2013, I first brought this issue to the attention of the editor of the Rochester Times (now defunct), which was owned by Foster’s Daily Democrat, I was informed by the editor that my concerns would be of no interest to local readers. The editor deemed the issue to be a “private party dispute,” rather than an issue worthy of investigation and reporting.
Additionally, the Rochester police still see it as their duty and responsibility to protect the business owner in question from the likes of me, by arresting me for trespassing, should I decide to practice nonviolent civil disobedience by, for example, simply entering the front door of the business in question to politely and respectfully buy a product. That’s unjust, yet perfectly legal in Rochester.
To make matters worse, one of my city councilors told me to simply shop elsewhere, upon my explaining the problem to him, rather than support me in my efforts to overcome the discrimination. He was, and still is, part of the problem, in that he lacks the courage and the backbone to be part of the solution, because he turns a blind eye to the discrimination, thereby enabling it to continue.
It should also be pointed out for the record that the same news editor who deemed my concerns to be of no interest to local readers wrote a glowing editorial in the Rochester Times, in which he specifically included the name of the business in question, as well as its location, and did so shortly after he published my first letter about this issue. To be sure, in none of my letters over the years have I ever been allowed to include the name of the business in question, its location, or even the type of business, lest my letter be censored, ostensibly due to concerns about libel, or so I’ve been told.
Concerns about libel, I believe, should ideally include not only what’s in the news, but also what’s been intentionally left out of the news. What’s truly newsworthy isn’t always what’s covered by the news, it’s also what’s been covered up.
Alex J. Boros
Having access to only one side of this story, we’re not going to choose a side here. However, based on the textual evidence before us, we will say this: when faced with a person who is highly articulate and obviously intelligent—particularly one with a disability that may hinder his or her ability to masquerade as a “regular person” (i.e., one of average intelligence)—some people are going to feel insecure, and may react negatively.
Unfortunately our poor powers are limited to understanding your dilemma. Because our society is devoted, above all else, to providing ever-greater opportunities for a tiny slice of already overly-privileged individuals to invest their capital in ways that provide an ever-higher return, we see little hope for a reordering which would bring meaningful change.
Not that it’s any consolation, but picture the plight of those face similar mental health challenges, without even the ability to articulate their situation. No wonder the jails are full.