Lydia X. Z. Brown

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MA 2019 Citizens’ Petitions

Anti-JRC Advocates Need Your Help!

In August 2019, Massachusetts concerned citizen Daniel Farnkoff sent two petitions about the use of electric shock and other abusive punishments on people with disabilities to the Massachusetts Secretary of State. In Massachusetts, citizens can petition for a law to be passed.

A petition needs over 80,000 signatures (this can just be a person’s name written down, and not a fancy signature) before it goes to the state legislature. Each signature must be from a registered voter in Massachusetts. Once the state legislature gets the petition, they are required to act on it by passing a law. If the state legislature decides not to pass a law on the petition’s topic, citizens can gather more signatures (around 10,000 additional signatures) to place the topic directly on the ballot as a referendum (also called ballot questions) for November 2020.

We need your help! If you live, work, or travel in Massachusetts this fall 2019, we need you to collect signatures. Even 5 signatures will help.

If you can help, first, please sign up with us to collect signatures.

Once you’ve signed up, you should then

  1. Read the instructions for signatures. These are very specific so make sure you understand them before you collect any signatures.
  2. Review the talking points we’ve prepared.
  3. Print several copies of both of the official petition pages (remember you must print double-sided). (Petition G / Petition H)
  4. Contact friends, family, neighbors, and other community members who are registered Massachusetts voters and ask them to sign.

It is very important to follow the instructions closely or else the signatures will not count.

Not sure how to get signatures?

  • You can ask your neighbors or friends.
  • You can ask at a party.
  • You can ask at work.
  • You can bring petitions to a meeting or event.
  • You can knock on doors. (Please only do this with a buddy.)
  • You can set up a table in a public place.

Below, you can find the same information on this page, or you can use the links above to download printable copies of the instructions and talking points.

(Note from Lydia: I do not support or endorse expanding use of criminal law to potentially put more people in prison. I did not write either of the petitions and personally believe that it is better to focus simply on outlawing the use of shock and other aversives – as in Petition G, and not to create a new category of criminal offense – as in Petition H.)


Instructions for Collecting Signatures

Sample script for requesting signatures

Excuse me. Are you a registered voter in Massachusetts? 

I am working with disability advocates from across Massachusetts to try to outlaw extremely painful electric shock and other painful procedures to control or change the behavior of people with disabilities. There is only one place in the country that uses electric shock as punishment on children and adults with disabilities for behaviors as mild as taking their eyes off their work, getting out of their seat, failing to maintain a neat appearance or speaking more than five times in an hour. We are trying to get this made illegal or on the ballot to let voters in Massachusetts vote on making this illegal in Massachusetts. 

The institution that uses these techniques is the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts. We need to collect over 80,000 signatures to give voters a chance to have their voices heard about whether they want Massachusetts to be the one state in the country where these horribly painful procedures are used on people with disabilities. Will you help?

We need you to sign twice ― once to make these procedures illegal and once to make the continued use of electric shock as punishment a criminal offence. 

You can sign or print your name ― your name and address need to be legible because town clerks need to OK every signer as being a registered voter. If you know your ward or precinct you can add those, but these aren’t necessary for your signature to count. 

Background

  • There are two separate petitions that address the use of electric shock and other aversives such as those used at the Judge Rotenberg Center. EACH  petition requires 80,239 validated signatures of Massachusetts registered voters. 
  • If we can gather all the needed signatures by November of this year, the state legislature can either pass  bills about these issues into law or advocates will be able to take additional steps to put this on the November 2020 ballot for voters to decide. 

Preparing the forms

  •  Review the script above. Feel free to use your own words. Become familiar with the attached talking points so you can explain the issue clearly and briefly. 
  • All signatures need to be on the forms prepared by the secretary of state’s office. PDFs of the two forms are attached. 
  • You must print the forms double-sided. Signatures on forms printed on only one side won’t be counted. If you don’t know how to print double sided, google how to do this using your printer’s model # or you can send to a local copy center electronically and ask them to print forms for you. Kinkos and other print centers will do this. When you print the forms be sure to use a good printer – the forms can have no stray marks anywhere on them. 
  • Print and cut up a bunch of pages of the information cards so people who are interested in follow up can learn the outcome and/or volunteer to help collect signatures or in future advocacy efforts. Offer these; not everyone may need or want one. 
  • Print more double-sided forms than you think you need. Each only holds a small number of signatures AND each form can only be used for the signers from one town. Even if you are collecting only in one place you need to have a blank available in case someone from any number of other towns may want to sign. You can have forms with only a few signatures on them but ALL SIGNATURES ON EACH DOUBLE-SIDED FORM MUST BE FROM REGISTERED VOTERS FROM THE SAME TOWN.
  • Make sure that all signatures on a page are from people in the same city or town. You will need multiple forms for the different towns that signers might be from.

Getting signatures

  • Check that the person you are talking with is registered to vote in Massachusetts. If they are not, do not get their signature because it will not count. 
  • Ask what city or town the person is from. Write the town’s name in the space provided at the top of the form. If you have already started a page for that town, use that page. If this is the first person from a town, start a new page. 
  • Ask people who are willing to sign to make sure to sign both petitions.  Signatures (can be printed names) and addresses must be legible.
  • People should print their names if they know their signature will be too fancy or hard to read.
  • People do not need to fill in ward or precinct. If they know these, they can fill in. If not, just leave blank. 
  • Street addresses are required. They do not need to write their town or city or zip because that will be written at the top and everyone who signs that page will be from the same town/city. 
  • Make sure that every person’s address and all other information is legible. The Secretary of State will not count signatures if the name or  address is not legible.

After collecting signatures

  • When you have completed forms, you need to mail the original forms on paper. You cannot mail photocopies. You also cannot scan and send copies electronically. 
  • Mail original, signed forms to:  Dan Farnkoff,  76 Readville Street, Hyde Park, MA 02136
  • You can mail your double-sided signature pages as soon as they are filled up (or as filled as they are likely to be) or you can wait until you complete collecting signatures. You can mail forms in batches as you complete them, even if this means sending mail more than once. 
  • The sooner you can mail your forms, the better, as every form needs to be reviewed by that town’s clerk so they can verify the signatures before sending them to the Secretary of State. 
  • The absolute latest that completed forms can be sent to town clerks for review is November 20, 2019.
  • Mail all forms to Dan Farnkoff (address above). Don’t bring them to the town clerk and don’t mail them to the Secretary of State’s office. Signatures won’t count until the town clerks review them first.
  • You can also email a scanned copy of your forms to Lydia Brown (lydia@autistichoya.com) but you have to mail the original paper copies no matter what.

If you have any questions, call Dan Farnkoff at 857-247-5828, or email Nancy Weiss at nancyrobinweiss@gmail.com or Lydia Brown at lydia@autistichoya.com


Talking Points for Volunteers Collecting Signatures in Massachusetts

  1.     Dozens of people with disabilities are currently being tortured with painful electric shocks at an institution in Canton Massachusetts called the Judge Rotenberg Center. The electric shocks cause horrendous pain through electrodes attached to people’s arms, legs, stomachs, fingertips, or the soles of their feet.
  2.     The shocks are delivered by remote control to adults and children as young as nine years old. They are subjected to sudden, painful, repeated shocks for such harmless behaviors as failing to maintain a neat appearance, stopping work for more than ten seconds, interrupting, whispering, not answering staff quickly enough, making more than 5 vocalizations in an hour, slouching … the list goes on and on. Residents at this facility live a life of constant terror. Every day we delay making this illegal in Massachusetts is a day of terror for innocent people.
  3.     This is shock used as punishment ― it is intended to be unbearably painful. This is not about Electroconvulsive Therapy or ECT. ECT is a medical treatment most commonly used in patients with severe major depression or bipolar disorder that has not responded to other treatments. ECT involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia.
  4. The device that delivers the shock was developed and is manufactured by the center. It is used nowhere else in the world. The devices used at the Judge Rotenberg Center weigh about 40 pounds. People have to carry their own devices of torture 24 hours a day even while showering and sleeping.
  5. The shock that is used at the Judge Rotenberg Center to punish behaviors is much stronger than that delivered by an electric fence or a cattle prod, both of which deliver far milder shocks for a fraction of a second rather than the extremely painful  two second shock delivered by the Judge Rotenberg Center devices. The Judge Rotenberg Center device was intentionally designed to be more painful and powerful than a police taser.
  6.     These two petitions will be used to encourage the Massachusetts state legislature to pass laws to stop the use of painful electric shocks on people with disabilities, as well as other physical punishments and deprivations used to change behavior. If laws are not passed, additional steps can be taken to get these issues on the ballot so Massachusetts voters can vote in 2020 on whether to allow the continued use of painful electric shock as punishment.
  7.     It is important to sign both petitions — one seeks to make these practices illegal, the other makes the uses of electric shock to punish the behavior of people with disabilities punishable by up to five years in prison.
  8.     If we get over 80,000 signatures from registered Massachusetts voters, we can get laws passed to stop this. If the legislature fails to act, we can collect a few thousand more signatures to put proposed laws on the ballot in November 2020 for voters to decide.
  9.     85% of the people at this center are Black or Latinx people with disabilities; 90% of the disabled people at JRC are non-white/people of color. This is a civil & human rights issue.
  10. James Eason, a professor of biomedical engineering at Washington and Lee University said, “The lowest level shock used at JRC is roughly twice what pain researchers have said is tolerable for most humans.” As far as we know, there is no other place in the world that uses electric shock as punishment.
  11. The devices are notorious for malfunctioning ― sometimes shocking one person when the shock was meant for another or malfunctioning and giving shock after shock until staff can get to the device and disconnect the wires. 
  12. People who have been the victims of this inhumane treatment have suffered burns as well as post traumatic stress disorder and permanent psychological damage.
  13. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture declared the use of electric shock at the Judge Rotenberg Center to be torture and said that such approaches would not be legal if used against convicted terrorists.
  14. In 2002, Andre McCollins, 19 years old, was shocked for failing to take off his jacket ― he didn’t refuse, talk back or resist … his teacher said ‘take off your jacket’ and he just didn’t. The first shock Andre received was for not taking off his jacket. He was then strapped spread-eagle, face-down on a four-point restraint board and shocked 30 more times over seven hours; all the subsequent shocks either for ‘tensing his muscles in anticipation of the next shock’ or ‘screaming while being shocked’. He screamed and pleaded for the staff to stop and was left in a catatonic state. He lives with severe trauma and permanent psychological damage to this day.
  15. Some people think these practices have stopped because the founder of the institution is no longer at the Judge Rotenberg Center. Matthew Israel was forced out after being charged with destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice in 2010, but the inhumane practices he started are still happening.
  16. This painful electric shock “therapy” has been denounced by almost every disability rights, medical, and psychiatric organization. A proposal by the FDA to ban the shock devices received thousands of supportive comments and letters from such organizations. The FDA agreed to pass regulations to ban the shock devices and wrote those regulations but never implemented them.
  17. Six people have died and dozens have been injured at the Judge Rotenberg Center and its satellite group homes. In 2016, two Rotenberg staffers were convicted of beating, whipping, and spitting on a person with disabilities, a not unexpected outcome when there is a culture of cruelty and disregard for human rights.
  18. How is this legal? It is legal because it is not illegal. While no parent would be able to do these things to their own child, in Massachusetts, if a psychologist recommends electric shock as punishment and a judge agrees, it is legal. The State of Massachusetts has tried a dozen times over many decades to close JRC or to pass regulations that would protect people there ― each time, without success.
  19. Don’t some people have behaviors so severe that they need extreme measures such as this? No – there are people with disabilities who have behaviors just as severe in every state across the country who are being served humanely and effectively. 

 

A quote from a letter by a survivor of the Judge Rotenberg Center, Jennifer Msumba:

 The most sickening, horrifying experience of my life was being shocked on the restraint board; a large, door-sized contraption with locking restraint cuffs. Your body is stretched spread eagle, pinned tight, rendering you completely helpless. Then the terror starts. You have to wait for it. You never know when it’s coming. JRC lavishes in the element of surprise when shocking us. Then all of a sudden the searing pain and jolt in your arm or leg or stomach, or the fingertips or thigh or even the bottoms of your feet. It’s a radiating electricity that will travel through to your fingertips. Your whole arm jerks against the restraints. One down, 4 to go. Your heart races, you sweat profusely. All you want to do is throw up. Ten minutes feels like hours. You try to prepare yourself for the next shock. I keep saying in my head, 4 more, 4 more. Please just finish please. Trying not to scream in fear because I will be shocked for that as well. It comes again without warning. You lose your breath. Your heart beats faster than you feel possible. I start to hope my heart stops. Anything to let me away from this.

If you have any questions, call Dan Farnkoff at 857-247-5828, or email Nancy Weiss at nancyrobinweiss@gmail.com or Lydia Brown at lydia@autistichoya.com.


Photo: Five people (four white, one east asian) holding hand-made protest signs outside the Food and Drug Administration's White Oak Campus in Maryland. The signs say, "No Compromise on Torture," "People Not Experiments," "Shocked for... hugging staff, swearing, nagging, getting out of seat, taking off coat, screaming, tensing up, closing eyes, raising hand. BAN the GED.," "Stop the Shocks," "Disability Rights are Human Rights," and "Torture Not Treatment." Left to right: Diane Engster, Lydia X. Z. Brown, Shain M. Neumeier, Kathleen Nicole O'Neal, and Patrick T. Ayers. Photo by Taylor C. Hall. January 2013..

Contact Me

+1 (202) 618-0187 (voice or text)
lydia@autistichoya.com

About

I am an educator, activist/organizer, speaker/trainer, policy advocate, and writer focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people.
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