MDA Lock-Up and the Cult of Compliance

I took yesterday off from the social medias. It was a holiday and I was sad and tired.

On Facebook this morning, I read about the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s current fundraising effort.

MDA Lock-Up

MDA Lock-Up

I personally know a few people who are participating in the local version of this event. It is my intent to think critically about the power and language behind the Muscular Dystrophy Association using prison-culture imagery for their fundraising efforts, the kind of privilege inherent in that kind of decision, and how that plays into the Cult of Compliance.

This is not the first time a national organization dedicated to serving a population of people with disabilities has used police imagery in their fundraising campaigns. Last year, Special Olympics Washington organized a number of Run From the Cops events. Such an event is inherently privileged. It completely ignores the context of deadly encounters between the police and people with disabilities.

The troublesome imagery in the MDA fundraiser goes further than the encounters with police. People with disabilities have fraught and often dangerous experiences in the prison system. The Rikers Island abuse cases focused heavily on inmates with mental illnesses. Neli Latson, a young black man with autism, spent the better part of a year in solitary confinement. His initial arrest stemmed from a loitering complaint and the police officer that didn’t understand his autism. In January, Georgia executed Warren Hill, a man with an intellectual disability whose execution had been stayed several times before. Many of the articles covering the execution wrote that Hill “claimed” disability; a clearer example of ableist privilege I cannot find right now.

In the world of disability advocacy, police violence against people with disabilities is a significant issue. We live in a culture that has made immediate and total compliance to directives from police and other authority figures absolutely mandatory. Failure to comply has tragic results. Inability to comply is never considered. The intersection of disability and race–in the cases of Neli Latson and Warren Hill–is an especially dangerous place into which to be squeezed.

It is in this context that I find myself fielding requests to donate to the MDA fundraiser to help my friends “make bail.”

People with disabilities don’t get the chance to crowdsource their bail. Men of color with intellectual disabilities don’t have flashy web campaigns and cute kids to tug at the heartstrings and open the pursestrings.



  1. I’ve never liked taking part in these fundraisers. It used to be that I didn’t like calling friends to beg for money. Lately, tho, there’s been a discomfort I couldn’t quite place. This blog helps solidify my position. Too many people are hurt by the reality of the imagery used so lightly here.


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