I’m not sure whether to be more angry with Jeremy Christian’s defense for putting on the stand two psychologists to attest to his being autistic, or with Aimee Green of The Oregonian for referring to Christian as “an atypical case of autism” because in the words of one of the psychologists “if you have the idea that autistics are in their own little world and they don’t want to come out, he’s 180 degrees the opposite of that”.
I’m grateful to the prosecution at least for asking one of the psychologists, “Most people with autism spectrum disorder don’t commit crimes?” Under oath, she had to answer, “Yes.” I’m also frustrated with the prosecution for questioning a late autism diagnosis as an adult, even though I understand specifically questioning the convenient timing of Christian’s.
Let’s be clear here about what Christian did, lifting a description right from one of the two linked Oregonian pieces.
Christian, 37, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree intimidation, a hate crime. Christian is accused of targeting two teenage girls on the train, one who is African-American and the other who immigrated from Somalia and was wearing a hijab.
Witnesses said the encounter grew violent after passenger Taliesin Namkai-Meche walked over to Christian with his phone out and reportedly said, “You’re about to become an internet sensation.” Christian threw Namkai-Meche’s phone on the floor. Micah Fletcher, another train passenger, immediately approached in an effort to get Christian to leave the train.
Video shows the three men standing face-to-face, Christian and Fletcher yelling at each other before Christian shoved Fletcher and then Namkai-Meche.
Fletcher responded by grabbing or pushing Christian three times, then Christian stabbed Fletcher in the neck, followed by Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best. Best was standing behind Namkai-Meche and apparently had no previous interaction with Christian. Namkai-Meche, 23, and Best, 53, died.
Video shows Christian’s stabbing spree lasted 10 to 12 seconds.
Let’s also be clear about Christian’s history before this particular racist assault, also lifted from The Oregonian.
One of Christian’s brothers told Derning that Christian as a teenager liked to ride buses in the most dangerous parts of town – “a vigilante who would seek out bullies” with the goal to “kick those bullies’ ass(es),” Derning wrote in his report.
At age 20, Christian robbed a convenience store and was shot in the face by a police officer as he reached for a gun. He was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison for first-degree robbery and second-degree kidnapping, according to court records.
This isn’t autism. This isn’t cognitive rigidity or a violent meltdown. “Christian repeatedly said he was exercising free speech,” Green writes. “After his arrest he told police he stabbed the three men because they infringed on his right to speak his mind.”
This is a man with full awareness of what he’s doing, and what he’s done. Whatever ways in which his family or the system might have failed him in his life, his autism didn’t make him seek out “bullies” to assault, or rob a convenience store, or pull a knife on people trying to stop his racist abuse.
- To be clear, Green took “atypical autism” from Timothy Derning, one of the two psychologists, but when you put in your own reportorial voice you become responsible for it.
- Also in that video, the prosecution quotes, and gets even Derning to confirm, from his own report: “Autism spectrum disorder cannot fully account for or explain his behavior on the MAX train.”