|Lt. Gov. Brian Calley|
“I want you to think about this as civil rights. That this is the next important step, next great step in the civil rights movement in America,” Calley said a news conference at the Macomb Oakland Regional Center in Clinton Township. “We’re not anywhere close to finished. Unfortunately, we’re probably still closer to the beginning than to the end.”
Calley, an advocate for the disabled, spoke in the aftermath of what Calley called the worst comments he has ever heard, allegedly made by Warren Mayor James Fouts, who, according to audio recordings of a speaker who sounds like Fouts, referred to disabled people as “retards” and said they aren’t human and should be kept in a cage.
Fouts has denied making the comments, claiming the speaker is not him.
“They’re comments at a whole different level,” Calley said. “I’ve never heard someone talk about not being human or caging, or reference to Dr. Kevorkian. It’s so way beyond anything I’ve ever heard.”
Some have called for Fouts to resign. Calley, however, said voters should determine Fouts’ future.
“It isn’t about the mayor. It’s about comments that were made,” he said. “So how can we use this negative energy and turn it into positive energy and then to do something sustainable over the long term?”
Calley said he hopes the widespread negative reaction to the comments will produce a positive “silver lining” of improving the rights of the disabled.
Calley, whose daughter has been diagnosed with autism, set up a GoFundMe account to raise $250,000 for an anti-stigma campaign to defend those with developmental disabilities, following the Dec. 15 release of the audio recordings allegedly of Fouts.
Calley’s mention of Fouts’ $500 donation to Calley’s GoFundMe account drew some chuckles from some of the more than two dozens advocates who attended at the news conference.
Several advocates also spoke.
Calley’s campaign is being conducted through The Arc of Michigan, which advocates for those with developmental disabilities, Lisa Lepine, executive director of the Macomb County chapter of The Arc, said she has talked to Fouts, and said he wants to “put together a meeting that I’m hoping will lead to additional education and information for his so we can continue to work on this.”
Lepine and Dennis Bott, chief executive office of MORC, said they will release statements about the comments in the near future.
Fouts’ alleged comments came in reference to a Special Olympics event he was to attend.
Lois Arnold, president and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan, said she views the comments, including the use of the word, “retard,” as “hate speech.”
“The ‘r-word’ is just as cruel and offensive as any other slur,” she said last week. “We see this as a teachable moment and an opportunity to once again remind people that our athletes need to be seen for their skills and abilities and not their disabilities.”
Also speaking at Tuesday’s event was disabled person and advocate Stephanie Laird of Oakland County, who said, “People with disabilities should be referred to as a person, not by their disability.”
Officials also noted the state Legislature’s recent passage of a bill that prohibit school district staffers from the “seclusion and restraint” of disabled students. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bill, according to Tom Watkins, president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority.
Among the recorded comments allegedly made by Fouts, he calls disabled people “dysfunctional human beings. They’re not even human beings, and I don’t want to be around them. I wish them well in a cage.”
The person purported as Fouts also refers to disabled people going to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who staged an assisted suicide campaign in the 1990s.
Fouts on Tuesday repeated his denials in a posting on his Facebook page:
“That tape is a phony tape and has obviously been altered and manipulated with. It’s horrific but it’s not me!” he says.
In writing “a few thoughts” about what has transpired, he says he has “helped ‘special needs’ persons in a variety of ways. I will discuss this later.
“I know that I need to do more and will devote time and effort to this issue. I want to make things better going forward.
“If anything positive comes out of this, it is that there is more public attention on the needs of the special needs community. I will certainly do my part!”
Fouts was fired this week from his weekly show on radio station WFDF 910-AM.
The recordings escalate a feud between Fouts and County Executive Mark Hackel. The recordings were given to Hackel, who released them by Hackel two days after Fouts asked state Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate what he calls illegal dumping at Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights.
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Calley compares disability-rights movement to civil-rights movement