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Disabled Man Ends Up in Court for Laughing Too Loudly

Disabled Man Ends Up in Court for Laughing Too Loudly

Robert Schiavelli came up with a unique way of dealing with the verbal abuse from his neighbor: he laughs it off. The 42-year-old man has neurological impairments and experiences frequent seizures, something that’s made him a target for his neighbor, who taunts him and hurls slurs like “retard” at him. After years of abuse, Schiavelli’s approach is certainly creative, and it certainly highlights both the ludicrousness and childishness of his neighbor’s behavior.

However, his ever-creative neighbor has come up with yet another way to torment Mr. Schiavelli. He phoned the police to call in a noise complaint, and now Schiavelli’s facing a summons to court and multiple fines.

For laughing.

He could pay up to $500 in fines or spend 30 days in jail, a harsh punishment for something that seems so benign. As Schiavelli himself said at his arraignment, “I didn’t know it was a crime to laugh out a window.” Astoundingly, a judge is actually taking the case seriously, while Schiavelli and his mother are appalled that the situation has come to this point; one might suspect, given the bad history between the defendant and his neighbor, that the police reports may have been of a retaliatory nature.

While you might think this case deserves an “oddly enough” writeup of curious legal cases worth a few chuckles, it’s actually no laughing matter. What Schiavelli is facing if his claims are true is a sustained campaign of harassment and abuse, and such activities can be devastating for their victims. In 2007, for example, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter after a harassment campaign escalated without intervention from police officers. As in Schiavelli’s case, the harassment centered around her daughter’s disabilities.

Disability activist Nicola Clark took an informal survey to assess the prevalence of hate speech encountered by the disability community, and her results were stark. 84% of disabled people and care providers reported encountering hate speech in person, illustrating how common it is to be targeted for abuse just for existing when you’re disabled. Almost 10% said they “accepted disability hate speech as a part of life,” an inevitable sense of surrender to what seems impossible to escape.

For people with visible disabilities like Robert Schiavelli, encountering hateful commentary is unfortunately all too common. His response was novel, and his neighbor’s retaliation demonstrates how firmly his neighbor believes that he has the right to harass Mr. Schiavelli simply for being disabled. His neighbor isn’t alone in that thought, apparently, given the high incidence of reports of hate speech and hate crimes against disabled people reported worldwide.

Words have immense capacity for harm, especially when a situation escalates to become physically abusive, as can occur when bullies feel they are not getting the response they want out of their targets. Mr. Schiavelli may laugh in the face of hate speech because he feels like he doesn’t know what else to do, but socially, we should be asking why he has to deal with hate speech at all.

Related Articles:

Super Bowl Quarterback Fumbles on the R-Word

Arizona Removes “Retardation,” “Crippled” From Statutes

New Law Promotes Respect for Those With Intellectual Disabilities


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Photo credit: Chris Huggins

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2:18AM PDT on Apr 23, 2013

Robert Schiavelli is just trying to live his life! This stupid neighbor deserves some of his own medicine and have someone harass him about something!

11:54PM PDT on Apr 5, 2013


11:53PM PDT on Apr 5, 2013


4:27PM PDT on Mar 26, 2013

They arrested the wrong person.Too bad that this has ended up with the disabled going to court instead of the jerk who has harassed him.There is something wrong with the police officers who wrote the ticket and the judge for letting it go this far.

9:44AM PDT on Mar 26, 2013


6:29AM PDT on Mar 25, 2013

It's disgusting this poor man is taken to court for laughing, when more and more we need laughter in our lives. The bully should be locked up for harassment, and the judge has no right to be a judge and that's how justice should work, not this farce!

10:59PM PDT on Mar 24, 2013

Some people are vicious beings. This guy must have a really crappy sad life. He must torture other people to make himself feel better. I wonder what would happen if someone did the same thing to him? I wonder if he'd like someone making fun of him. What a sad excuse of a man.

5:29AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

These two trolls should be scrutinized thoroughly.

8:57AM PDT on Mar 21, 2013

It seems there is room for a harassment counter-suit, no?

11:39PM PDT on Mar 20, 2013

Stupid, stupid, stupid

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