Mia likes to laugh. Actually, Mia loves to laugh. And, I love it when she laughs. If I were asked to describe in a few words what her laugh was like I would call it loud, hearty, and infectious. It’s a laugh that comes from deep within the gut. It’s rolling, hysterical, and always adorable. It’s pure happiness in a sound. And it is absolutely contagious. When Mia laughs I can’t help but laugh too. I would probably also add that it is easily one of my favorite sounds. When I hear it from a few rooms over, no matter what my mood, I can’t help but smile. I guess it’s true what they say, “laughter is the best medicine”.
So imagine my shock when I heard about this man, Robert Schiavelli, the 42 year old Long Island resident who was arrested for laughing. Yes, laughing. And in the comfort of his own home! My shock wasn’t long lived as I read on. It quickly turned to horror as I found out that Shiavelli is disabled. He suffers from seizures and “nuerological impairments.” He holds a High School Diploma after graduating from a Special Education Program.
And, as quickly as those feelings surfaced they left, leaving me with only a feeling of disgust as I read on.. Shiavelli is daily called a “retard” by his neighbor. His coping mechanism is to “laugh it off”. His way of dealing with his neighbor’s jeers and insults is to laugh. He is quoted as saying “He just ridicules me all the time and the only thing I can come up with is laughing.” And that is exactly what he was doing the day he got in trouble with the law. Laughing.
As I read on the article continued to hurt me down to my very soul and before I knew it I had to pick my heart up off the floor as I read the following lines.. “Susanne Schiavelli, the defendant’s 65-year-old mother, told CBS New York that her son has “an infectious, cute laugh” that “makes me want to laugh”.” It was shocking for me to read Schiavelli’s mother describes her son’s laugh in the exact same manner that I too describe my child’s laugh. And as I picked my heart up off the floor I thought about the implications of this. Could there possibly come a day when Mia’s adorable laugh is looked at as annoying, or worse yet, illegal? Are there really people in this world who dislike happiness in all its forms that they would go out of their way to break it down? Is there really no one out there willing to stand up for what is right anymore?
Recently, Shiavelli was sitting in his upstairs bedroom looking out the window (which, according to him, is his favorite pastime). When Shiavelli’s neighbor walked by and noticed him sitting there he began mocking his walk and started hurling insults up at him through the open bedroom window. Shiavelli responded in his usual fashion, he laughed. Loudly. His neighbor went home and called the police, complaining to them over the phone that he could hear his neighbors laugh “from across the drive way.” The police arrived and issued two summonses for disturbing the peace – “acting in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others.”
Schiavelli’s reported response to the summonses was similar to what mine would have been, he was surprised and quoted as saying “I didn’t know it was a crime to laugh out the window?..” With his mother echoing his words with a question I too would like answered “What else are you supposed to do when someone calls you a ‘retard’?”
But before I finished the article there was one last emotion I was forced through, and that was utter disdain for our sometimes unjust justice system, because at Schiavelli’s arraignment the judge declined to dismiss the charges. As they stand now, Schiavelli faces up to 30 days in jail and $500 in fines. For laughing.
I guess that other saying about laughing is also true,”For he who laughs loudest doesn’t always laugh the hardest.” Because at the moment the only man laughing is Schiavelli’s bully, his neighbor, and not Schiavelli himself, the man with the “loudest”, “cutest”, and most “infectious” laugh. Only in America would a person use their right to freedom of speech to make fun of, bully, pick on, and degrade the “developmentally disabled” without fear of repercussions, while a person laughing loudly in defense of their own dignity is considered disturbing the peace and thus faces committing a crime holding a penalty of a $500 fine or worse.