Constable: Social media users mock boy with disabilities, but good meme wins in the end
Having forged a resilience to every one of life's obstacles thrown in their way, parents Stacy and Jeff Fulkerson of Schaumburg are tireless activists for their son, James, and other people with severe disabilities.
The urn containing the cremains of their firstborn, Jackson, sits on a shelf in their living room. Their other child, James, born by emergency C-section on Aug. 29, 2009, spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit after suffering an intrauterine stroke. Now 10 years old and never able to move his limbs, sit, talk or eat, James -- and his diligent parents -- cope with every issue he has because of a chromosome disorder, a blood-clotting disorder, quad cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy.
The family has supported James through shock treatments, suctioning, feeding tubes, 15 operations, and countless new medications and therapies.
The Fulkersons are revered in some communities for their relentless advocacy on behalf of James and kids in similar situations.
James, however, has been cruelly mocked on Facebook. The boy can't control his muscles, and his facial expression has him looking into space with his mouth open. One photograph posted online of James in his wheelchair was transformed into a horrible meme suggesting the child was in the throes of sexual gratification.
Another photo of James in his wheelchair was used by his parents online as a way to promote the philosophy, "Instead of 'don't stare,' let's start teaching 'SAY HELLO.'"
That led to a woman posting that photo with her question, "What's the hardest part of the vegetable to eat?" Her brother responded, "Umm the wheelchair I think," and then they both posted emojis of those smiley faces with tears of laughter.
Another online troll added a picture of a giant bird above James, dropping food into his mouth. One person suggested the Fulkersons were "selfish" for not aborting their son.
"Jesus. How about we put him out of his (expletive) misery," one man says about James.
The Fulkersons read all the comments, and wonder.
"How do you live with yourself being this cruel?" Stacy says.
"I get very angry," Jeff admits. "I have to put my phone down. This is my son you're talking about."
Family friends and members of the Friends of James Facebook page, lots and lots of them, tracked down the people who posted those awful comments.
"Being honest, we thought it was just a meme, we didn't understand it was someone's son," came one response. "We see a lot of stuff on Facebook, jokes, etc., however, joke or real life, I understand this is something that shouldn't be laughed about, and for that we are sorry! On behalf of me and my sister, if you could please show the child's parents, that it was not meant to be a cruel joke."
The Fulkersons say it's good to hear people say they are sorry, but the mocking shouldn't happen in the first place.
"It's a boy in a wheelchair," Jeff says. "How can you think that's not a real person?"
The internet is filled with photos people snap to make fun of people who look different.
Those who post feel emboldened to mock people for things beyond their control. They don't know James' story. The people who do know what he has endured rally around James, who is a very popular student in a District 54 school in Elk Grove Village. He doesn't deserve to be ridiculed.
"Nothing is simple for this kid," his mom says.
"We have to fight his battles for him," his dad says.
In the meantime, they take comfort in the way James connects with people in person and on the internet. The original photo of James in his wheelchair urging people to say hello has made its mark.
"It's been booming," Stacy says. "It's been seen by 15 million people."
The good trumps the bad.