Thursday, December 3, 2009

If we are not going offer treatment, why don't we just shoot all the crazy people & save ourselves a lot of trouble & anguish?

So, I’m on the sofa dozing, half watching one of the news channels when a bulletin flashes on the screen informing me that a gunman has just burst into a Lakewood, Washington, coffee shop and proceeded to shoot and kill four policemen who sat working on their laptops as they prepared for their upcoming shifts.

And perhaps the worst thing is that I was not shocked by a gunman bursting into a public place and randomly shooting up the place—this phenomenon seems all to commonplace now—but that the victims were police officers; at the point that policemen themselves should begin to become targets for violence, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

Then later another report came on updating the first which identified the gunman as one Maurice Clemmons and showed his picture. And when I saw that black face on the screen, it suddenly occurred to me that there was no way this negro was going to be taken alive.

But please do not get me wrong; don’t misinterpret my motives. I’m not writing this to condemn the police for shooting and killing him. The official version of events states that he “turned on police when he was finally confronted early on Tuesday,” and if that is so, the officers on the scene had every right to shoot back to protect themselves and anyone else who might have been standing nearby.

And furthermore, the victims’ families have my sincerest and heartfelt sympathy. I can only pray that they make it through to the other side of this tragedy with their spirits whole and intact. However, my ire is directed toward the system that allowed this tragedy to occur in the first place.

In reading around the web since this whole incident occurred, I have come across reports from several different sources which indicate that Maurice Clemmons may very well have been mentally ill, and in fact, he may have been mentally ill for some time.

I believe this whole incident to have been predicated by the ineptitude of families and the criminal justice system in dealing with those in our midst dealing with mental health issues.

Maurice Clemmons’s family members have gone on record in stating that they realized that something was not quite right for quite some while. And police and prison records indicate that previous to his 2000 release after then Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee commuted his 108 year sentence, he had been diagnosed with a mental illness. However, between his family and the criminal justice system, there seems to be no indication that any type of treatment was sought or offered.

Perhaps I risk a bit of essentialism here, but often families, especially African American families (I am currently researching and writing a piece on African American children and mental health), tend to, for whatever reason, shy away from seeking the appropriate help for family members exhibiting signs of mental illness until it is far too late.

And how many people do you think are currently incarcerated who may be suffering from mental illness? Sure, there are many persons in prison who should be there. There are many persons in prison acting crazy simply because crazy is what’s hot in the streets right now. But in the same instance, there are some in prison who suffer from some mental illness, the symptoms of which caused the action that lead to incarceration.

However, currently our criminal justice system is designed not to treat these people, but simply to house them for a specified amount of time before they again turn them out into the streets untreated. And then when they do something really crazy, we scratch our heads in disbelief.

However, studies have shown that there is a large percentage of mentally ill people who are not being treated walking the streets, and as long as the mental illness goes untreated, the risk of serious violence escalates. What are we going to do about it? Perhaps, simply dealing with this problem will decrease violent crimes. It will, at the very least, prevent the senseless deaths of some innocent people.

Allow me to end with this caveat. I have a close family member who is currently serving 15-20 years in a state penitentiary, and he has spent a good portion of that time in solitary confinement because of violent outbursts. He was convicted of attempted murder after he, in a violent rage, ran several people down, to include two police officers, as he attempted to run over his pregnant girlfriend and her lover with his car. But his is not his first time being incarcerated for violent behavior.

The first time he was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days after he practically beat someone to death with his bare hands over a beeper. And he spent almost that entire time in solitary because of violent outbursts while incarcerated.

Before he was sentenced in this case, court appointed psychologists informed the court of his mental illness, and even informed the court that if he were not treated before being released, he was almost guaranteed to do it again.

As his family, we were not surprised; we had recognized that something was wrong when he was still a boy. At that time, his violent rages could be contained, but when he began to get a little weight on him and grew to well over six feet, there was nothing we could physically do to restrain him anymore.

However, instead of suggesting, or insisting, that he seek help, we dealt with it by praying for him and praying over him until sweat ran down our faces like drops of blood and just not mentioning it and staying clear of him. If someone just happened to get knocked slap out during the family reunion, it was their fault because they knew how he was and should have just stayed out of his way.

But in less than two years his sentence will be up, and he will be let out of prison without ever receiving treatment. What then? If history is truly the best predictor of the future, I just hope no one loses their life in his next violent rage.

Again, I mean neither to defend Maurice Clemmons nor impugn the actions of the Lakewood Police Department; I mean only to suggest that we rethink how we deal with mental illness in our society.


FreeMan said...

Well don't walk around Skid Row in LA because there are some definite mentally ill people down there. The problem is putting them in jail and locking them up is less intensive than treating them.

SO then they get put back on the street and their families are burdened with them. In this case that's a big brother so I don't think his family could stop him from doing anything.

We all know something should be done but we all know nothing will. So get your guns and deal with it.

Martin Lindsey. said...

I fear we'll see more of that. A lot of people who are institutionalized and getting treatment will start being released when tax revenue begins to become more of an issue and budgets start getting cut.

Patients could begin to be turned out into the streets and back to their families in droves. Could happen right here in Chicago potentially.

It's a serious issue I fear will get worse.

Lyn Marie said...

Here's the problem with mental illness. Many people are under the misunderstanding that mental illness can somehow be controlled if people just try hard enough. Mental illness and drug addiction (both related to behavior & disease) is not taken seriously. Both are life long problems. Our society wants a quick fix.

Our laws state clearly you can not keep someone in a hospital with out their permission. Someone that is mentally ill is not going to give up their freedom to be placed in hospitalization for the rest of their lives.

So if we want to force them against their will to get treatment then we will have to take care of them for the rest of their lives. Society must be responsible or bare the consequences.

msladydeborah said...

Once again we are back to the root of the problem. The "sane and sensible" people recognize that someone in their midst had mental health issues. But no treatment was sought for the person. The end result is five people are dead because of lack of proper follow up.

When will our folks realize that we are prone to mental illness? Instead of believing that it will be alright in due time. It really bothers me that we always learn about the person's state of mind after a tragedy.

There is no shame in the fact that a person needs mental health help. The shame comes when the need is recognized and left untouched.

ProfGeo said...

@Lyn Marie, @msladydeborah: I concur with the use of quotes around "sane and sensible." If we really were sane and sensible we would not continue with a society that doesn't treat the mentally ill, and is shocked, shocked every time at the next tragedy. Followed by the discussion of blame and then the hand-wringing.

Having had a mentally ill family member briefly in the system, I can tell you why it was briefly and not still. It's because our family stayed on top of it from the time of arrest, finally got someone in authority (i.e. the shrink) on the inside to officially evaluate him, and then make sure everybody inside knew we knew he'd been evaluated. The other side of it was pressure on the family member to remember the alternatives (being in vs. being out & on meds). That is a continuing conversation as necessary.

River Glorious said...

(: Played Pin the Cursor on the Comment Box and won on my second try :)


Max, you and your friends have said practically everything that can/should be said. I have two thoughts. First, I wonder if we have enough professional therapists to deal with this problem, including clerymen and counselors.

Second, this reminds me of a neighbour I have. I have a problem with him driving and there is nothing I can do about it, because he hasn't killed or maimed someone. He is close to eighty years old and drives erratically, goes too fast when he shouldn't, etc. But the family refuses to do something about it, for fear of his wrath, and the police won't because he has not committed a crime.

I wish all states and territories (in our case) had a general law stating that after a certain age, seniors have to take a driver's test, not like the one to get the license, but like they administer (term in English?) on some military bases, where they take you around and ask you to do routine things in your area. Better than how it's done here, practically on an almost closed course.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, and I hope you all have a pleasant (and peaceful) weekend.


Max Reddick said...


I am dismayed that our mental health system has not advanced at the rate it should. We still do not have in place a system to adequately deal with the mental health issues present in our society. I read a statistic the other day that indicated that about forty percent of the population has varying degrees of some condition that could be labeled a mental health condition.

@Martin Lindsey

And you are exactly right. Funding for mental health issues is way down the list when it comes to funding priorities, so we can expect to see more mentally ill people turned out into the streets. But what can we do about it?

@LynMarie and @msladydeborah

You bring up two important issues: people misunderstand mental health issues and people leave it up to people who are not in their right minds to seek help for themselves.

Specifically, in the case of drug abuse, people think that simple will-power is enough. But often drug abuse is a symptom of some other dis-order. But this leads to the second issue. How do you get someone to seek help who really needs help when that person is not in their right mind in the first place. I spoke to someone who has a sister going thru a mental health crisis. The problem is that they cannot get this sister to seek help because she thinks their is nothing wrong with her and that the problem is everyone else. So what can be done to convince these people that they need to get professional help?


You are certainly right that this is a conversation that needs to be had, but we don't discuss it. Why?

@River Glorious

That is an interesting question. Do we have enough mental health providers and personnel to deal with this? Do not know. Will research the numbers though.

And we were stuck in a similar dilemma with my grandmother. At some point, it became obvious that she should not be driving. But she insisted on doing so. We tried talking to her. We tried to get others to intervene. But all to no avail. Finally, when she was slowed down by a stroke and couldn't drive. But just the other day I witnessed an incident caused by an older driver that should not be on the road. This is another issue we need to take a hard look at.

ProfGeo said...

You are certainly right that this is a conversation that needs to be had, but we don't discuss it. Why?

Max, in general terms I think it's natural to keep our family shields up and not air what (sadly) amounts to dirty laundry. Also we don't want other people to believe a relative's condition might apply to us. Extend this society-wide, and there's a lot of shame & denial at both family and community level. After all, most of us get through the day most of the time.

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