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TruthToTell, Mon., Jan 16 @9AM: Cops and Mentally Ill: Training a Tough Culture to Cool It
Back in the 1970s, a monumental landmark court case unlocked the doors of this country’s state hospitals and other institutions housing – more like warehousing – hundreds of thousands, perhaps a couple million mentally ill men and women on the strength of a new standard of commitment: that anyone not posing a danger to themselves or others could not be forced into what was essentially incarceration of people with mental illnesses. The court told the system to fix itself.
It never really did.
What the politicians failed to do was follow up on mandates calling for community-based housing and treatment facilities and services that could help treat and shelter people afflicted with such persistent illnesses as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder (once called manic depression), especially those that, under serious circumstances could result in erratic and dangerous behavior or outbursts – especially those who stopped the treatments that stabilized their brain chemistry.
Instead, many of those millions were often left homeless and/or unemployable, therefore unable to cope in an amorphous world where others avoided contact or responded violently to the unstable expressions of their illnesses. For whatever reason, many of those saddled with bi-polar disorder cease taking their meds when they start to feel “normal,” and find themselves back in the wide swings of mood that characterize bi-polar disorder. The manic phase can be intoxicating and the depressive phase often suicidal or violent. The mental illnesses most at risk (some may not seem dangerous)*:
All cases of schizophrenia (a psychotic disorder)
Severe cases of major depression and bipolar disorder (mood disorders)
Severe cases of panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (anxiety disorders)
Severe cases of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (typically, a childhood disorder)
Severe cases of anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder).
*(Timothy A. Kelly (2002) "A Policymaker’s Guide to Mental Illness.” Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation.)
Such has been the case with several mentally ill citizens of communities across the country facing down police officers all too ready to react with fatal or deadly force. Some of this is contrived – a method of suicide by cop – i.e., intentional death by confrontation with police officers they know will shoot to kill if a weapon is brandished or they feel threatened by anyone advancing on them.
One case of the “quick-draw” killing of a mentally ill Minneapolis woman actually resulted in some serious retrospection by the officers involved and resulted in the formation of a foundation designed to stave off such fatal clashes between cops and the mentally ill they confront through training – Crisis Intervention Teams – or CIT. That foundation – the Barbara Schneider Foundation – born out of the death twelve years ago of an otherwise respected and active community person who died in the midst of a psychotic episode when police responded to complaints about excessive noise from an apartment and came face-to-face with a distraught Schneider wielding a knife. One of the cops involved, Minneapolis Police Sgt. William Palmer, remembered all too well 10 years later how he felt forced to respond with deadly force.
Police killings of mentally ill citizens (*EDP = emotionally disturbed person) continue to occur – and, of course, some cops can be killed in the process as well:
Ki Yang, 46, St. Paul - shot, 2003. Suffered from schizophrenia and had a history of violent episodes
David Cornelius Smith, 28 – Bipolar - Tasered 2010 by Minneapolis police–died twice at scene, died 10 days later
James Ludwig, Vietnam vet, homeless and mentally ill (emotionally disturbed), surrounded and shot to death by St. Paul Police 1993
Officer Richard Francis – 27-yr veteran Chicago cop – shot while trying to subdue an EDP*
Andrew Hanlon, 20 – Irish immigrant – shot to death by Silverton, Ore. Cop claiming threat
Francisco Martes, 40 – homeless EDP – shot dead after wielding a knife around a cop
Kelly Thomas, 37 – homeless w/ schizophrenia - tasered and beaten to death by six Fullerton, CA cops
Craig Edward Prescott, 38 – bi-polar former sheriff’s deputy tasered, water-balled and crushed in his cell by 8 other deputies – April 2009
Pierre Abernathy – a mentally ill citizen of San Antonio, Texas – was tased and beaten to death by a group of at least six police officers on August 4, 2011
The list goes on. Mostly men, often homeless.
Questions persist about why the police, as an institution and culture cannot or will not make as part of their earliest training methods to subdue mentally ill and agitated men and women without killing. They have the armor and they have the firepower – why not the skill?
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI talk with two representatives of the Barbara Schneider Foundation in search of some answers.
Other Story Links:
James Ludwig Court Case
The Prison System as a Gulag for People with Serious Mental Illness
Center for Problem-Oriented Policing
Responses to the Problem of People with Mental Illness
Newsweek article: Cops and the Mentally Ill
MARK ANDERSON, Executive Director, Barbara Schneider Foundation
RENEE JENSON, Community Collaborations Coordinator, Barbara Schneider Foundation
WITHDRAWN: Representative of Hennepin County Sheriff's Dept.
TruthToTell Jan 9: MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Fears Overcoming Reality?-AUDIO IS HERE
What is your perception of marijuana? Are you dead set against its use? Or could you be persuaded that what is actually called cannabis (marijuana is a Spanish term assigned by someone a long time ago) is a plant about as beneficial as broccoli when consumed as directed?
How much do we really know about this controversial plant called pot, weed, grass, reefer and, no doubt, a couple of other names – almost anything but “good” for most politicians and the larger law enforcement community?
Minnesota is not among the 16 states and the District of Columbia that have, by one means or another, usually by a citizens ballot petition, enacted laws removing most of their prior penalties for the cultivation, processing and distribution of cannabis for a significant number of ailments, most of them including AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, migraine, persistent muscle spasms, including those associated with multiple sclerosis, seizures associated with but not limited to epilepsy, and severe nausea. Covered conditions vary, but, in every case, a doctor’s formal approval for its use is required and, in most instances, even an approved patient cannot possess more than one ounce or, perhaps an ounce-and-a-half.
However, although a law allowing the use of marijuana as a medical treatment has not yet passed in Minnesota (this state does not allow citizens initiative or referendum as most of those approving states do, but that’s another issue for another day), Minnesotadoes allow possession of one and one-half ounces of marijuana without penalty. Where you got the stuff might be interesting to law enforcement, since holding any amount above the 1-1/2 ounces is a felony (even in states where’s it’s been approved).
That said – the real arguments that haunt marijuana’s life in these United States, for either medical or recreational use,may be more political than scientific at this stage. Those who have discovered and benefitted from its salutary properties don’t give a hang about what makes it work so well for them. On the other hand, the spectre of “reefer madness” may be dancing through the memories and perceptions of others persuaded that cannabis is as addictive as cocaine and thus bound to ruin the life of anyone daring to consume it. The 1930s film of the same name depicts users as going off their nut in response to smoking marijuana. No one has ever witnessed such a reaction. But it was this perception that got the stuff placed on the Federal Government’s drug list as a Schedule I substance, right up there with heroine and cocaine.
It’s been condemned as a “gateway” drug to the worst of addictions, and yet its proponents insist that at least a half-dozen prescription drugs – namely oxycodone, oxycontin, and others – have been abused literally to death, especially young people, whereas no one is known to have overdosed on marijuana.
We talk with advocates for legalizing cannabis in Minnesota (and elsewhere), at least for medical purposes, but, in the long run, at least, to get the Feds to remove its ranking as a Schedule I substance. The state of Washington has an initiative ballot question legalizing pot entirely, not just for medical purposes.
TTT’s ANDY DRISCOLL and MICHELLE ALIMORADI query three members of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) of Minnesota, each with their own stories about why they believe this stuff is a godsend to sick people, and may, in fact, be highly beneficial to take in on a regular basis, illness or no.
RANDY QUAST ~ Executive Director, MN NORML
KURT HANNA ~ Treasurer, MN NORML
KATHY RIPPENTROP ~ Medical Marijuana Caregiver, MN NORML Member