— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) March 31, 2014
The NYTimes, “Police Confront Rising Number of Mentally Ill Suspects”:
ALBUQUERQUE — James Boyd, a homeless man camping in the Sandia Foothills here, could hear the commands of the police officers who were trying to move him out.
The problem was that Mr. Boyd, 38, had a history of mental illness, and so was living in a different reality, one in which he was a federal agent and not someone to be bossed around.
“Don’t attempt to give me, the Department of Defense, another directive,” he told the officers. A short while later, the police shot and killed him, saying he had pulled out two knives and threatened their lives.
The March 16 shooting, captured in a video taken with an officer’s helmet camera and released by the Albuquerque Police Department, has stirred protests and some violence in Albuquerque and prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to begin an inquiry into the death. But it has also focused attention on the growing number of people with severe mental disorders who, in the absence of adequate mental health services, are coming in contact with the criminal justice system, sometimes with deadly consequences.
In towns and cities across the United States, police officers find themselves playing dual roles as law enforcers and psychiatric social workers. County jails and state prisons have become de facto mental institutions; in New York, for instance, a surge of stabbings, beatings and other violence at Rikers Island has been attributed in part to an influx of mentally ill inmates, who respond erratically to discipline and are vulnerable targets for other prisoners. “Frequent fliers,” as mentally ill inmates who have repeated arrests are known in law enforcement circles, cycle from jail cells to halfway houses to the streets and back.
The problem has gotten worse in recent years, according to mental health and criminal justice experts, as state and local governments have cut back on mental health services for financial reasons. And with the ubiquity of video cameras — both in ordinary citizens’ hands and on police officer’s helmets and in cruisers — the public can more readily see what is going on and respond…
Many police departments have put in place training for officers in how to deal with mentally ill people, teaching them to defuse potentially volatile situations and to treat people who suffer from psychiatric illnesses with respect. But officers can sometimes make a crisis worse, either out of fear or in a reflexive effort to control the situation and enforce compliance.
Although no agency or organization tracks the number of police shootings nationally that involve people with mental illnesses, a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff’s Association, based on informal studies and accounts, estimated that half the number of people shot and killed by the police have mental health problems…
It’s a worthy article, and it cannot be pointed out often enough that ‘deinstitutionalization’, as a money-saving tactic, is not only a brutal and frequently deadly cruelty to the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish. But there’s two more common factors of this cruel new century that the article skims around the edges.
First, of course, is the ubiquity of street-level recording devices; it’s nearly impossible for a suspect to “be injured resisting arrest” or “suffer self-inflicted wounds while in custody” without some dumb machine or clever bystander recording the brutal truth. This is entirely a good thing, IMO.
Second, and this is not a good thing, is that our post-9/11 militarization of every local police force has magnified, and justified, the us-against-them “law enforcement” mindset where armored gunslingers ride through a hellscape in which every non-uniformed individual is just an evildoer waiting to erupt into violence. (Look on the pic at the top and try not to think of a video game.) We have got to roll back on the toxic “thin blue line” idiocy, which only encourages the worst-qualified individuals to put on a uniform as an excuse to hurt people who can’t fight back.