Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cops vs. the Mentally Ill

As mentioned in previous posts several of my family members and friends are employed by law-enforcement. On the other hand, having spent a better part of my life in the arts, several of my close friends and loved ones have had bouts of mental illness. (The arty types are more sensitive and high strung and typically have more instances of mental problems than other groups.)
Since I am concerned for the welfare of both sides and having no interest in seeing either side win (whatever that means) I can better address the controversy without  personal feelings or prejudices becoming an issue.
So let’s get ready to rumble!
First we must logically and without preconceived notions, look at what the police were hired to do. Simply put, their job is to be the first line of defense against criminals. 
By definition criminals are people who, willingly and knowingly, break the law for  personal gain with no regard for the pain and suffering they cause their victims.
Now let’s look at the mentally ill. One of the facts of mental illness is that the brains of the people suffering from it are malfunctioning and sending them incorrect information. We should not blame them for this anymore than we would blame a person with an extremely high fever for hallucinating. A perfect example is people with phobias. Because your brain is functioning properly, you cannot understand why a seemingly ‘normal’ person would become nearly catatonic with fear at the sight of a spider, or being trapped in an elevator, or being on the roof of a tall building. People with phobias don’t understand it either but in those instances their brain reads these circumstances as life threatening and throws the body into a panic.
I'll give you an example. Imagine you are relaxing during a flight home from some tropical paradise. You’re looking out the widow, watching the world below go by when suddenly, there’s an explosion and you see the wing buckle, then snap off. The oxygen masks drop down and the plane suddenly plummets at an ever increasing speed. People are flying out of their seats. The ground below is rushing toward you, people are screaming. Your heart is pounding, you can’t think, you want to run but there’s nowhere to go. You’re going to die, you’re going to die, you’re going to die!
Can you think of any scenario more horrifying?
Well, my friends, that very feeling is what claustrophobics go through when they get stuck in an elevator.       
Clearly, people who are mentally ill are not criminals. But since the brains of the seriously mentally ill are sending them seriously wrong information, their actions often are.
Which brings us to the subject of police brutality against them. Typically people who join law-enforcement have some college education, some military background and enough self confidence and courage to believe they can confront criminals in dangerous situations and win the day. They are trained how and when to confront criminals, how to secure a perimeter, how to get hostages to safety and how, when necessary, to use lethal force.
What they are not trained for and what they cannot be trained for is how to anticipate the actions of a psychotic. Any psychiatrist or specialist in psychiatric disorders will tell you that because you cannot know what a mentally ill person’s brain is telling them, there is no way a police officer or anyone for that matter can prepare themselves for what the psychotic might do. They may appear docile and ready to surrender one moment and charge at you with butcher knife the next.
And if a medically trained and licensed psychiatrist, a person who has spent their entire career studying mental illness cannot figure out how to get a dangerous psychotic to surrender peacefully, then what chance does the average police officer have? Therefore for the protection of both sides, the responsibility of apprehending them should be taken out of the hands of the police and turned over to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
In these situations the police would be called in to determine whether the person is a criminal. In this case let’s say a person is wielding a samurai sword and chasing people down 5th Avenue declaring that the teen-age mutant ninja turtles are harboring members of al-Qaida. Seeing that this person is clearly suffering from mental illness, the cops call for an ambulance then walk away and let the EMT’s handle it.
This way as the person lops off heads and punts them into trashcans, the paramedics can focus on reasoning with him and appealing to his humanity and the cops can go back to focusing on their real job, fighting crime.
This is truly a win-win situation. With the police prevented from engaging violent lunatics, the police brutality law-suits would dry up. They would not longer have to risk their lives dealing with psychopaths and the only downside would be the brutal slayings of innocent people whose only crime was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Besides, their murderers aren’t bad people. They’re sick people who aren’t responsible for their actions. And they can’t be blamed for not taking their meds because again, they’re not responsible for their actions. And you can’t jail them because that would be a terrible thing to do to someone whose only crime is being sick.
Now here’s something to ponder.
You’ve all heard of Typhoid Mary. Irish immigrant and a typhoid carrier who became a cook and spread the disease killing many of the members of the families she worked for. She was eventually apprehended and placed in a leper colony called Little Brother Island in the Bronx. For 5 years she fought for her freedom, denying she was a carrier because she herself had never been sick. Finally she was released on the condition she never work as a cook again. She agreed.
Several years later she was apprehended following a major typhoid outbreak and multiple deaths at Sloan Maternity Hospital where she worked as a cook under an alias. She was sent back to Little Brother Island and remained there until her death in 1935.
Imagine doing that to a person whose only crime was being sick!

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