ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Tragic Shooting in North Carolina

By Jack Bragen
Saturday January 18, 2014 - 04:11:00 PM

An eighteen year old man afflicted with schizophrenia was shot and killed by a policeman in North Carolina. He hadn't commited a crime, but was exhibiting symptoms of mental illness which may have included agitation and/ or, being assaultive.  

Policemen were in the process of getting the man under control when an additional policeman appeared on the scene, and, believing the young man was a threat, shot and killed him. He (the eighteen year old) had been wielding a screwdriver, and this was believed by this policeman to be a deadly weapon.  

The eighteen year old man was already being subdued and the situation was de-escalating prior to when the additional policeman appeared on the scene and abruptly shot the young man, killing him.  

This young man afflicted with schizophrenia could have been me when I was younger. The incident hits close to home, because we with mental illness are often afraid to call for help when we need it. We tend to worry that we will be treated brutally by police if the wrong officer shows up at our door. It is no wonder that many persons with mental illness are afraid of police.  

I have nothing against those officers who, on a daily basis, are risking their lives to keep our community safe. However, there are some who use excessive force against people with mental illness, and sometimes this seems brutal as well as senseless.  

Certainly, when someone with mental illness is processed by the jail system, they receive inhumane and creul treatment which is undeserved. What I am describing is the flip side of the coin that the public doesn't often hear about, but which happens with great frequency. 

When someone with mental illness shoots innocent people, which is actually quite rare, it is all over the newspapers, and people in the community will call for greater restrictions on us. However, I have witnessed numerous incidents in which mentally ill people who are harmless get treated creully by two or more officers who have hugely more physical strength compared to the ill person. I have heard about several incidents over the years in which a mentally ill person ends up deceased because of the excessive force that officers have used. Yet, when someone with mental illness is killed, few people make a big fuss over that.  

The above paragraph obviously points to a double standard.  

We would hope that in the San Francisco Bay Area, police would have top notch training in how to deal with persons with mental illness, and would handle mentally ill people skillfully and with great care. However, some of the time at least, this has not been so. Some police whom I have dealt with have been fine people who care. However, in my more than thirty year history of being mentally ill and often dealing with police, there have been other police officers I have run across who have been quite pigheaded and nasty.  

There is room for improvement. This can only take place if we put pressure on our state legislature and local government.  

People should remember that in the issue of how to deal with persons with mental illness, there is also our perspective, that of the people upon whom force is used. This perspective doesn't get into the picture very often, but it sorely ought to.