ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Wrongful Deaths

Jack Bragen
Friday December 05, 2014 - 10:00:00 AM

We are dealing with a nationwide crisis in the misuse of power by police officers and by a corrupt court system. I can in no way belittle the crime that was perpetrated upon Michael Brown. It was one of a series of wrongful deaths in which non-Caucasian people have been killed by police and in which there has been little or no retribution by the courts. My sympathy goes to Michael Brown's family, and I believe that any reasonable person should be outraged by this corruption and by this tragedy.  

However, for me this brings up the wrongful deaths that have been perpetrated upon persons with mental illness, as well.  

Persons with mental illness are often treated brutally by police. Persons with mental illness are often wrongfully shot to death or die while in custody due to excessive restraint or due to the hard conditions of incarceration, such as high temperatures or dehydration. Temperatures in transport vans in the summer may go beyond 110 degrees, and there is no water available. Mentally ill people in custody are targeted for abuse by other inmates. Police often shoot mentally ill people because they believe incorrectly (most of the time) that we are a threat.  

I would take a step further than the protest of unfair treatment of African American people, and I would say that we need a complete revision of law enforcement and of the court system.  

In no way to belittle the injustice perpetrated upon Michael Brown--I also see that when someone with mental illness is wrongfully killed by police, there is no uproar by the public whatsoever. When a mentally ill person (which is also another minority) is killed, why aren't there mobs of fellow psychiatric patients wrecking a town? Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that most mentally ill people are medicated and controlled, and thus to not have the energy or the liberty to get out and demonstrate.  

Secondly, when someone with mental illness wrongfully loses his or her life at the hands of police or while in custody, the mass media often doesn't report it. If you want me to name some names, I'll start by saying potentially me. While I don't have the specific statistics handy, it is very clear that a lot of people with mental health problems are unnecessarily killed by police. A piece that I looked at in KQED News stated that more than half of those killed by San Francisco Police were persons with mental illness.  

Beyond wrongful death, persons with mental illness are dealt with through the court system, and this from the get-go is the wrong way of doing things. Persons with mental illness need help and not handcuffs.