guns, mental illness, police, violence

Safekeeping

I’ve recently noticed that Salon.com has been posting an increasing number of articles concerning America’s mass incarceration, police brutality, lack of gun control and appropriate health care for the mentally ill. Among the many interesting stories about these urgent—and interconnected—issues one stuck out in particular: In “Half of people shot by police are mentally ill, investigation finds,” Natasha Lennard sums up a study conducted by two newspapers from Maine. She notes that “a lack of police training in crisis intervention as fueling the problem, undergirded by a lack of oversight and accountability.”

Lennard’s article about police officers shooting mentally ill people reminded me of journalist and documentary filmmaker George Stoney, whom I had the privilege of meeting a couple of years ago, shortly before he died at the age of 96. Stoney, most famously known for the invention of public access television, worked relentlessly on illuminating (and improving) the lives of the forgotten. Of his many works, one of my favorites was “Booked for Safekeeping” (1960), a short film that advises police on how to approach mentally ill people.

One hint: Guns did not play a role. Neither did injury or violence. Instead, calm talking, patience, empathy, and gentle physical contact once the disturbed person was ready to allow the officer to approach him.

What I take away from Stoney’s movies is that we have to begin solving problems before they escalate and before anybody gets hurt, killed or locked up.

We have to ask ourselves why a first-world country doesn’t offer more nonviolent intervention, such as proper and readily available mental health care and apt police training and oversight.

Here’s part of the article by Natasha Lennard:

An investigation by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram has found that a disturbingly high percentage of individuals shot by police suffer from mental health problems. There are no federal statistics on police shootings of mentally ill people, but according to the investigation published this week, “a review of available reports indicates that at least half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”

The newspapers analyzed in detail the incidents of police deploying deadly force in Maine — a state with a comparatively low crime rate — since 2000. The report noted: 

42 percent of people shot by police since 2000 — and 58 percent of those who died from their injuries — had mental health problems, according to reports from the Maine Attorney General’s Office. In many cases, the officers knew that the subjects were disturbed, and they were dead in a matter of moments.

In September, as I noted here, police in Houston shot dead a wheelchair-bound double-amputee diagnosed with severe mental health problems when officers saw him wave a shiny object (which turned out to be a pen) in the air. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram cited this and a number of other incidents this year, which garnered national attention: 

In Saginaw, Mich., six police officers gun down a homeless, schizophrenic man in a vacant parking lot when he refuses to drop a small folding knife. In Seattle, Wash., a police officer fatally shoots a mentally ill, chronic alcoholic as he crosses the street, carving a piece of wood with a pocket knife. In Portland, Ore., police check on a man threatening suicide and wind up killing him with a single gunshot in the back.

To continue reading go to Salon.com

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