Archive for October, 2009
The AP article’s first paragraph says it all — well, almost.
The police officer who used a Taser on a mentally ill man who died as a result of the two high-voltage shocks will not be disciplined and remains on patrol, the Fort Worth police chief said Friday.
Police in Fort Worth were called to the Jacobs’ residence due to a disturbance of some sort. Officers say 24 year old Michael Patrick Jacobs became “combative”. That’s when Officer Stephanie Phillips saw fit to administer two shocks with a taser, the first of which lasted 49 seconds and was followed by a one second pause and another 5 second burst. Michael died as a direct result of those shocks — in his yard, in front of his family, at the hands of a police officer — with a supposedly non-lethal device. The medical exmainer ruled it a homicide. The police chief’s response?
“This is the second worst thing that could happen to a police officer, right behind dying in the line of duty”.
Happen to a police officer? If we’re weighing tombstones against paychecks this didn’t happen to a police officer, it happened to a 24 year old man and it shouldn’t have. Forty-nine seconds?
An autopsy concluded that the primary cause of death was “sudden death during neuromuscular incapacitation due to application of a conducted energy device,” and said no traces of alcohol or drugs, electrolyte imbalances, or signs of heart or lung disease were found — all of which can be contributing factors in a death.
Police across the nation are using tasers as a dangerous and often heavy handed substitute for reasonable physical restraint or verbal de-escalation. Those things take skill and resemble work and are not nearly punitive enough to reinforce the line between civilian and officer. They say tasers are preferable to reaching for a club — as if death by taser is somehow a better death than a beating. They say it’s a favorable step down from a gun — as if we should, out of gratitude, applaud the use of a device to help curb their natural inclination to shoot us. I’m not saying there is no conceivable use for a taser but they are clearly being used too often, too aggressively and in situations that demonstrate a complete disregard for safety.
Something seems to happen when you introduce a taser into the equation. It seems to somehow act as a filter between the person using it and the person it’s used upon, removing the blame associated with a truly physical act and absolving them of responsibility — assuming, of course, the person using it is a cop. That’s a frightening effect for an instrument to have that’s so ripe for abuse and I’m led to wonder why that is the case.
I don’t want to reduce the death of any person to a talking point but at the same time this has to be talked about. Michael’s death came possibly decades too soon and at the hands of someone sworn to serve and protect him. The fact that once again an officer not only keeps her freedom but her job after killing someone in such a manner shows us how much consideration Fort Worth has for its actions. Unfortunately, it seems to be in keeping with the general social climate in forces across a country that allows officers to kill with impunity. He deserves better. This was not an unfortunate accident or an unpredictable reaction but the very foreseeable result of very excessive force. Officer Phillips violated policy and single handedly killed an unarmed man, and whether the result of intentional harm or carelessness, one person is directly responsible for the death of Michael Patrick Jacobs and will remain on duty without being disciplined. Something tells me that if I held an electric charge to someone for 49 seconds at a time , leading to his death, there would be an entirely different outcome — and rightly, my future would be changed drastically. This is apparently headed to the grand jury where I’m sure we can expect the standard measure of justice to be carried out.
For the record, he was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses but that is intentionally not the focus here. He should not have been spared such treatment because he was “mentally ill” but because he was a human being, nor does his supposed illness excuse the actions (or inaction) of three police officers against an unarmed person.
There are things I like and don’t like about this but I guess that’s usually the case. It’s about a month old but I’ve had very little of myself and my time to invest into art or action lately. Sometimes life gets in the way — and sometimes that’s a good problem to have.
While CNN and like networks were talking about a balloon in the sky and a kid in the attic, polling the audience to see what they thought about it and discussing newscasters’ sweaters, real news was happening and it’s a shame we haven’t heard more (anything) about Akmal Shaikh. This British man may well be executed in China despite his apparent mental illness — for four kilograms of heroin he seems to have been tricked into transporting for someone.
I’m not a big proponent of the insanity defense but clearly one can take advantage of another’s delusions and the more you look at this, the more it seems to be the case. Even more to the point, I’m no proponent of drug charge death penalties and governments doing whatever the hell they want. China has an exemption clause for those deemed mentally ill but refused Shaikh access to psychological assessment. They also failed to inform the Foreign Office of Shaikh’s sentence for eleven moths.
Why has our media turned a blind eye to this as so many other cases of injustice? Is it because he’s mentally ill, because a death in China is too far away to matter, or is it because kids not being in balloons makes such captivating news?
BBC News: Death Row Briton’s Family in Plea
Anyone who’s read this weblog for any period of time is likely to have heard of January Schofield. She and her family were on Oprah recently on a story about their struggle with her “mental illness.” I find it appalling that Oprah, much like Shari Roan, covered the story without even mentioning the fact that Jani’s parents have admitted to beating and starving her. Michael, Jani’s father even wrote about it on his blog though after some readers’ responses he removed the part where he admits to starving her.
Maybe next time Oprah can have the parents of Rebecca Riley on. She can do a whole show about the topic of “pediatric bipolar disorder” in toddlers and the struggles they’ve faced without having to drag down the tone of the show with the fact that her mother kiled her with an overdose of clonidine. Perhaps she can do a show with the mother of Iman Morales, discussing his views on the gentrification of Brooklyn and leave out the part where the police kill him.
Let’s be honest, no one turns to daytime television for credible journalism but if someone is going to tackle a story like this, they owe it to the victim and the viewing public to tell the whole story. Oprah’s omitting the abuse of this girl amounts to endorsement of it just as Shari Roan’s original coverage of it for the LA Times did. It’s bad enough to turn a blind eye to stories like this entirely but to dig into a story and go through he trouble of leaving out the abuse and strange defenses of it is unconscionable.
It’s just one more case of the media looking the other way when those diagnosed as mentally ill are abused and when you dig a little deeper and find out how much it’s happening it is truly frightening. The refusal to address these things is a ringing endorsement of it and it’s happened throughout our history with regard to different groups of people on the basis of class, race, gender — you name it. The difference is that we now look back on it with shame and, however delayed, some amount of outrage. I wonder how long it is going to be until you can no longer beat and starve another human being and — as long as they are deemed mentally ill — be regarded as a struggling hero.
In a society that seldom puts the spotlight on someone diagnosed with serious mental illness, other than in the light of violent crime, and much less for admirable and inspiring behavior — I found this worth sharing.
Elyn Saks is one of just 24 people in varied fields awarded a $500, 000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation this year. The grant is without restriction and can be used as its recipients choose but is offered in the interest and spirit of continued creative endeavors. There are some amazing individuals among the MacArthur Fellows, ranging from scientists to artists to legal advocates. From their website:
The MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. There are three criteria for selection of Fellows: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
Saks, a legal scholar and mental health policy advocate has been actively questioning how we approach the idea of mental illness and more importantly the people to whom these labels are attached — both in the nature of her daily life and in her studies and works. Elyn has received a philosophy degree from Oxford and a law degree from Yale. She is on the faculty at USC and is researching societal rejection of people diagnosed as mentally ill. She hasn’t merely gotten by in her field but excelled, all the while dealing with her own serious mental illness. Saks is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The fact that she has not just been able to live a “normal” life but one of remarkable work is a testament to the fact that people shouldn’t be defined by their perceived illnesses or the limitations we associate with them. The fact that she only went public with her diagnosed schizophrenia in 2007 but was facing it down throughout her successful studies speaks to the fact that limitations associated with perceived mental illness may not be inherent but placed upon people externally. Elyn’s work and achievements are admirable regardless of any mental health issues and backstory which is what places her among the 24. From the LA Times:
Saks said in an interview Monday that she would use at least some of the prize money to extend her memoir by interviewing other people with schizophrenia who are doing well.
“When I’m traveling, people always say, ‘You’re unique.’ Well, I’m really not,” she said. “I would just like to tell other people’s stories as well to further give people hope and understanding. . . . Some of their stories are just so inspirational.”
One has to wonder what doors would have been closed to her along the way if she had disclosed her situation — and how, if the mentally ill are so limited, the only conceivable thing that could have ve separated her from her goals is not an illness but the people around her.
For the few of you who regularly check in and those who might stumble upon this, I’ve been too busy with life in the real world to maintain even a slight presence online lately. I will be posting more and hopefully more regularly in the near future. A number of noteworthy events, campaigns, opportunities for action and stories of interest have come to my attention in my “absence.” That means I may post some things that are old news to some.
Things at my end have been anything but uneventful and, as it relates more to my wife than to myself, I’ll leave the details to her. In brief, she’s had concerns about her health that should have been put to rest early and easily but have led to a couple of years of pain, exhaustion and worry. She has a weblog in progress detailing her ordeal with chronic exertional compartment syndrome. Much of the backstory is laid out but a surgery and recovery are still very much a current event and will be addressed in the near future at: