Posts tagged ‘New York’

It’s Only Murder if You’re Sane

The Gothamist reports that:

On Wednesday, police found the body of a nude woman in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Although initial reports suggested the woman may have been emotionally disturbed, last night police announced that they were treating Nina Rivera’s death as a homicide.

So, it’s one or the other is it? I don’t know whether this little blurb is a statement on the Gothamist’s “journalism” or the NYPD’s approach. Either way, there’s a severe problem of perception here.

December 6, 2010 at 11:20 am 4 comments

Kings County and the Death of Esmin Green: Still Outraged

Some time around 6:30 am, two years ago today, Esmin Green was involuntarily admitted to Kings County’s psychiatric ER where she was ignored for 24 hours, the last of which she spent face down on the floor — writhing at first and ultimately dying in the presence of  the staff members whose job it was to care for her.

Think about that as you glance at the clock, going about your day today — how far 6:30 in the morning seems from your lunch, the end of the workday, prime time television. Think about where you’ve spent your day and how it compares to where Esmin was all that time just two years ago.

I’m still outrageed, still disgusted that we live in a society that allows that and — as long as it’s just those mentally ill over there — accepts it. We’ve created a line and carefully keep who and what lies on the other side out of our sight –as if there really is an us and a them. There isn’t. As long as we have a class of people who can be treated by force we have a public that cares little about what happens to them behind closed doors but there is no class and public. There’s just us and what we do to others, we’re doing to one of our own.

The only real rarity in this story is that it was caught on video. If it hadn’t been you would never have known about it. It would just be another death in another psych hospital — with no one to cry foul. KCHC has been operating like this for decades and even now, in their costly new building, under federal monitoring and with new accountability policies in place — the abuses continue.

I’m going to Brooklyn today — to King’s County. I’m going in remembrance of Esmin Green and in protest of an institution beyond reform. I’m going to stand aside others who won’t accept the state of the system and are standing up in the streets, demanding change — and when I glance at the time, I’ll know I’m where I need to be. Will you?

Previous Related Posts:

Esmin Green Demonstration and Vigil (2009)

Kings County Hosital to be Monitored by Federal Judge

Sexual Assault by Kings County Employee

Kings County: A Call to Action

June 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

Kendra’s Law — Five More Years?

Kendra’s Law, a controversial New York state law enacted in 1999 under the Mental Hygiene Law, is due to sunset in June. If you hear about it from both sides enough, it’s easy to overcomplicate things and muddy the waters but what it really comes down to is that Kendra’s Law enables the state to drug people who they think might become criminals. Kendra’s law is in place solely to allow the forced treatment of people deemed mentally ill using fear of violence, however unfounded, as its leverage. It enables the state to strip people of their rights based on a diagnosis. Last I knew, the constitution (at least on paper) applied to all of us and not just those the state deems mentally qualified to share in the rights it’s meant to guarantee. That is a very scary path to be on and make no mistake — we are on it.

While its future is unclear, Kendra’s Law might very well be extended for another five years but not without a fight from a grassroots organization (no, not that one — a real grassroots organization) formed to protect the rights of people regarded as mentally ill — We The People. I, for one, hope they are able to help turn things around. They’ve been making their presence and stance as advocates for rights in mental health known and are taking part in meetings with Assemblyman Felix Ortiz in an effort to help restore the rights and dignity of New Yorkers.

From the Legislative Gazette:

Bill opponents, such as We The People, a group describing themselves as survivors of psychiatric atrocities in the mental health system, said this bill would extend the reach of the law to further encroach upon the civil rights of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds unfairly labeled as “mentally ill.” Especially, they said, because it removes a provision that requires a physician to testify at the court hearing.

We The People want another woman to be remembered besides Kendra — Esmin Elizabeth Green, a mother of six who suffered from depression. She collapsed on the waiting room floor of the psychiatric ward in Kings County Hospital Center in June 2008. She died soon after, unattended and unnoticed by hospital staff.

This incident is just one example of the mistreatment of the mentally ill, law opponents say, because the assisted outpatient treatment system amounts to coercion, oppression and “torture.”

I’m not sure why the author felt the need to put torture in quotes. It reads like undue editorializing to me — as if to say it’s a stretch to call it torture. There’s a reason there’s a survivor movement and it’s not because the system has a healthy way of dishing out a healthy version of care. These drugs wreak havoc on your body, alter your mind and take you over in so many instances and in so many ways.Of course, once you become someone for whom force is considered an option, these things are just details, secondary to your being kept under control. Force does something sinister that rights and law can’t quite touch. Where you were once a person worthy of care, you become a problem to be solved.

Lauren Tenney, a coordinator of We The People, said, “They designed this [assisted outpatient treatment] to make it sound nicer. It was designed to fool the public to make people think it stops people from killing people, but they’re just getting drugs and no support. The research is entirely flawed.”

AOT should be referred to as IOC, she said, involuntary outpatient commitment.

She said the law is coercive and denies people their civil rights because it forces people into taking psychotropic drugs without their consent and does not provide the proper therapeutic support.

“I’ve seen people tortured and dead from their medication,” said Tenney.

If you have something to say, sign on to add your name and voice to the action We the People are taking. Contact Assemblyman Ortiz directly. Time is limited. Do you really want the kind of guy who wants to ban salt in restaurants making decisions regarding your mental health rights? Probably not, but that’s the situation. Don’t let it happen while you sit quietly. If you think you’re out of reach because you don’t live in NY, think again. Forced treatment laws are being introduced or strengthened all over. This is not just an issue of mental health rights but basic human rights and civil liberties. Drugging to prevent crime? That’s one step too far and a decade too long.

May 7, 2010 at 9:41 am 1 comment

Violence Prevention Medication?

This morning, I stumbled upon an opinion piece for the Buffalo News pushing for Kendra’s Law to be made permanent. Kendra’s Law is an attempt to prevent violent crime by essentially treating people diagnosed as mentally ill like some sort of pre-criminals. On paper it’s also supposed to be for the safety of the “patient” too but when it’s time to push for support, it’s almost always about protecting “us” from “them.” (As I’ve said before, fear sells when facts fail.) Advocates of Kendra’s Law and similar attempts to criminalize extreme states of mind use phrases like assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) instead of the more truthful involuntary or forced outpatient treatment.  These are the types of laws that allow for forced drugging, electroshock and hospital confinement — all based on the unfounded idea of biological mental illness but the idea is just the packaging. It’s essentially a way to keep people under control out of fear of what they might do. This thinking has no basis in fact regarding mental illness and certainly no place in the arena of human rights or a constitutional America. The article is a fine example of fearmongering but that’s the current state of media. Somehow factmongering never caught on.

As with most battles for thought and opinion, this one is very much centered on carefully crafted words and phrases — not unlike much of the current mental health industry. As with force being rephrased as assistance, drugs are renamed and recategorized, some officially and some in the minds and words of the public. (Neuroleptics have come to be called antipsychotics which are now being called antidepressants.) Sometimes words with no previous connection are paired and when spoken with some authority or when used to speak to people’s fear these words become inseparable, creating a false choice scenario. The latest I’ve seen, in the aforementioned article, is “violence prevention medication.” Of course, there is no such thing but it’s another step in grooming the vernacular.

Kendra’s Law—designed to keep people who really need it on their violence-prevention medication—was passed about 10 years ago. It’s up for renewal, again. Just make it permanent…

The law allows judges to order certain mentally ill people to remain on violence-prevention medication as a condition of release and, if that doesn’t work, to order involuntary committal to mental hospitals if shown to be a danger to themselves or others.

The author creates a connection between violence prevention and drugs. Simply by accepting the phrasing, you’d be accept the idea as truth. And if that’s the truth, you are either in favor of forced drugging or you don’t care if innocent children are slaughtered at the hands of madmen. Facts be damned, that’s your choice. Somehow, when I picture people being tackled to the ground, restrained by undue force, faces pressed against a cold hospital floor and forcibly injected with drugs — powerful mind and body altering drugs — it’s hard to see it as “violence prevention.” We are transferring violence at best and at worst and in truth, causing it.

March 17, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Sexual Assault By Kings County Employee

I was jarred awake with disgust this morning as I sat down to my computer though I learned long ago never to be shocked or surprised. Larry J. Taylor, an employee of the notorious psychiatric unit at Kings County Hospital Center, was arrested yesterday for the rape of a developmentally disabled, deaf and mute man in the shower. Taylor faces two felony charges, a first-degree criminal sex act and third-degree sexual abuse. This just a month after the hospital agreed to federal monitoring for its systemic failure, abuse and neglect. From the Gothamist’s article on the assault:

Last year, the Justice Department released the findings of a year-long investigation of the East Flatbush medical center’s psychiatric unit, which revealed a lengthy record of violence and sexual assault. That study included reports of forced sex acts, brawls that left patients needing surgery, and staffers administering simultaneous injections of medications despite the possibility of overdoses.

What can I possibly say to that? In the midst of their being investigated for all manner of egregious failures, Esmin Green died on their waiting room floor after being ignored for more than 24 hours. In response to the public outrage, they built a $153 million replacement for the notorious G Building, had a few meetings and agreed to clean up their act and accept outside monitoring. It doesn’t look like any of that has had an effect on the staff whose long list of crimes, indiscretions and abuses continue. Sure — terrible and ugly things happen everywhere but at Kings County it’s systemic and they’ve gotten very comfortable with the way they do things. It is the snake pit you thought went away in the fifties.

• • •

Links:

NY Times NY Daily News and the Gothamist report on the incident.

New York Civil Liberties Union‘s summary of Kings County Hospital with link to the original lawsuit 2007 and the findings of the Department of Justice.

My previous posts about Kings County — here and here.

February 26, 2010 at 11:51 am 4 comments

Kings County Hospital to be Monitored by Federal Judge

You offered them as martyrs but that was not your right
God’s instruments of change sometimes walk beneath our sight

Ballydowse — Open the Record

A year and a half after Esmin Green died on Kings County Hospital’s waiting room floor as a direct result of staff negligence, a settlement has been agreed upon which will allow a federal judge to monitor Kings County Hospital. Esmin’s death may have been a turning point but Kings County’s psychiatric ward had already been called a “chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger” in legal filings which were under way well before Esmin’s involuntary commitment and death. That lawsuit was filed by Mental Hygiene Legal Service, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Unfortunately, it takes more than a lawsuit for most Americans to take notice so we had to actually watch someone die before turning the spotlight onto Kings County.

From the NY Times:

In a 45-minute conference call on Thursday with Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, lawyers for the city, the federal government and the patients confirmed that they had agreed on a consent decree that would require changes at the hospital and a timeline for enacting them. The conference call was broadcast in the courtroom.

The judge indicated that she was prepared to sign the agreement, even as she expressed some reservations, saying that some parts seemed “vague” and “ill defined.”

Hopefully with this agreement, we can expect some real, immediate and measurable changes. People only seem to act when someone is watching. Still, I’m not exactly encouraged by parts of the agreement being “vague” and “ill defined.” In light of the fact that KCHC staff failed to adhere to existing policy and even falsified reports, I question their willingness and ability to truthfully and effectively report to an outside overseeing body.

Judge Matsumoto could modify the agreement before signing it, lawyers said, and indeed, during the conference call on Thursday, the judge expressed concerns about what she saw as somewhat flabby language.

She noted that the settlement called for the hospital to meet “generally accepted standards” for psychiatric diagnoses, a goal that seemed to underwhelm the judge, who said it was “obvious.”

Judge Matsumoto criticized another section that called for mental health treatment plans to be assessed and revised “when appropriate.”

“O.K.,” the judge said tartly. “How do we decide?”

She pushed the parties to submit progress reports to the court sooner and more frequently than they had envisioned.

Judge Matsumoto would function as the enforcement agent for the decree and would have the power to hold the city in contempt or impose other penalties if the decree’s provisions were violated.

Hopefully Judge Matsumoto can cut through that flab and get to the heart of the matter, making the necessary changes before signing the agreement. When systemic neglect and abuse is allowed to continue and worsen for years, only to be exposed by death on tape, we should be demanding more than vague talk about “accepted standards.” Fortunately,  Judge Matsumoto seems to be of the mind to see it through. I sincerely hope she does. I’m glad to see she’s pushing for more timely and more frequent progress reports but how gradually are we willing to allow things to change and again, how much can we trust the integrity of those reports? These are matters that need to be addressed.

In the end, it shouldn’t take paperwork, compliance and transparency policies and administrative oversight to motivate people in the field of “care” to act as though they care. If you need a court order to tell you to pick someone up when they’ve fallen face first onto cold, dirty tile, then you are not only ill qualified to work in a hospital setting but to call yourself human. We can make all the clerical and administrative changes in the world to enact outward change but we will never be able to legislate decency, respect and dignity.

January 11, 2010 at 11:38 am

One Cat, Six days and a Shot of Haldol

I had not heard the horrible story of Chris Muth’s 2008 psychiatric incarceration and forced drugging until reading of it on the blog Lunatic Fringe. The whole thing underscores the fact that the difference between sane and insane can be a simple matter of whether the right people believe you.


In July of 2008, Chris Muth was visited by a guest and his cat, Rumi. At some point, Rumi was poking around Muth’s apartment and entered a small hole in the bathroom wall. Muth ripped the wall open in hopes of rescuing a trapped Rumi, who returned his cat-calls, to no avail.  As it turns out, the small hole led to a large drop and Rumi fell 30 feet down a shaft within the wall. In his attempts to rescue the cat, he did break into an unoccupied apartment to create an opening. Understandably, the authorities were called. What is not so easy to understand is the leap the officers made next.

Not believing there was actually a cat stuck behind the wall, the police hauled him off to the psychiatric ward at Long Island College Hospital where he was held for six days. That is unconscionable. A man loses six days of his freedom because the cops mistake a very real cat for a psychotic delusion. Muth lost more than just six days through the ordeal. He lost his home, his girlfriend and his job while in LICH’s “care.”

In typical haul-them-in-and-label-them fashion, Muth’s medical records state that he “has the bizarre delusion [that he] was trying to ‘save’ a cat of his friend.” I wonder what kind of tests they administered to determine the existence of Rumi the cat. Surely they didn’t just take the officers’ word. Right? Muth, having had enough, decided to speak up saying to the resident nurse on duty, “‘Give me a pencil and paper. I’m going to write a press release and you are going to be the laughingstock of New York.”  Apparently no one informed him that the right to free speech doesn’t apply to psych patients any more than the right to due process. She did not get him a pencil and paper. She chose instead to  call for orderlies who held him down while she injected him with Haldol, a particularly ugly and powerful drug from the old round of antipsychotics — a blatantly punitive chemical assault and not an attempt at anything even resembling health, treatment or care.

“How can you stand up for yourself in this culture? You can punch someone and get arrested, or you can sue,” Muth said. And  he’s doing just that — suing the hospital and 11 0f its employees for a total of $260, 000. Considering what he’s been through and what was taken from him, that doesn’t seem like much. I hope he gets something that he can call justice out of the ordeal.

There you have it. A man carted off by the police to a psych ward, denied his basic human rights and civil liberties, separated from his freedom, his home and his source of income, held down and drugged by force — all because the police didn’t think the cat was real. And what if it hadn’t been? Would any of this be acceptable if it had all been a delusion? That’s not a rhetorical question. We need to seriously question what constitutes an abusive system, which rights we can do without and what it takes to trade them in. The mental health system has acted as a system of punishment for people on the margins of society for far too long. If Chris Muth can find himself in this situation, what misunderstanding or perception can put you there?

Rumi was eventually rescued by an animal control officer and is doing well after 15 days behind the wall. Here is an article about the original event and one about the subsequent lawsuit, both from The Brooklyn Paper.

December 23, 2009 at 12:20 am

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