Waking Up To Mental Illness & State Violence

Actually, we woke up to the news program Democracy Now! , which ran two stories involving an often unspoken of crisis of mental illness in the United States, namely when it strikes the poor/indigent communities. (and frequently, communities of color.)

One of the stories was a deeper exposé on Rikers Island, which I have blogged about here in the past. The story mentioned the deaths of both Jerome Murdough and Jason Echevarria, and also discussed the practice of placing mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement. One of the guests, who had been incarcerated there and was now a prison rights activist, spoke of solitary confinement & other tortures at Rikers, involving sensory or light deprivation. (Do I really need to point out TW for discussions of such?)

Transcript: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/1/treating_humans_worse_than_animals_prison

The other story discussed the outrage in Albequerque, New Mexico, over the police shooting of James Boyd, a homeless man with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, who had set up an campsite in an area that did not permit it.  This shooting has sparked protests in Albequerque against police brutality, some leading to further violence.

Transcript: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/1/the_bounty_police_force_albuquerque_officers

The show also pointed out that the three largest mental health facilities in the U.S. are currently all in prisons. Things may vary from state to state here, but in New York at least, the cutting of various social services has made it more difficult for those in the lower classes to get treatment. It took me quite some time to get into the program I’m currently in. Should circumstances lead to someone with mental illness ending up on the streets, the solution is often to bring them to jail, sometimes even for something as innocuous as seeking shelter from the elements, as was the case with Jerome Murdough.

Now apparently James Boyd had a history of prior physical assault charges, many of which landed him in New Mexico’s State psychiatric facility, sometimes for treatment, other times merely to get him declared fit to stand trial. The question I have is if more preventative treatment could have circumvented his violent urges altogether? Genuine treatment, not a quick fix to send someone to trial?

One final thing I read on this today, in one of the papers in my programs waiting room, is that there’s a new head at Rikers and the Mayor DeBlasio is looking to reinstate some of the mental health social services that were cut by his predecessor. Will any of this amount to some positive changes? Only time will tell.



4 thoughts on “Waking Up To Mental Illness & State Violence

  1. With equal depravity is the fact that on Death Row, Texas, there are many mentally ill people and even inmates who are known to have severe learning disabilities, some so severe that they were not even aware they were about to be executed. Inmates will normally wait 10 years plus for their final execution date. In that time, each one will be moved to a segregated execution cell approximately three times before their appeals finally buy them a little more time. Can you imagine coming so close to death within a very cruel environment? The human race can hang its head in shame for some of the crimes we commit against each other.


    • Yes, I heard of one case in Texas last year where they executed a mentally disabled man and the judge used the book “Of Mice And Men” determining the man couldn’t be mentally impaired because he didn’t act like Lenny from the book. As if 1) All mentally impaired people will behave in exactly the same way, and 2) as if “Of Mice And Men” is some kind of medical textbook rather than a work of fiction. Ridiculous.


      • The case I know about executing a mentally impaired man was all the more shocking because when they strapped him to the table, the machine that administers the executing drug didn’t work, so he had to sit and wait for an hour until they made the necessary repairs. It was fortunate that the poor man had no understanding of what was happening….shocking!


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