{August 4, 2011}   This just breaks my heart…

I found this article on Yahoo! news, and it hurts. A schizophrenic man was beaten to death by police for not cooperating when they asked to search his bag. (He wasn’t even connected with the crime they were checking him for, apparently, at least the article doesn’t tie him to the burglary.)

This issue comes up a lot in NAMI. We push for officers to go through special training to learn how to approach and arrest or restrain a person with mental illness. Brute force just doesn’t work. I fully support any police department that asks or requires their officers to go through this program, because it needs to be done more often. And it’s pretty pathetic that it’s not already a national requirement.

I’m not going to rant about police brutality or jump on the bandwagon of ‘cops are useless/don’t help the poor/are on a power trip and not afraid to use it’, because frankly, I like to believe there are still good policeman out there. Yeah, I’ve run into a few, especially in small town/city local areas, that I wouldn’t nominate for ‘officer of the year’, but I do not believe that every cop out there is just a bully who got picked on in High School and is getting his revenge.

I think the cops who fuck up and become bullies are the only ones that make the news.

That being said, there was obviously a big fuck-up here, and now a man is dead because of it.

But instead of blaming the police (although I do blame them, it should not take 6 officers to restrain a man. And 6 men-with badges or not- beating and tazing a man is the definition of wrong.) I’m going to blame the general public’s lack of awareness for mental illness.

I gave a speech on schizophrenia last summer, and found that there wasn’t a single classmate who could give me any sort of definition or description of the illness other than ‘someone who’s crazy/strange/stupid.’ I showed a picture of a shirt that was popular when I was in high school that said “I used to be schizophrenic, but we’re ok now” and explained that this shirt does not depict schizophrenia, but another disease, called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or, as it’s been reclassified now,  Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

Schizophrenia is a psychotic disturbance in thought. You don’t become other people (see The United States of Tara), you hear voices, or you see things. (Hallucinations and delusions) You have thoughts that aren’t yours.(see A Beautiful Mind) It sounds like a pretty terrifying experience to me. I’m going to encourage anyone reading this to Google it and find out more on their own. (I recommend you start with the newest revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)- version 5, which isn’t even published yet, but the proposed version can be found in the link)

I digress. What I was trying to get at is that there needs to be more understanding- factual, correct understanding- of mental disorders in our culture. It’s important knowledge for police, but it’s important for the general public, as well. I’ve known a handful of schizophrenics, some on meds, some off, some dealing with paranoia and delusions, others who don’t show any outward signs of the disorder. And trust me when I say, they’re not any different from the rest of us.

It’s just easier for us to label them as ‘freaks’ and treat them like the plague. God forbid we should actually try to understand or sympathize with people who are different than us, right? But we could do (and have done) the same thing to anyone; women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, AIDS patients, people with ADD,  short people. fat people, kids with asthma, nerdy people, you get the picture. Everyone has something that makes them ‘different’, we learn that in elementary school. I think it’s time to move on to the next lesson: acceptance and understanding.

Do yourself (and everyone you’ll ever meet) a favor, and do some reading. Check your sources, keep an open mind. And figure out that everyone is ‘weird’, and that’s what makes us all normal. (and interesting.)


et cetera