Prejudice after mass shootings is a well-defined pattern

Alternate Title: This autistic with mental health disabilities would like others to develop better pattern recognition skills.

East Coker

Image text:
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? 
-From T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” Part II: East Coker

I have an inordinate fondness of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. I have significantly less fondness of repeatedly having to tell people to stop blaming mental health for mass shootings. But yes, I shall say it again. Because a 2017 Georgetown Public Policy Review article by Delaney Luna notes that “a 2015 study found that 63% of Americans blame untreated mental health problems for mass shootings.” Because “contentious studies associating mental disorders with violence are often cited as fact, overstating the propensity for mentally ill individuals to commit violent acts, and promoting these ideas to the American public.”

(Unfortunately, often gun control legislation introduced in the wake of shootings targets disabled people. There is clearly a mass shooting problem, but any solutions need to be non-biased and not ableist. The public policy article does set up the dichotomy of blaming mental health vs. gun control, so keep the above in mind).

So yes, I shall say it again. Stop scapegoating social minorities – people with mental health disabilities – and evading the real problems. There are patterns to how people respond to these incidents, and patterns behind the motivations of perpetrators.

Fact: There is usually a history of things like domestic violence or white nationalist supremacy discovered in the backgrounds of those who commit mass shootings. Response: Many people, including government policymakers, decline to do anything but blame terrorism (predominantly if the perpetrator is or thought to be brown and Muslim), or mental health (predominantly if the perpetrator is white). It is still apparently easier for many people reporting news coverage, or policymakers, and others to deny these patterns. They believe it is better to scapegoat than get at the real problems… better to try and stop us from having rights.

The discussion for the most recent incident in Parkland, Florida revolves around mental health. There’s also talk of white nationalist ties. Which, great, please talk about white nationalism being one of the factors involved. White nationalism – as recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center – has a body count even as its proponents play respectability politics in some arenas. But some coverage is talking about white nationalism – and mental health – in the same conversation, and it needs to stop. One Tumblr user puts it well in their post “Extremism is not a function of mental illness.”

Most extremists are average people in a socially vulnerable position that extremist ideologues can exploit. People who feel disenfranchised (legitimately or not.) People who are socially isolated. People who are scared, or angry, or feel cheated.

This isn’t mental illness: this is a social problem.

This is exactly what happens every time social change comes to a head.

It becomes violent when someone feeling threatened by the changes decides it’s time to put the social change back the way it “should be.” It becomes violent because these people are told by their extremist social group that the world is getting out of line because they haven’t stopped it.

Stop saying, directly or indirectly, that only people with mental health disabilities can be responsible for atrocities and violence. We are not, in fact, more likely to be the perpetrators of such violence. Luna notes in the Public Policy Review article that “only about 3 to 5% of all US crimes are committed by individuals diagnosed with a mental illness, and fewer than 5% of all gun-related killings between 2001 and 2010 were committed by individuals with diagnosed mental illnesses.”

Stop saying it when most of us are engaged in such a struggle to survive already. Fun fact: I just got out of a psych ward again within the last few weeks. Surviving is hard.

Diagnoses from hospital stay.

[Partial screencap of diagnoses from my most recent hospital stay, including autism spectrum, suicidal ideation, and bipolar disorder – unspecified. Name of hospital and dates removed.]

Stop saying extremism and its resulting violence is the result of mental health disability. Stop tying mental health disability to white nationalism, the way that’s being done now after mass shootings and whenever the Trump administration does something terrible and/or linked to white nationalism.

So yes, I shall say it again: Stop trying to tie mental health disability to all the occurrences you pretend are unexplainable by anything else.

We’re already dealing with enough without scapegoating being pushed as “mental health reform” and being blamed for social problems that are explained by multiple other factors. We already know you don’t actually want to help us – just protect people from us, but it sure would be nice if you could at least stop making life harder for us.


Note

Conversations on mass shootings do shift with context, and it’s important to note mental health isn’t the only topic of conversation. If the perpetrator was brown and Muslim, Islamophobia comes into play as a prejudice:

 

Autistics in Mental Health Crisis (third in a series)

Autistics in Crisis Part Three: Stop Mishandling First Interactions with People in Crisis

Even if we had the best resources for Autistics to access, mental health crises in Autistic people will still sometimes occur, and there will still be situations where a non-crisis gets reported to authorities as such. I feel fortunate. My experiences, particularly at GW, were not ideal. But I did not have forcible intervention from authorities. I feel fortunate because even though I am at lower risk of injury from crisis intervention teams (as I am white), forcible admission to a psych hospital (also known as, you know, forced institutionalization, whether short term or long term) is probably doubly traumatic.

I want to talk about a couple of things in this post:

  • How crisis intervention often goes wrong in regards to the police, and the disproportionate risk that autistics of color (with and without mental health disabilities) face here, along with autistics of other marginalized groups
  • Some steps to improve the first interactions by police and first responders with autistic people in crisis, both policy and otherwise

How First Interactions with Autistics in Crisis Go Wrong

For Arnaldo Rios-Soto, an autistic Latino young man now institutionalized in Carlton Palms because the state of Florida fails to provide enough community supports to its disabled community members, even playing with a toy truck in the street resulted in a person calling 911 to report Rios-Soto being suicidal and a threat. The police shot and injured his black therapist, Charles Kinsey, and then claimed they meant to shoot Rios-Soto. The police responded to the scene of an alleged mental health crisis involving black and brown people, and shot Charles Kinsey.

As Autistic activists of color Lydia Brown, Finn Gardiner, and Manuel Díaz wrote for Sojourners:…Whether the officer was actually aiming for Kinsey or Rios-Soto, he has become part of a national pattern. Disabled people represent between one-third and one-half of all people killed by police. Black and brown people are extremely disproportionately likely to die in police-involved shootings… If you’re black or brown and disabled, your likelihood of being targeted by police only increases.”

When I asked Timotheus Gordon, Jr., who in his own words is  “an autistic African-American blogger, writer, event photographer and self-advocate in Chicago” what he felt when he heard what the police said about aiming for Rios-Soto, Gordon told me: “…the fact that the police tried to shoot Rios-Soto instead of Kinsey confirms my fear of walking on the street as an autistic person of color… Disabled people of color can play with a red toy truck, calm down from a meltdown, or rollerblade peacefully on the block and still get harassed by people.”

Finn Gardiner, who co-authored the Sojourners piece, added: “The issue of police violence is compounded if you belong to more than one marginalised community. For example, if you’re an autistic, trans person of colour, the combined effects of racism, transphobia and ableism will make you even more at risk for harm… You may have your identity completely erased. People may only see your race and not your gender identity or your disability.”

Crisis intervention also went wrong in the case of Kayden Clarke, a trans man in Mesa, Arizona. Denied a recommendation for hormone replacement therapy by his therapist because of an Asperger’s diagnosis (placing him on the autism spectrum), he became suicidal. In early 2016, after receiving a report from a worried person, the police arrived at his apartment – and shot Clarke, killing him. The police knew Clarke had an Asperger’s diagnosis.

And in February 2012, Chicago-area police shot and killed Stephon Watts, a Black Autistic teenager as he panicked while holding a knife. I wrote in February 2016 (on my previous blog), “…the police had shown up to “subdue” him…. many, many times in the past. To have had such encounters with the police, which were undoubtedly physical in nature, would be traumatizing.  Even if Watts had not been panicking in the first place, to lash out from fear of being “subdued” again is the result of a fight or flight response… As a Black Autistic, Watts faced multiple marginalization from society, with ableism and racism as a reaction that killed him.” The police knew Watts was Autistic.

And the New York Times recently reported that the NYPD uses “restraining bags” for arrests and crisis intervention, particularly in situations involving those with mental health disabilities – as the Times noted, “the bags are used to restrain those judged to be emotionally disturbed.”

These are just a few examples of the way police handle crises. 

What Are the Solutions?

Like Brown, Gardiner and Díaz, Gordon notes which people are often the targets of such harassment and police shootings: “I also dislike [the] repetitive connection between police violence and victims being disabled people of color.” Gordon went to say what he thinks is a solution to police shootings and mishandling of crisis intervention: “I want racial justice and disability rights/justice organizations to collaborate…  The collaboration MUST include organizers and activists in the disability community and ensure that actions are accessible to all participants.” Gardiner agreed with Gordon on the need for collaboration.

In terms of policy work that advocates can work for, a broad measure for police accountability overall as opposed to just crisis handling is H.R. 2302, the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which would cover comprehensive reform – not just police training on disability and racial/ethnic bias, which many of the officers involved in shootings receive – it also requires states to appoint independent prosecutors to investigate and prosecute police-involved shootings before receiving certain federal funding.

More specifically, we also need to create mobile crisis teams that aren’t police. 911 operators can dispatch those teams instead of law enforcement. Gardiner told me that crisis teams that know how to “engage with marginalised populations” are vital.

Gardiner also recommended the creation of “comprehensive peer and community-based supports that take into account the effects of marginalisation.” He also recommended “peer support like… warm lines*, advocating for comprehensive, long-term training for law enforcement, [and] encouraging police departments to hire people who are aware of racial justice issues.”

*Warm lines are like hotlines people having a hard time can call when they are not yet in crisis and need someone to talk to. I elaborate on them in Part Two of this series. 

. . .

This is the third out of a series of posts.

About the Interviewees

Timotheus Gordon, Jr., also known as Pharaoh Inkabuss, is (in his own words), an autistic African-American blogger, writer, event photographer and self-advocate in Chicago. He is the creator of “The Black Autist”, a blog that emphasizes autism/disability acceptance among people of color, including people in the black community. Gordon is a first year Ph.D student at University of Illinois-Chicago, pursuing a degree in disability studies. Follow his Tumblr blog for updates: http://blackautist.tumblr.com/

Finn Gardiner is a Black, queer, Autistic advocate and activist in the Boston area. He currently works for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) as their Boston Community Coordinator, leads the ASAN Greater Boston chapter, and previously worked for the Institute for Community Inclusion as a Gopen Fellow. He has a B.A. in sociology from Tufts University and is currently a public policy masters student at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Follow his blog for updates: http://expectedly.org/blog/ 

While Obama’s executive order came down, I waited on a bed in the psych unit

Just because it shows less to strangers doesn’t mean it’s not there. While Obama’s executive order came down, I sat in a hospital emergency room waiting for a bed in the psych unit. I had just explained to about five different doctors the Bad Thoughts that led me to the hospital.

No, I don’t have a representative payee. For all intents and purposes, I appear independent. Does this mean I should not care? For my friends who have representative payees, and for the continued stigma against having mental health needs, I do care.

My friend consoled me as I broke down on the phone before going to the hospital, and told me it was brave to get this kind of help with all the stigma that surrounds it. While my friend has not reached this level of mental health crisis before, they know all too well the dialogue surrounding mental health. Uncontrollable thoughts raced through my head as I waited on the chair, mixed with frustration at my brain being out of whack again. The thoughts that drove me there were far more intense than usual.

I missed most of the initial window in which to respond to Obama’s executive order because I had no internet access. I relied on phone conversations with friends, individual therapy sessions, playing cards with fellow patients, mealtimes, naps, and books to pass the time.

The history of people with mental health needs is one of rights denied. Institutions for us are still a fairly recent history, and a failed project. Still exist in some forms. Do we have the supports we need in the community yet? Absolutely not. About our rights: should we be able to own guns?

Obama’s executive order affects not just those with mental health needs, but anyone receiving SSA with a representative payee who controls their money. Obama’s executive order is trying a one size fits all policy instead of individually tailoring background checks to search for patterns in past behavior of wanting to hurt people (I cannot propose an adequate policy for those with suicidal ideation in their history, such as mine, even though I do not own a gun and do not want to because I do not need one. I grapple with this.) The answer to should we own guns? depends specifically on the person. People with mental health needs are people, after all.

I managed to convince one of the psychiatrists at the hospital that the Murphy Bill needed significant reform or outright rejection. I have talked about the Murphy Bill extensively in the past (here’s an article on it.) I have always worried about it. I am a person who needs psychiatric care to thrive. I have accepted this about myself long ago. I want my treatment to be as private as I choose. Already some big companies are slipping up with HIPAA violations. If enough action is not taken, soon it will become a moot point.’

When you have mental health needs, some people are determined that you should make a full recovery for the sake of society itself and then mock you for getting help. It is okay for recovery to not be your goal – maybe your goal, like mine, is just to learn coping skills – but regardless, quality treatment should be accessible to everyone at their own pace.

The Murphy Bill will it make it harder for people to willingly access treatment if they know their information is vulnerable. The Murphy Bill’s solution is to simply force treatment and then strip us of our rights and protection against abuses.

Call or write your representative today. Tweet at your legislators. Find your rep at http://www.house.gov/representatives/and then use the generic contact us form. Call to the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative and ask them to oppose the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 2646).

There is a federal relay service for d/Deaf people listed at the bottom here  http://www.house.gov/content/site_tools/accessibility.php)

***

Some people are calling for the return of “asylums.” It will be horrifying to see what legal loopholes they try to uncover in their quest. They are using people like me to further their ideas. They are saying people who end up hospitalized, especially those who experience repeat hospitalizations, are cause for a so-called safe place to keep us (but institutions are not safe; take a look at this history, no matter how altruistic the intentions, they limit freedom and are not safe).

They would rather not fight for community change and community funds. They are talking about our cost, our safety, our inability to care for ourselves, our pitiful state, our drain on society.

They are talking asylums and echoing the language of eugenics.

***

The Murphy Bill and Obama’s executive order generalizes people with mental health needs and uses us to create public fear. A return to asylums is unthinkable.

Imagine a world that is already hard enough to navigate because of mental health needs. Now imagine everyone blames you for mass shootings. Imagine that someone could reveal your secrets to people they see fit, even if it’s not an emergency. “But not you personally! I don’t think of you as mentally ill.” Yes, me personally. I am someone who has mental health needs. Just because it shows less to strangers doesn’t mean it’s not there.

…The sections have become shorter as I have less and less to say, recycling words.

Trying to convince you that an entire group of people’s humanity is worth respecting.