I am overwhelmed, teary and disturbed this morning. Yesterday I did something I should have never done. I watched a video with a graphic warning that showed the killing of Kelly Thomas back in 2011. Once I started watching the video I should have stopped, but I kept saying to myself, “This will end now, this will end now.” Then my thoughts changed to, “This has to end, right? Please, when does this beating stop?”
The video is long and Kelly’s cries for help are horrible. I don’t recommend that anyone watch the video, because even though Kelly lived long enough to make it to the hospital, he died shortly after that, so you would essentially be watching people kill a man. It is…words fail me.
Kelly had schizophrenia. Not unlike the video of Jason Harrison, who also had schizophrenia, and was shot in front of his home when his mother called 911 to ask for assistance.
This morning I started to research how many people with mental illnesses are killed every year by police officers. The numbers have been increasing since the 1980’s when, as a country, we deinstitutionalized the severely mentally ill. The source for this information is in an article written in the Portland Press Herald. The article is long, but worth the time.
I need to take some time this morning and just sit. I am not the kind of person who hates law enforcement. I respect the uniform. I respect that the police put their lives on the line every single time they get a call to respond. I would be the first to look to an officer for help if I needed it, but something terrible has gone wrong when the mentally ill and people of color (some of whom are also mentally ill like Jason Harrison) are being killed so frequently.
I understand the Black Lives Matter movement and some of those black lives are people who have the same illness as I do. I want their lives to matter too. Of course, I want all lives to matter, but I can only truly speak as a person with a mental illness. I want our lives to matter, black, white, brown, and every other color of skin.
People are saying it is dangerous to walk while black, or to drive while black, or basically live in a black man’s skin. I can’t speak to those experiences, I have to listen and learn, but I know it is also dangerous to have a psychotic break (something a mentally ill person also has no control over).
Think about psychosis for a minute. The person who is psychotic is not interpreting reality correctly. They may be hallucinating. They may be delusional. They may be terrified and thinking the world is out to get them, or even kill them. They may try to defend themselves from the threat they perceive. Handling a person who is suffering from psychosis is not a job for law enforcement (unless the person has a gun).
I’m not trying to take anything away from the Black Lives Matter movement, I agree, black lives do matter. I’m only trying to point out, that the mentally ill encounter some of the same hostile feelings and negative outcomes for no other reason than that they are mentally ill.
As with all people who have been marginalized, there is some common ground here. I’m just pointing to it and saying, “Look, this matters.”