A mental health crisis should not be a death sentence as it recently was in Madison. The legally sanctioned killings of those going through a mental health crisis, which disproportionally impact black Americans, is comparable to eugenics. And the legally sanctioned killings of other societal undesirables are comparative as well. Inevitably, there’s a thought of “they deserved it,” or the shrugging off of the death of those homeless, those in mental health crisis, people of color, queer and Trans folk. It’s seen as the erasing of undesirables from society as they are seen as a danger to not be protected or their life isn’t worth as much. The act may be legal, but it is extraordinarily depraved behavior to allow in a society.
There is a deep hypocrisy in our society — one of our many great lies — the lie that we value humanity and life. That our society works to preserve life … this is a grand lie. We are a society that is quick to say someone deserved to die, that is quick to let its powers that be and its authorities use violence to solve a conflict. A society who’s first instinct as a nation is to use its great military power to solve conflicts, we often tell countries to submit their liberty to us, or suffer the consequences.
We excuse this violence and then damn those that dare to use violence in defense of their liberty, to their body, and we label them “criminals,” “violent,” and worse. And even the ones that use nonviolent resistance are labeled “enemies of the state” and violently murdered.
The depth of this hypocrisy is part of the myth of “American Exceptionalism,” and the myth of the lie of Madison. It is a lie that Madison is more an exception than the rule, that Madison is somehow protected from the lies of America, the sins of America. The truth is this: there is no place in this nation that is an exception, and there is no place that is protected from the continued sins of its larger white society, a society built on violence.
The truth is that this society accepts violence used to protect its delicate sensibilities and to protect its sense of safety. We have our own Madison mayor saying people need to be taught to always comply with what police tell you. We cannot question or resist power? I cannot and will not submit to power without question, without holding onto my liberty to resist when that submission is oppression. The white men that founded this country lived with that mindset, but when those this nation oppresses or violently impacts do the same, it’s oftentimes a death sentence — be it your life or your liberty.
Why must we always submit our liberty to power? Why not teach power to better engage with people? Our police should not be so delicate to feel the need to beat or kill someone who does not immediately comply as often as they do; to use deadly force when it’s only absolutely necessary, and to hold the preservation of life as its highest priority. They should be able to work with those that, for whatever reason, are emotionally charged, upset, drunk, drugged, confused, and more.
We as a society have a problem. Instead of being disgusted enough by the death of elementary school kids, and citizens all over the nation, we are disgusted by the calls for even the most rudimentary national-level gun-control legislation. We have decided that even the most minimal of background checks is a most disgusting infringement on our “freedoms.” It is evident that the freedom to own a gun, a weapon of mass destruction, even military-style weapons, is more important than the protection of life. We’re the only so-called civilized society that experiences mass shootings as frequent as we do. People are more likely to be killed by their own legally purchased gun, than to use it to actually protect themselves. There are also very real racist implications of the Second Amendment, and very real racist implications of laws of self-defense like ‘Stand your Ground’ laws.
When it comes to our city, this goes beyond the remarkably shortsighted view of the mayor, though. People going through a mental wellness crisis, be it under the influence or something else, might have a hard time processing the idea of not resisting someone attempting to restrain them. The idea that barking orders at someone in such a crisis and expecting them to comply is ludicrous. This mentality has led to three deaths in four years in one Madison neighborhood; they are exhausted of this legal death.
Are there real dangers in society? Yes, attempting to preserve life does not mean one doesn’t recognize such dangers. You can be aware without succumbing to this fear. You can be protective without wanting to throw a grenade under a bed just in case the toy you stepped and hurt your foot on is, in fact, a monster.
But, there are solutions that we can invest in locally to start to shift this culture of acceptable violence.
Officers responding to someone in a crisis need to work to preserve life. Barking orders at someone going through a crisis won’t help. This comes from their training, the expectation that someone must comply; their training isn’t that of de-escalation, it’s that of their own self-preservation, and of compliance of the other.
Community control over the police is needed. We must shift who has power, so that those most impacted by police tactics can decide how policing looks in their communities, what the training looks like, who’s hired, who’s fired, and more. The shift in power is important to making sure police truly serve our citizens, our communities.
We must have better mental health resources. The loss of this man’s life is tragic, just as the trauma of the people living in the house he broke into … better resources could have prevented this. This city has abysmal mental health resources. While this is true, it’s also a part of a much larger problem that goes all the way to the federal level.
This is a national, state, county, and local problem. The county has pushed for more spending on mental wellness resources. But local level spending can only go so far when our state government will increase spending in prisons but not mental health, when our federal government doesn’t give states nearly enough funding for mental health resources.
Not just this city, but every city needs a mental wellness crisis team that’s available 24 hours a day. We need mental health first responders, well paid and well trained to help someone in a crisis and to help deescalate these situations. We cannot let police be a Swiss army knife of solutions to problems we face as a society. When they are killing people in a mental health crisis, they are not helping people. It’s also strange that it seems many times they can apprehend an active shooter alive, but a man in a crisis holding a pitchfork must die.
It’s also important that we support first responders; the life of a police officer is stressful and full of trauma. Even if the institution of policing itself is racist and in need of a massive shift of power, there is a need for a type of professional that can properly respond to dangerous and violent situations. Sometimes it’s the fire department, sometimes it should be that of a dedicated mental crisis response team, and sometimes something like police are needed.
We need to truly reshape the role and structure of this institution, but that doesn’t mean the people responding to these crisis currently don’t need mental health resources. That can properly respond to protecting public safety. This doesn’t mean escalating to gain control of a scene, but de-escalation and use of force when it is absolutely unavoidable.
We must make sure that all first responders have the proper mental health support that is needed. These are traumatic and stressful jobs to have — all first responders see terrible things and the resources at hand to help them cope are minimal. We also know that officers that kill someone once are much more likely to do it again. It is key that our first responders have the help that they need. They do experience their own trauma, and that has to be supported and worked with.
Police violence, our violence as a society, infects everywhere, but again there’s disproportionate impact on black Americans. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t impact white Americans, as well. If you’re white and wondering why we aren’t protesting and you are outraged about this death, well maybe you should start standing up when officers act out of line towards white people. We are not going to carry our people, plus yours.
Now don’t get it twisted; this is absolutely a tragic loss of life. If you feel that it is, then take the lead for your community; we’ll stand with you, but it’s not on us to take the lead for your community. The weight that we already carry is more than you can imagine. Police violence happens to every community, it just happens to black Americans at a disproportionate rate. Not to mention, if you get it to stop in black communities, I guarantee you it will stop in all communities.
We are living in what I would argue, at minimum, is a quasi-police state, with our chief seeing nothing wrong with the idea of “surrendering your liberty.” Where our law enforcement apparatuses can spy on you, take your property, beat you, and kill you without much accountability … if any at all.
But so many people refuse to see this is where we are as a nation, living in fear of a monster under the bed. Be it a black “thug,” someone in the middle of a mental health crisis, a brown terrorist, or brown immigrants lending to the decay of “decent society.”
There are real problems we face as a city and as a society, problems such as a lack of mental health resources, housing, poverty, which are things that impact all races, but again at disproportionate rates. Our own police chief has admitted that police don’t address the roots of these problems, so then the next logical question is why does this city spend more on police than other comparable cities? We have that choice so why don’t we invest in solutions to these problems and divest from an already larger-than-needed police department that is causing violence and death in our city? We can divest from the grenades we throw under the bed in fear of a monster, causing trauma for all parties involved.
Because right now, by letting such violence and death be acceptable in our city by public employees, we are the monsters.