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Monday, July 27, 2020

Tragically, Police Brutality Targets the Mentally Ill

Police brutality has always been a part of the culture, particularly against vulnerable segments of the population. One of those neglected, misunderstood, and badly underserved segments of the population is the mentally ill. Now that illegitimate beating, shootings and other killings by overly aggressive police are coming into open view, it is time for those with psychiatric illnesses to get their day in court.

If you have been brutalized by the police because you suffer from mental illness, or have tragically lost a mentally troubled loved one in a police killing, you need to contact a highly skilled police brutality attorney. The Law Office of Ryan S. Goldstein PLLC is dedicated to protecting all those who have been brutalized, or whose family members have been killed, by police violence. Our team is all too aware that, in spite of a tremendous increase in medical knowledge and public education, persistent ignorance, confusion, and stereotyping continues to plague those who are mentally ill.

Unfortunately, such misunderstanding tends to pervade even professions that deal with psychiatric patients routinely, such as social service workers, healthcare professionals, and law enforcement personnel. Even police officers who have been taught about the chemical and biological causes of mental disturbance, they often revert to old prejudices and hostilities during moments of stress.

Too Often a Loved One’s 911 Call Ends in Tragedy

Imagine the overwhelming pain and guilt when you are the person who makes the call for help that results in the police killing of someone you love. Maybe you don’t have to imagine this, but have lived through the horror of such an event. Obviously, you never intended harm by calling the police -- you expected protection.

Though a mentally ill person can sometimes threaten to harm himself/herself or others, and may even pick up a weapon, such an individual is not rational or in control. While he or she may require restraint or a heavy duty tranquilizer or sedative, such a person does not require a beating or a gunshot. While police brutality involving African Americans has triggered widespread protests, it is critical to remember that the lives of psychiatric patients, no matter what their color or race, matter too.

The Real Dangers of Being Mentally Ill in Our Society

Amazingly, a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center done in 2015 reported that people with untreated mental illness were 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement. It is very unlikely that this situation has improved during the last five years considering the number of police killings the media show us on an almost daily basis.

No one can honestly say that manifestations of mental illness are never frightening or dangerous, but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Only 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. Examining the two facts cited here it should become clear that policy violence against the mentally ill is almost always unnecessary, not to mention reprehensible.

Psychiatric Symptoms that May be Scary, but not Necessarily Dangerous

As those combating police brutality have been loudly pointing out, police training to approach almost all situations as if they are entering combat is, to say the least, misguided. This may be particularly true in cases involving psychiatric patients who are reported to be:

  • Speaking to people who aren’t there (i.e. experiencing visual and/or audio hallucinations)
  • Threatening harm to relatives, acquaintances or celebrities without any evidence of actual intent
  • Threatening to harm themselves
  • Dressing peculiarly or disrobing
  • Describing a risky action they have taken or plan to take
  • Behaving bizarrely but not causing harm
  • Describing an intricate conspiracy against themselves
  • Barricading themselves against invisible enemies

Displays of symptoms of psychiatric illness -- e.g. bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), paranoia, schizophrenia -- while alarming to observe, may have relatively simple solutions. A person in the throws of a psychiatric episode may be soothed by calm words or medication (oral or intravenous) or be able to be restrained easily by two police officers in order to be taken to the hospital.

Don’t Let Police Brutality Go Unpunished

Partially because of the increasing use of iPhones and public video cameras, not to mention police body cams, there is more and more undeniable evidence of police brutality and actual killings. It is clearly very different to watch someone being killed by police than to hear contradictory stories about such an event.

While we wait for law enforcement and criminal justice reform, we must do everything in our power to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. If you are dealing with a mental health crisis, calling on mental health care professionals rather than police is preferable, though not always possible. Being armed with your cell phone camera and ready to record police behavior may lead to more civil behavior on the part of responding officers.

Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, you will be able to call for New York City assistance and receive help from someone other than a uniformed officer, someone with specialized training in the field of mental health. In the meantime, if you have been through the awful trauma of police assault or killing of a psychiatric patient, call a powerful police brutality attorney to receive the substantial damages you are entitled to and a measure of the justice you deserve.


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