Shot while in the hospital

I just listened to a story on This American Life about Alan Pean, a young African-American man who experienced a severe psychiatric breakdown while living in Houston, Texas. Alan was a college student who had previously survived a couple of episodes of manic depressive disorder. Alan came from a high achieving family with doctors including his father.

Alan found that his mind was overpowered by a delusion  that caused him to jump off the balcony of his third story apartment, make his way to his car and crash through the gates. He drove toward St. Joseph Hospital, a major medical facility in downtown Houston. He crashed and totaled his car into the hospital and somehow told the emergency room staff he was having a manic episode. But he was never treated for his mental disorder. His father who is of Haitian descent arrived a few hours later and also told the staff that his son was having mental problems and yet Alan was still not evaluated by a psychiatrist.

His father left to try to arrange getting Alan help for his mental illness and shortly afterwards the staff had trouble with Alan and called for security. This turned out to be Houston police with guns who were not trained in dealing with psychiatric patients. Alan was tasered, then shot and almost killed and later charged with assault. Although the charges were later dropped there is a disturbing pattern of mental patients being shot or tasered by  police who have little or no training in dealing with them.

There is a New York Times article about the incident involving Alan Pean. People need to be aware of these kinds of incidents and understand that psychiatric patients need help, not bullets. They need people trained to deescalate and force is the last thing you would ever want to use to help someone recover his or her mind.

This story raises other questions, such as what if Alan and his father had been white? Would the outcome be different? Would the hospital staff  you turn to for help be able to recognize that when a white person says he needs mental help, they would hear the person and attempt to provide help? What prevents them from hearing the same statements from people of color? What information is available about the hospital you use and their policy about the use of force? How equipped are they to handle people with a mental illness? Is the person the staff calls for help going to be an armed police officer? And finally, what safe alternatives are there to hospitals for people with mental illness and how widely known are these alternatives?


What more is there to say?

black woman with blue eyes



This has been one of those horrible weeks where one looks out into the city and sees chaos. I am not going to repeat everything here because if you have been awake you have seen the murders of two black men and the equally horrendous murders of police yesterday. It seems that we are making the same move over and over. A black person encounters the police for seemingly innocuous reasons: routine traffic stop, for example, and the police officer becomes unusually aggressive. When the black person attempts to respond he or she is either pulled out of their vehicle or shot while still in the car. The person may also be tackled, pepper sprayed and shot dead. The family becomes angry and asks for justice for their loved one. There is an investigation, very rarely a trial and even there there is no conviction for the taking of black lives on the street.

The president is often part of this scenario as white racists claim that having a black president has divided the country. One former congressman even threatened to kill President Obama and then deleted it. This most recent tragedy was twisted by the fact a one or more snipers in Dallas took advantage of a peaceful protest to begin opening fire, killing and wounding.

So, those are the facts. The NRA and the politicians they own will saw, how dare anyone try to limit unfettered access to deadly weapons, high powered magazines and everything that goes with it. One possible answer came during the press conference held by the Dallas chief of police and the mayor who mentioned that their police department is trained to de-escalate conflict. That was part of the sadness that they must be feeling. They want to be able to protect citizen’s rights. That sounds like a reasonable and sound approach to take.

It is not time for war, as the New York Post screamed. It is time for comfort, sorrow and solutions. Black lives matter is not about murder. It’s about freedom and dignity. We want the police to treat us the way you would want to be treated.




An important step in the process Patricia Raybon took on her healing journey was forgiveness. She had to learn to forgive those real or imagined slights she may have received from white people. She had to stop hating nameless people because there were health consequences for holding onto it. And she had to start forgiving her father who relentlessly drove her to excel. For him it seemed as though nothing was quite good enough. Maybe he didn’t tell her often enough that he loved her. Indeed, it seems that he did the things a loving father would do. Many people will be incredulous reading this and wondering are you serious? I wish my father had pushed me.

I listened to the TED hour about nudging people to push beyond their perceived limits to be able to achieve more and Patricia’s father was a textbook example of this concept. I also listened to a talk by researcher Carol Dweck about her work on the concept of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. Clearly Patricia’s father helped to instill in her a growth mindset being being able to take on bigger challenges.

How do you forgive such a man?To quote from an Aretha Franklin song, oh what a man, what a mighty good man.In my family the role of Patricia’s father was played by my mother. And I have my own forgiveness journey to travel.Patricia relied upon her Christian faith to provide answers and guidance. I will look for answers outside of the church such as a book by Barbara Flanigan Forgiving the Unforgivable. I am not the person I was before I started to read and explore and I am not the person who I will become. The excitement is in the road ahead.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts.

Our whiteness discussion at work

Today was the day after our big training session at work about the impact of whiteness and white supremacy. I mentioned in my previous post that the agency where I work is the only black owned county contracted agency for mental health. There are probably more black owned substance abuse agencies, which might be work exploring as an issue. Our agency began very small more than 20 years ago before the issue of whiteness was ever discussed. Some things you would be inclined to ask is whether there is a difference in mental health outcomes between black and white agencies. You would also have to look more closely and see that there is a very diverse group of workers at our agency. And we have the same diversity within our consumer population.

Racism has been an issue and consumers and their families have expressed preferences based upon race but not the way you would think. One of the most interesting cases was a couple of years ago when the very dark skinned family of one of our people said that she preferred a white case manager. Now, all of those adjectives were used for a reason, to help clarify for the reader what was happening. All of the workers in that office, including me, were African-American.

There was nothing we could do, including consulting with the Milwaukee County staff, that convince the family that working with our black workers was a good idea. The consumer ended up being transferred into an agency where I was told the family found all the whiteness their hearts desired.

I may be encountering racism from the other perspective soon. There may be a person who has a similar preference for white people coming our way. Let us see how this encounter turns out. Stay tuned, America.

yin and yang


Are you excited about the end times yet?

I  have heard that there are Christian evangelicals who thinking about the so-called end times in which there will be a major battle between Christians and Muslims. When I worked for a progressive agency years ago one of my coworkers discussed this idea. I was scared and repulsed by the idea.

In a fight between two religious beliefs I would choose neither one. I’m not surprised that the so-called Islamic State is drawing on the idea of the big war between Christian and Muslim forces in their version of an end times. Humans, for your own sake, you must choose neither. Atheists don’t start wars and we don’t enjoy blowing ourselves to bits.


You don’t know what to expect

I just listened to the story about the Milwaukee Police Department under Chief Ed Flynn that aired on This American Life. There was a shocking disconnection from the supposed idealism of Flynn to the horrible incidents of brutality perpetrated by his police. There were illegal cavity searches performed in public to humiliate and degrade black men. Imagine some man feeling he has the authority to sexually violate you and you have no recourse? No way to way what is happening to your body as your neighbors watch? Can you understand how police department would stand behind these men who were committing sexual assault? Can you see how this mess of a department would then vote no confidence against a chief who fired an officer whose actions led to an unnecessary death, that of Dontre Hamilton, whose supporters and family continue to demand justice?

After so many years, we have a system that many people distrust. The title of this blog is taken from a statement about the unpredictable nature of Milwaukee policing. I do not trust the police and I feel many people have good reason not to. The few reforms that Ed Flynn tried did not go far enough. And yet, the cops who are frightened by the calls for greater accountability are frightened.

By the way, last night I listened to the second part of the This American Life look at the police in America and it told of Las Vegas, Nevada making a dramatic turn around in the number of police involved shootings. Police were forced to examine their inherit biases about why they stopped certain people and the techniques worked. Milwaukee can go from an unpredictable, under trained police force to one that is better equipped to handle life and death situations. For now, if you are young and African-American, I suggest being wary of the Milwaukee Police Department.


Disappointing results on training the police

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a front page story today about the disappointing results from Crisis Intervention Team training of the Milwaukee Police Department. After the well meaning rhetoric, there are too many untrained police and unnecessary deaths in police custody. There are still people marching for greater police accountability. People want answers like the release of the name of the police officer who killed Dontre Hamilton. They want a decision on charging the officer. They want to know why the police haven’t been properly trained. They want to know, does the City of Milwaukee value African-Americans or are we to be killed?