This post is to announce that I am returning to leadership within Unitarian Universalism. Many years ago I chaired the racial justice committee. That committee promoted diversity, organized a Kwanzaa event, organized a drum circle and tried to change the church culture. Unfortunately, the committee seemed to attract the same core group of people. I underwent a personal transformation that led to a divorce, and the development of a whole new career as a certified peer specialist. There were years in which I was barely active.
The committee was dissolved but in recent years new people have entered the church with a different set of ideas. One person in particular Mary Devitt has been a catalyst under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Mary has involved the First Unitarians in several events, most recently organizing a showing of a film about the 53206 neighborhood, which focused on the impact of mass incarceration on the low income community. She was also in the campaigns to change police practices after the killings of black men by police in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. Her most recent accomplishment was a workshop on racial justice at Alverno College that featured Chris Crass, a speaker from Kentucky. Over 350 people attended the event which was organized with a remarkable coalition.
Mary has been a sort of one woman committee within the church which lead to her being given a designation as a change agent. At the same time Mary recognized that it was problematic for her to be in charge of black lives matter. She has what she calls her “cabal” that she can pull together on an ad hoc basis to achieve goals. However, that could easily lead to burn out. So we began a conversation this week about my leading a transformation of the black lives matter cabal into a committee to carry on the things she has started.
I have agreed to take this on at a time of turmoil within the Unitarian Universalist movement. There is more happening every day and it demands that someone from Milwaukee help give direction. The UU is a place where I feel comfortable sometimes. When my allies aren’t present and people ask me, where have I been, I feel like becoming invisible. That needs to change. A lot needs to change. Let the drum speak.
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?
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.
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.
By the end of Pete Easley’s book Crazy, his son had recovered enough to work full-time and think about moving out-of-state to attend grad school. His IQ was even higher Pete’s and he had learned to participate in his recovery. He had the kind of life we would all wish for our sons and daughters struggling with diseases, in their bodies or their minds. It was, to recall a phrase from an old friend, “a life worth living.” All the positive metaphors were working. Pete had learned enough from advocating for his son to press for reforms such as Crisis Intervention Training for police to help them respond more effectively to situations involving people with mental illness.
He told the stories of compassionate people using common sense approaches, judges, social workers, NAMI workers and more. It will take make years to fight the stigma and overcome community responses like “not in my backyard.” A program in Florida was almost closed down after an irresponsible news story disclosed its location, leading to thousands of people petitioning against it.
Reading the book made me want to read more about the Treatment Advocacy Center which seeks to reform mental healths and make it easier to require people to force mentally sick people to accept treatment. One of the most effective weapons the TAC has is the number of unnecessary tragedies involving people who refused treatment. I have facebook friends and others who despise the TAC’s approach. I will educate myself and share with my blog fans what I’ve learned. I have several new readers, which is always encouraging. We can help get our sons and daughter back.
I had a variety of emotions yesterday that took me all over the place. I wrote a rather bizarre story about my mother ordering my siblings and me from the Sears catalog. It was a true story but there were a lot of details left out. A lot of Sunday focused on the tragedy in Newtown, and the president’s response. I saw a youtube video after reading several positive reviews on twitter.
I had looked for the speech before I realized I had a copy. I had many mixed emotions about the speech and the powerful of the President’s spirituality. He connects to people in a way that is very moving and feels genuine. And I started saying to myself there was no one else who could have given that speech. We have a horror in this country at the same time more people are buying more guns with higher capacity ammunition. We have unending stories of massacres and smaller scale murder suicides involving abusive men and their loved ones. We also have random acts of violence in which people shoot complete strangers. The common factor is that we resolve our problems through acts of violence.
The president said that this must end. That is true. We must work on an interpersonal level to end violence, we must restrain the police from inflicting violence upon the people who they believe may have committed crimes and we must work as a nation to resolve our differences with other nations without resorting to violence. We can and we must do better.
This morning I saw a picture of a body, that of Nick Christie, bright orange after being pepper sprayed, stripped of his dignity, denied medication, kept in restraints until his body gave out. The story by reporter Radley Balko in the Huffington Post noted that Nick Christie’s wife of 40 years, Joyce Christie, had contacted police before he left on his trip. She told them that he was 62, suffered from several problem including emphysema and was having a mental breakdown.
She wanted them to arrest him and get him the help that he needed. They arrested him, all right, but the pattern and practice in the Lee County Jail all contributed to a massive assault that Nick Christie could not survive. These included being placed in restraints, sprayed while being restrained and kept in the massive soup of pepper spray for several hours. While Joyce Christie was at the jail, her husband was being killed.
Is it any wonder that outrage and shock have risen as the news of Nick Christie’s murder has spread? The State’s Attorneyhas found no fault with the investigation into the case. Now the only remedy for Nick and Joyce Christie is for the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder to launch an immediate investigation into civil rights violations. Radley Palko’s article in the Huffington Post noted that there have been other instances of improper spraying and use of restraints on prisoners, many of whom were mentally ill.
We must stop the murder of prisoners by those who are sworn to uphold the law. We must seek justice. It is now for President Obama to repay the faith that the American people displayed when they elected him based upon his call for hope and change. The change that we need is to uphold basic human rights. I recommend checking the links to articles I have included in this blog and help spread the news.
More than a year after the murder of Nick Christie, I noticed that the blog post I wrote about his case had found one viewer last week. So I decided to find out whether there were any more developments. On February 17, I have found that there was a settlement in the family’s lawsuit. The Huffington Post article about the case pointed out other examples of unnecessary force. The money to be paid from the settlement will come from the taxpayers not the brutal officers. It will provide some source of comfort for Christie’s family but it wont ensure that another foul murder will not take place. Here is a link to the story. Let us fight to ensure equal justice under the law includes peop[le like Nick Christie. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/nick-christie_n_2696234.html