A few years ago the Republican controlled state legislature passed a law taking decision-making authority for mental health away from the elected county supervisors and replaced them with a group of volunteers from the community. The board includes mental health consumers, attorneys, advocates and mental health professionals. There are a lot of big decisions to be made regarding Milwaukee County mental health. The county is moving away from the model of maintaining a large mental health facility which they have been downsizing over the years by closing wards and shifting the people who lived there to community based facilities. Case management, which helps people live in the community, has already been contracted out to various agencies. These agencies help engage with consumers and connect them to services with the aim of reducing their dependence on in patient treatment, which is expensive and often very traumatic.
However, there are no guarantees in this system. We all know people in community programs who died but we can try to reduce the number of preventable deaths. We can ensure that case management provides necessary services. We can increase the number of affordable housing units. We can offer physical and mental health in a coordinated fashion and make certain that people are getting regular check ups. We can have clinics where we would want to be treated. These are very easy steps we can take in our own agencies
But what we do to guide the process of system wide reform? One way is by joining the mental health board. Imagine my surprise when a former co-worker asked me to apply to join the board, which is appointed by the county executive. I will be tossing my hat into the ring tonight to see if I can add my experience to this group. I am excited, interested and curious all at the same time. I will post some more as the process goes along.
I have been noticing that some white churches post signs and organize events that proclaim Black Lives Matter. Today I was at the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee for the first time in several months and a couple I had seen during my last visit was there. It so happened that the husband is an expert on gang interventions I had heard about many years ago. His wife, who seems to be one of those people who creates a niche for herself wherever she goes, is one of a group within the Unitarian Universalists who are of a social justice ministry. In the church, she is doing Black Lives Matter events and it just so happened that today they had organized a silent witness.
I joined in representing formerly young gifted and black individuals. Most of the responses from passers by were positive. In addition, today’s donations were being shared with an organization that works with inner city youths. This is part of being allies. But how does this sound to you as a reader? How are mostly white organizations and churches witnessing? Do black lives matter to you or are you irritated by the expression? Do you yell back All Lives Matter twice as loudly? Who is it you are attempting to drown out?
Although my job is not specifically to fight racial oppression, African-Americans and other people of color with mental illness are at extremely high risk when they encounter the police. With our help, perhaps they will live longer, more productive lives. Their lives will matter, too.
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 am reading a long article in Mother Jones magazine by Shane Bauer an investigative journalist who took a $9 per hour job as a corrections officer in a prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Bauer details under-staffing motivated by profit, neglect of inmates, neglecting inmates mental and physical health and conditions that would shock any caring person. Bauer looks into the company’s history arising from the swamp like a primordial beast. The opportunity for profit created by mass incarceration needs to be eliminated permanently.
I remember how republican lawmakers howled when President Obama began allowing prisoners access to federal Pell grants to help further their education.The idea was elegant in its simplicity: educated prisoners will be more likely to obtain jobs, and benefit society. There are other proposals aimed at eliminating some of the draconian 3 strikes and your out laws that helped fill prisons. But one of the first places to look for reform is by shuttering the private prison industry and driving it out of business. We cannot continue to abuse our fellow citizens this way.
I urge people to read the article by Bauer and other stories and join groups like the ACLU that are helping to defend prisoners.
We need to look at the problems of inequality, evictions and the crushing of low wage workers as crises of opportunity. We could continue along our current path with low wages, difficult to obtain mental health treatment, pitiful SSI benefits and exploitation by payday lenders, storage facilities and unscrupulous landlords. Or we could try fixing the system. The book Evicted suggests expanding the housing voucher program while at th same time prevent landlords from overcharging people the way they currently do.
Bernie Sanders and many low wage workers have raised the demand for a $15 per hour minimum wage. As I was driving downtown on our horrible main street, I wished that repaving our roads could be expanded to create more jobs. I wished that lead pipes could be removed the same way Madison, Wisconsin did it. That would create jobs.
I wish that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would begin stricter regulation of unfair lending practices. I wish that corporate wealth could be reined in and excess profits could be used for the common good. I wish for a lot of things that I am being told aren’t realistic. And that in the immediate future what will probably happen is the military get all the money it wants and spend most of it trying to fight terrorism. But the real face of terrorism is the crushing of our spirits by poverty, evictions and exploitation. We need a political revolution.
The Recovery Advisory Committee of Milwaukee is looking for a few good people. This committee is guiding the implementation of the Comprehensive Community Services in Milwaukee County. This is Medicaid benefit that offers assistance to people who are seeking recovery from mental health and substance abuse problems. Its purpose is to cover the life span. In order to hold counties accountable the state of Wisconsin developed guidelines for community input. The largest portion of the committee is to be people who identify as having a lived experience with mental health and or substance abuse.
When we started out, we were meeting that guideline. But some people have fallen away. That is why we need to reach out and bring in more people. If you are interested in severing on this committee you can respond to this blog entry on Facebook, twitter, wordpress or wherever you are reading me. For more information, go to the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division website and look for C0mprehensive Community Services. We know you’re out there. Come, give us a hand or two.
On NPR today I heard two stories that point to smarter ways of looking at the regulation of marijuana through capitalism. In the first, Uruguay, a small South American county, realized that there was a contradiction in its laws. While the country had de-criminalized marijuana use, obtaining the drug had been a crime. This forced buyers to obtain it through illegal means, which fed the coffers of organized crime. Now, Uruguay has a new law that will create a state monopoly that allows the government to regulate and collect taxes much like alcohol is taxed. The law faces opposition from people using things like the tired old “marijuana is a gateway drug” myth. For years, this idea has been promoted without a shred of evidence to promote it. What we do know is the incredible cost of the war on drugs in South America and the United States. Thousands of people have been killed, hundreds have been imprisoned and yet marijuana grows more popular with laws to legalize medical and recreational use of the drug.
The second marijuana related story follows from the legal marijuana industry in the United States. Justin Hartfield has a new business that invests in marijuana related companies. It’s old fashioned capitalism. The one elephant in the room that could wreck this business model is federal marijuana law enforcement. And there are many vested interests including the prison guards who like things just the way things are, with laws that reduce a judge’s flexibility in dealing with people who are convicted of a crime and too many non-violent drug offenders in prison. Potentially there are billions of dollars at stake in taking an approach of regulating and taxing marijuana and abandoning our expensive and unsuccessful current strategies. Let Hartfield help grow the pot industry and create jobs in a whole new area while letting thousands of people become productive citizens.