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This week, after the tape was played for the first time in court, it exploded in the public consciousness — one YouTube version had been viewed 91 times each minute — and became an instant touchstone for those who advocate for a more robust and effective mental health system.
Advocates for the mentally ill said they viewed the recording, the centerpiece of the prosecution's case against two officers accused in Thomas' death, as something akin to their Rodney King video.
In the case of the King video, civic activists felt they had a record, at long last, of something they'd been trying to articulate for years: that the relationship between African Americans and Los Angeles police was fundamentally broken. Similarly, advocates for the mentally ill say they now have a record of a scattershot, chronically underfunded mental health system. This is what it looks like, they said, when schizophrenics fend for themselves on the streets, when their only interface with the government is with haplessly unprepared police officers.
"I think I'm a fairly strong woman. I've seen a lot of tragedy over the years. But I am reeling," said Carla Jacobs, a veteran Southern California mental health activist, shortly after watching the recording.
The tape, she noted, will be picked apart during the legal proceedings. Some will argue, she said, that Thomas should have been more respectful, and worked harder to follow instructions. Others will argue that the officers should have received better training. None of that, she contended, will matter in the end.
"As far as I'm concerned, the blame — the guilt — is on the mental health system that left Kelly out on the street and didn't provide him with the treatment that could have prevented this horror," she said. "I hope we can develop a collective memory and recognize the tragedy that we have caused."
In interviews, advocates said the beating death and its recording could fuel meaningful reform — in mental health funding; in the use of coordinated, "wrap-around" social services; in persuading wary or defiant patients to consent to treatment; and, in particular, in the training of police officers to defuse encounters with the mentally ill.
Around the age of 20, Kelly Thomas was put into a mental hospital for the first time, but he did not like being confined, so Ron Thomas moved him into a board and care home for the mentally ill. He was fine if he took medications consistently, but he told his mother they made him tired and gave him nightmares, Cathy Thomas said. “Then he would stop taking his meds and he would leave the board and care houses and wander the streets,” she said.
But armed with a distrubing, crystaline recording of Thomas' beating, mental health advocates are pushing for systematic reform -- even in an age of shrinking budgets.
"It should be evident to anybody that this man need not have died," said Randall Hagar, director of government affairs at the California Psychiatric Assn.
For instance, mental health workers have demonstrated the resounding success of a style of therapy known as "whatever it takes" - founded in the notion that mental illness is typically accompanied by physical illness, poverty, and other problems. These programs have languished because of funding deficiencies. Some advocates said the Thomas case could resurrect the effort to force institutions shouldering the burden of that frayed safety net, such as hospitals to pay for the fix.
A homeless man plagued by schizophrenia is beaten to death by police in Fullerton. A man from Fort Bragg fixates on aliens for years while denying he is ill, then kills two men before dying in a gunfight with law enforcement. A Nevada County mental health client who had refused additional care storms into a clinic and kills three workers.
The death of Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, following a violent confrontation with police in Fullerton garnered national attention this month as grainy footage from security cameras and witness cell phones surfaced.
Kelly Thomas was born April 5, 1974 to Ron Thomas, a former Orange County Sheriff's deputy, and Cathy Thomas. A diagnosed schizophrenic, he was a "fixture" among Fullerton's homeless population.
Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder that makes it difficult to:
Tell the difference between real and unreal experiences
Have normal emotional responses,
Behave normally in social situations
Schizophrenia is a complex illness. Mental health experts are not sure what causes it. However, genetic factors appear to play a role.
Who decides what "insane" means? This was the major question of Ken Kesey's countercultural classic "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which illustrated how mental illness could be deployed by the establishment to crush the individual. But a recent book by University of Michigan psychiatry professor Jonathan Metzl suggests that Kesey's novel might not have been far from non-fiction. In "The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease," Metzl documents the shifting interpretations of schizophrenia through the 20th century, tracing its evolution from a "white middle-class woman's disease" to an "African-American man's disease." Specifically, with the political upheaval of the civil rights movement, popular culture began to associate angry black men with schizophrenia, which in turn influenced the way doctors interpreted and diagnosed the illness.
"In particularly the early 1920s, 1930s, 1940s when the idea of schizophrenia itself was first coming to the United States from Europe there was a general assumption that persons who suffered from schizophrenia were either shy or calm or they were geniuses," Metzl says. "It was often represented as an illness that afflicted white novelists or poets and as I say, these were very often in popular and psychiatric representation assumed to be white people." But during the massive societal upheavals in the middle of century, ideas of sanity and insanity took on new meaning. "All of a sudden in the 1960s, American culture, newspapers, magazines, movies start to represent angry African-American men as in part being inflicted with a new form of this particular illness," and this change in popular perception of the disease directly influenced the clinical definition of it, Metzl argues. "All of a sudden in 1968, the second version of the Diagnostic Manual comes out and there is new language that says 'aggression, hostility, projection.'" The image of a schizophrenic person was all of a sudden more violent and unstable than the schizophrenic of 20 years before.
The practical consequences of this popular-cum-clinical shift in perception was that in the 1960s far more African-American men were institutionalized in psychiatric wards with schizophrenia. "Some had committed crimes, some had participated in civil rights protests, some had been participants in urban riots at the time. They all passed through various forms of the penal system and ended up diagnosed with schizophrenia and locked in the psychiatric wards," says Metzl. But were these men really schizophrenic? Or were they victims of shifting clinical definitions of disease, one that was prone to metaphoric interpretation?
Originally posted by DerepentLEstranger
Santa Barbara seeks to turn the tables on the homeless
Using $50,000 in redevelopment funds, the city is planning to turn 14 benches perpendicular to the State Street storefronts they now face. The idea is to make it more difficult for beggars to establish contact with passersby, officials said. "They'll be sitting with their backs to half the people coming and going on the sidewalk," said Marck Aguilar, a supervisor for the city's redevelopment agency. "They'll have half the potential contacts with the public. It might not be financially beneficial for them."
there was $50,000 to spare for this "slap in the face to the homeless".
why is there always money for wars, scanners,bailouts [when dogs are much better ,like in Israel]special projects and other crap, but never any money to help the homeless, for the benefit of the taxpayers or create jobs [I know. rhetorical question]
$50,000 to turn 14 benches around and give the finger to homeless people.
this same mentality will eventually devolve into outright/overtly violent solutions, for now it's still covert violence.
As a practical matter, it is questionable how homeless individuals would either know that they could assert a necessity defense or have the wherewithal to hire an attorney who might so advise them, particularly after being arrested, serving jail time, and losing their belongings. The argument that at trial a homeless individual would have recourse to a necessity defense so as to avoid conviction begs the question why the City arrests homeless individuals during nighttime in the first place, other than out of indifference or meanness.
Originally posted by Apollo7
reply to post by Jean Paul Zodeaux
Who was the guy from Fort Bragg? This is important, I want to research this.
Suspected killer's family and mental health advocates say the fugitive should have been compelled to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment years ago. They are pressing for changes now.
Originally posted by lacrimosa
those police officers should all be given a pat on the back.
they didnt do anything wrong.
if anything, they were overly nice.
Originally posted by lacrimosa
reply to post by Jean Paul Zodeaux
no body was murdered, a schizophrenic homeless person died.
those police did nothing wrong. they were overly nice imo.
anyway, the outcome was positive.