|letter to the editor, from 2000, appearing in the Progressive Populist, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the AJ-C Gwinnett section, and the Gwinnett Daily News
i am writing about the continuing mistreatment of indigent, mentally ill Americans.
in particular, the de facto transfer of their "care" from state institutions to jails and prisons. as if mass confinement, degradation, neglect, threats of violence, and even death; susceptibility to suicidal despair; punishment and abuse while in deluded, agonized and enraged states, were accepted forms of treatment for the desperately sick and needy.
we anatomize individual, often less serious, crimes and ignore the criminal society, forgetting that slavery, the Holocaust, the American Indian diaspora, and the Japanese-American internment during WWII, were systemic exercises of "the rule of law", largely sanctioned by the American people.
Frederic Douglas, when asked if he loved America, cited its beauty and promise, and then recalled his former enslaved condition, and that of his sisters and brothers, and said he felt the "deepest loathing".
judged by our treatment of the indigent mentally ill, Americans are a race of oppressive, soul-dead hypocrites--determinedly blind to the equal humanity and immense suffering of other Americans.
this country may intimidate, control, imprison, and even kill in the name of public order, ignoring the difference between power and justice. but brainwash its victims with its phony claims of moral authority and righteousness? don't be ridiculous.
ps and update: it is important to add that the treatment actually available to Americans with mental illness is often, at least partially, excellent, and even inspired. such a drastic contrast in the treatment and mistreatment of these two groups can be confusing and frustrating. "such welcome and unwelcome things at once, 'tis hard to reconcile" --Shakespeare
the work of NAMI over the years is an example of that. they have consistently and admirably advocated for the proper treatment of mentally ill people and the eradication of stigma.
at the same time, they have consistently segregated the families of mentally ill people and the mentally ill themselves into two unequal camps, which has frustrated and even denied an effective dialogue on the actual conditions and remedies for the treatments of mental illness.
their accomodation to existing conditions effectively enables and endorses them.
their critiques rarely go beyond published observations and mild demonstrations of disapproval of the worst aspects of treatment. the excessive examination and analysis of the situation, without a specific focus of outrage, intention and action, from an organization which claims to be the chief advocate for the mentally ill, walls off the most egregious conditions from scrutiny and reform, and effectively isolates and "disappears" those most in need of rescue and care.
the wardens of the LA County jail, the largest "treatment" center for the mentally ill in America, have consistently, over decades, stated that prisons are not the appropriate facilities for mentally ill people.
(to be continued)