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Blake Fleetwood Headshot

The NRA Is Right: Crazy People Do Kill

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2012-12-31-erikamenendezsubwaykiller.jpg
Suspected killer Erika Menendez being arrested.

It doesn't have to happen.

Every year about 1,000 people in the U.S. are murdered by severely mentally ill people.

Over 38,000 people in the United States die by suicide every year -- 90% of whom have a diagnosable mental illness.

Treatable mental illness destroys the lives of tens of millions of families each year. The economic toll is enormous -- and mostly hidden. Untreated mental illnesses in the U.S. costs more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The results are ubiquitous. Several times over the past few weeks New York commuters confronted nightmarish stories of fellow subway riders pushed to their deaths by insane individuals.

Early in December a mentally ill drifter was arrested for shoving a Queen's dad into the path of an oncoming Q train.

This weekend during her arraignment -- for pushing a hard working immigrant to his death in front of a 7 line subway -- Erika Menendez was laughing hysterically and shaking. She has been in and out of Elmhurst hospital 15 times.

"When she don't take her medication, she goes really wacky" said Menendez's doorman.

On a similar note, NRA Spokesman Wayne LaPierre said the following in Newtown's aftermath:

"The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters -- people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day.

"A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess
how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"

LaPierre's statements are atrocious and, sadly, true. They are applicable to a whole range of homicidal behavior -- from Virginia Tech, Columbine, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, to Newtown, to the recent subway murders in New York City.

Unfortunately, NRA's LaPierre doesn't see that giving deranged people access to guns and automatic weapons only skyrockets the death toll.

The problems of homicidal violence by the most serious mentally ill, who do not take their medicines, must be addressed in a variety of ways. One size does not fit all. And the majority of the mentally ill are not violent.

Control of handguns and assault rifles is a needed start. It is the low hanging fruit.

The problems stem from the 1960s when an unlikely marriage between civil libertarians and budget-minded conservatives begat an unstoppable coalition that resulted in the deinstitutionalization of 830,000 thousands of mentally ill -- and in a national disaster.

By kicking out hundreds of thousands of mental patients, the government left them to wander the streets, untreated and dangerous to themselves and to other people.

The figures are horrific:

• 2 million mentally ill go untreated
• One-third of homeless are mentally ill (200,000)
• 16% of incarcerated (300,000) have mental illness
• 1,000 homicides a year are committed by mentally ill
• 10-17% of seriously mentally ill kill themselves
• $15 billion is spent incarcerating mentally ill
• Random acts of violence by minority are tarring the majority

As many as 11,000 homeless psychotics may be wandering the streets in New York City, according to D.J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy organization.

People with serious mental illness account for a disproportionate share of suicides, homelessness, violence, and incarceration.

These figures are just tip of the iceberg...suicide and vehicular homicide by the mentally ill (mostly uncounted) add to hundreds of thousands of deaths each decade.

_________

We must recognize, once and for all, that schizophrenics can be successfully treated or contained -- but they lack the capacity to make an informed decision about treatment. Many schizophrenics do not know they are sick and do not have the opportunity to make a meaningful choice between being sick or getting better. And their families are in a similar state of ignorance, bewilderment and helplessness.

Only 60 percent of people with a serious mental illness received treatment -- according to a recent report conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The laws around mental illness are built upon a delusion: that the sickest among us know what they are doing and should always be in control of their own treatment.

In 1999 Kendra Webdale was pushed to her death in front of a 7 Train. Her killer, Andrew Goldstein, recently said:

"Should you let a mental patient like myself be in freedom so an incident like train pushing can occur? If you are a harm to anyone, even yourself, you should be hospitalized."

Andrew Goldstein is now lucid and rational, because he's forced to take his medicine, in jail.

Schizophrenia cannot be cured, but it can be managed in many cases. Kendra's mother got a law passed in New York State which is supposed to allow courts to forcibly treat the seriously disturbed. But Kendra's law is widely ignored and riddled with loopholes.

When mentally ill prisoners or patients are discharged, they are seldom referred to local mental health facilities, nor are any officials notified that they may need mandatory treatment.

According to E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center, a staggering 20 percent of the prison population is seriously mentally ill. Around a third of the homeless are insane, too.

The answer: think about the Unthinkable. Asylums. When asylums were first begun in 19th century England, the idea was to provide protection and care. And they offered just that. Simply because many institutions degenerated into snake pits in the past, does not mean that we cannot design caring, custodial institutions today. Given the alternatives, asylums may be the only humane choice, and the cheapest... in the long run.

There is a mean streak in the Christian values of the American character, when it comes to the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug abusers. The idea of taking care of the obviously sick and the dying doesn't seem to cut it. We would never allow cancer or Alzheimer's patients to walk barefoot, with nothing to eat and no treatment, but we allow schizophrenics to sleep outside in the winter and forage from garbage cans -- and sometimes -- threaten, assault, and perhaps kill the rest of us.

Where are the right-to-lifers when you need them?

This concept of a modern-day asylum -- a refuge -- could solve a multitude of problems both for society and the individuals themselves.

The inevitable result of deinstitutionalization was the criminalization of the mentally ill. Between two and three hundred thousand people incarcerated in federal and state prisons suffer from severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. About 70,000 are psychotic.

What's worse is that when schizophrenics are released from short prison or hospital stays they get no treatment, no follow up, and are a danger to themselves and the rest of us. Almost all of the heart wrenching homicides we have read about lately were committed by people everyone knew were crazy.

The Sandy Hook killer was reportedly treated for a mental illness and is said to have had Asperger's. Jared Loughner, the Tucson, Arizona, shooter, was "mentally deranged" and had to undergo treatment before his sentencing hearing. The Virginia Tech killer had undergone mental health therapy in high school. James Holmes, the Colorado theater shooter, had been referred to a threat-assessment team. Both NYC subway pushers had been in and out of mental institutions for years.

If Andrew Goldstein, a diagnosed schizophrenic and convicted murderer, sees the solution so clearly, then so should we.

write: jfleetwood@aol.com