(As I was sitting down to post some fishing stuff I turned on the TV and heard the news – More cops shot for no reason. I will not talk about fishing today. Today, like many other days lately, has become a day of mourning. As in the past when I post about issues other than fishing, this is not a discussion, though please feel free to comment, I read them all, but this discussion will not go further than this post. If you have a comment direct it to your elected representatives, they need to hear your opinion no matter what it is. Who knows, they just might get off their ass and do something. I try to keep to the reason for this blog, but occasionally I feel the need to speak out. This post is simply my opinion.)
The whole world is going crazy!
A couple of more mass murders by Muslims (not Methodists). Demented cop killers. An 0fficer shooting a man in the back in South Carolina when he is stopped for a traffic violation and runs away from a ticket. Officers ambushed and killed in Dallas by a demented lunatic (Law enforcement’s description). Little children mowed down in an elementary school with his momma’s gun. Murder in our movie theaters. Now this morning it looks like another 6 officers were shot with 3 killed in Baton Rouge. The whole world has gone nuts. Unfortunately my simplification – Nuts – is much more complicated than that.
The Police Chief of Dallas said it all, police officers are required to handle to many of our societal problems, and a big one is mental illness. Our country has made mental illness a criminal problem and not a mental health issue. When I was practicing law for the State of Arkansas I had extensive experiences with the mental health aspect in both the criminal and civil arena.
On the criminal side I represented hundreds and hundreds of criminal defendants, give or take a few. One very common theme was how many folks had serious, and I mean flat out raving lunatics, problems. Often their crime did not involve violence in any way. Many needed to be hospitalized, but when we would have a mental competency hearings in court Psychiatrist and Psychologists repeatedly came to court and said simply they were fine. Ok – but what it did was occasionally keep people in the criminal justice system when they needed to be hospitalized and treated.
Now flip the coin, we were often appointed to involuntary mental commitments where the State was attempting to force treat folks. And you can probably guess how that went, to the hospital you go. The judge ordered them held and off they went. Guess what? These were often the same people who where later charged with a crime and of course found competent.
To give completely polar opposite examples first I start with a man I represented who was “someone” in the community and had a mental history, but basically was referred to the court for giving some money away. He was promptly returned to the hospital. On the other end, a friend of mine represented a guy who was charged with a crime. He had escaped from a mental institution in another state, and plain and simple was bat shit crazy, and the judge ruled him competent. I even represented a guy who called me continually because his air conditioner was speaking to him from outer space. Result – Competent! And once I was called in on a guy who had been in jail for almost 3 months with no charges, but he was to crazy to let out and ended up slipping through the cracks. Multiple ends of the spectrum, completely different outcomes. But all involved the police having to deal with them, keep them, transport them, sit in court with them, all the while spending valuable time and money that should have been spent on doing their job.
We as a society have decided that we are willing to let law enforcement and prisons deal with our mentally ill. And with no treatment it just becomes a revolving door. If we do not commit more money to treatment these problems will not go away. It seems that helping these folks with treatment just might be cheaper than dealing with them in the criminal arena, maybe even prevent more crimes as the untreated sink further into their illness. As the great Police Chief of Dallas said, this is not the job of law enforcement. And it should not be. How much clearer does he need to say it.
(Think I am overstating the problem for those suffering from mental problems and the consequences to police departments and society? Read this from today’s paper. More: https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2016/jul/16/mentally-ill-in-crisis/ )
Before I start on another point let me make myself perfectly clear. The 2cnd Amendment is clear, and as the Supreme Court has affirmed, we have a right to bear arms, end of story. As far as I am concerned this is not negotiable. I have guns and they are not taking them. But one problem I see in some of these situations is some of the folks who do this stuff are flat out nuts but have access to legal guns. We will always have that problem, it will not be fixed by more laws, but at least responsible gun owners can help the police. If you have someone in your home with firearms, or access to yours, and they have serious mental problems, you have a duty to do something. Easy for me to say, but guns and mental illness do not mix and responsible gun owners will do whatever it takes to keep their personal firearms out of an unstable or disturbed persons hands. When your firearm is used to kill a police officer, or my family, by someone with mental illness who has access to your guns you are just as responsible as far as I am concerned.
So why is it our responsibility? Because every time something likes this happens there will be another attack on our constitutional right to bear arms. It does not make it right, or maybe even possible under the law, but the pressure to wear away our rights will not go away, period. In fact it will only intensify. Mental illness and crime often go hand in hand. Our choice as a society is are we are willing to forgo easy access to mental health care and use law enforcement to handle this problem? Not one police officer will tell you that is the way to handle the problem. Law enforcement does not have the resources, training, nor time, to handle these folks. They have it tough enough, and they deserve our help. How we got here is not the issue now, it is what are we going to do about it. Our rights are under attack and just say no and screaming about crime is not the answer, we have to do something. Keeping your guns out of the hands of those that do not need to have them is our duty. Our response as gun owners to these crimes will direct the conversation in the future, good or bad. And trust me that conversation is coming big time.
Before you think I am some kind of raving lefty, or do gooder, I have a couple of things I need to say that come from my experiences as both a criminal defense attorney and a paramedic. I have been there, done that. From police officers protecting me when some a$$hole was trying to hurt me, to dealing with folks facing life who need to be locked up forever, I have seen a lot in my life and it has cemented my feelings on criminal justice.
Ambush police? Expect a .357 hollow point to take your worthless life. Point a gun at law enforcement, prepare to die, you earned it. Use a firearm in the commission of a crime, mandatory sentence with no parole. There are lots of folks that we can release from jail to make room for these animals, and we need to do it. Break into a home, don’t bitch when you get shot. Use a gun to commit a crime on another? Bye! Crying to me in the jail because you are going down? What the hell did you think was going to happen. Funny how many of these tough guys were crying for their momma when I would meet them. It is time to lock a select few of these animals up and throw away the key. But we can not have it both ways, there is not room for all at the inn. Folks, jail is basically a one in, one out, deal all over this country. Send a crazy dude to jail for felony hot checks and a violent felon will be released. It really is simple as that and it happens day after day in this country. If you really support police listen to them – We need treatment for the mentally ill.
We all pay lip service to supporting our police. Easy to say, but at some point we need to make some decisions as a society. The Chief told us – We are asked to solve many societal ills, and we can not do it, we should not have to do it, mental illness should not be a primary responsibility of law enforcement. They are not trained or paid to do it. We have to increase treatment for mental illness. Maybe spending a little more money will help our officers by taking some of the load off and making it safer for them and us. And just maybe with early and constant intervention of the mentally ill we can keep some of the folks out of the criminal justice system. And if we are really lucky their illness will be controlled and they will not do something as horrible as what happened in Dallas or Nice France. Both of them had the signs. Don’t kid yourself that mental health issues were not a play in these and other shootings. But with that said, if you commit a gun crime you need to pay a big price, make it clear and final. F’up with a firearm and you are going down, mentally ill or not, no breaks, no mercy. Treatment can only pay positive results, our cops want it, and we should provide it.
I know this is a big simplification, I understand that. It is but one aspect of the problem. But from the back of the ambulance as I kept a killer in a head lock for a half hour on the way to the hospital so he could not hurt me, to watching as my client, a barefoot crazy woman, is led from court in handcuffs on her way to prison for a property crime, I have been on both sides of the equation. And dealing with real dangerous criminals on a regular basis, a really small portion of folks in the system, taught me one thing, we are doing a terrible job at deciding who we lock up. Once the mentally ill become a part of the criminal justice system the have almost no chance to ever get out. Treat them early and maybe just maybe they have a chance at a life, and no one else has to die later. I do not have all the answers, but we have to advocate for more treatment. I know nothing is this simple, but this has got to stop. So next time you see an officer or a first responder tell them thanks, they need it right now. I am sorry to subject you to this and I sincerely hope you will stick with me but sometimes I feel a moral responsibility to speak out. There will be plenty of time to fish tomorrow.
Good Luck to us all and Tight Lines – God Bless America