Fear Wins Out

I was involved in a trial recently that reminded me of an old movie called “Fear Strikes Out”. It was the story of a professional baseball player named Jimmy Piersall who regained his career after developing a psychiatric illness. It was produced in the early 1960’s during a time when we treated people who had mental illness much more humanely than we do now. You see, in the 1970’s we emptied and closed State Mental Institutions and in the 1980’s destroyed the “social safety net”. State mental institutions were far from perfect, but much more humane and cost-effective than what has evolved since then. Today, many mentally ill people are either homeless or serially jailed, at great expense to tax payers. The result is that people are sometimes confronted and frightened by acutely mentally ill on the streets and jails are overcrowded with people who barely get necessary treatment. It is a cruel and costly system.

I just finished a trial involving the Canton, Ohio police killing a man who was suffering from a mental illness. The father of two was wandering the streets near his home, naked and bloody. He was obviously mentally ill and frightened people, although he had threatened no one and committed no crime. In fact, as the police pulled up, he held out his hands and asked for help. The police, I think reacting from fear, immediately sprayed him with chemical pepper gas, tazed him and handcuffed him. The entire event was witnessed by many people and much of what followed was videotaped. As the the man lay handcuffed and face down on the street, the police beat, kicked and tazed the defenseless man repeatedly. Ultimately, he died from being asphyxiated.

The Ohio jury came to a verdict that I feel reflects the fact that fear, as opposed to compassion, is the hallmark of our society at the moment. They did find the City of Canton, Ohio guilty of failing to train the police officers properly, but exonerated the police who had beaten and killed a defenseless man!

It is sad that people, even trained police officers, in America today have allowed fear to justify behavior that would have never been tolerated even a decade ago. Whether it is torturing mentally ill people or terrorists. We have to ask ourselves if maybe we have allowed fear to “win out”. As the man I represented was being being beaten and tazed as he lay on the ground he kept calling out “I love you” to the police officers who were killing him. I wonder, who was truly mentally ill in this case?

4 Responses to Fear Wins Out

  1. George says:

    Moving piece! It’s good to have your voice back on the blog. I thought you had given up.

  2. Patricia Jankowski says:

    I’m a registered nurse.

    Nearly every time I work, I see a person who is naked, covered with blood, scared, and with his hands out for help…it is usually some elderly patient with dementia who has somehow managed to pull out his IV line or catheter and is bleeding all over the place, or maybe someone younger, in DT’s, who has done the same.

    Sometimes I’m frightened because the guy is twice as big as I am and he is not in a very good mood, either.

    But I just get somebody to help me get him back in bed, get him cleaned up, get the IV line restarted and then get him some sedation or pain medication to make him comfortable.

    Then at the end of the day I go home and hope that tomorrow might be better.

    It usually isn’t.

    I don’t have a tazer or any chemical pepper gas, and if we page the security guards to come and help us, they usually take at least 20 minutes or so just to show up, and they have no weapons of any kind whatsoever. Until they arrive, we’re on our own (and usually afterwards, too, because they’re often none too eager to help.)

    I’m not a superhuman person or a “special” person. I’m just like everybody else, and I really hate it when people say that nurses are “special” because they are not. They’re just people who deal with things because they have to, and they can’t afford the luxury of sticking their heads up their butts.

    I’m not allowed to react out of fear because it’s my job to deal with the situation.

    So where the hell is MY “social safety net”???

    I guess only certain people matter when it comes to safety….and for the vast majority of us, it’s perfectly acceptable to be an irresponsible coward. That, of course, would include the Ohio police in this instance.

    I think that what we really need is a “social safety net” to protect us from ourselves, because something has gone terribly wrong with our society.

    If this is “civilization”, it certainly seems to be quite uncivilized.

    Well, I suppose that, after all, there isn’t much profit in running a mental hospital.

    So much more money is generated by having an ambulance bring a demented patient to the hospital where he can have some expensive procedures of some kind or another and bring in some REAL income to the corporate suits at the insurance companies. Especially when the admissions are repeated again and again and again and no real healing is taking place and no real meaningful care is being given.

    And, there’s always us nurses to take care of any fallout that might happen as a result of this.

    That must be because we’re so “special”.

    Oh, the joys of corporate medicine, which always forms a picture in my mind that is worth a thousand words…it’s the famous MySpace comment that consists of a pile of 24-carat CRAP.

  3. InYourFaceNewYorker says:

    This is sickening. And of course they videotaped it. I really think this is a modern manifestation of drawing and quartering and, on an evolutionary scale, a modern manifestation of killing the “different” one who is certainly not in your tribe and might be competing against yours for resources. And the videotaping reinforces in-group cohesion. At least that’s my guess. I’m not a scientist, obviously, so I have no business saying that’s absolutely what it is, but evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a great book called The Blank Slate which addresses similar issues to this and how evolution “programmed” us to react to certain environments.


  4. InYourFaceNewYorker says:

    A shocking BBC special in which caregivers at a group home torture people with severe learning disabilities:

    These brutes! Once again, I suspect a modern manifestation of drawing and quartering. I see the same dynamics of torturing (perhaps a modern, toned down version of “killing” but with the same mindset) and the reinforced group cohesion by the activity. It becomes a game to them, and people who watch or just walk away either do so because they don’t care or because they are cowards and (instinctively, not consciously) realize that acceptance by the group and thus access to life-sustaining resources is contingent upon their not standing up for these poor people. I seriously wonder if that’s what it’s about.

    I wish evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker would do a book tour so I could inundate him with questions about things like this…


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