No use of force by the police can ever seem too excessive

Patricia Williams, of The Nation’s Diary of a Mad Law Professor column, also makes a useful point.

…given clear evidence that Ismaaiyl Brinsley was mentally unsound, it is remarkable that the media could assign direct cause-and-effect to the atmospherics of news. If Brinsley had tweeted that William Shakespeare made him do it, would Fox & Friends be blaming teachers’ unions for troubling the waters?

It is its own kind of madness to blame these murders on those who do no more than debate the proper use of force by police, as Fox and others have done.

(As in: guns don’t kill people, public discourse and protestors without guns do.) This response chills freedom of expression, not least by using one psychotic individual as the stand-in for a national debate in desperate need of actual resolution. If Brinsley becomes the embodiment of “Black lives matter” or the Willie Horton–ized face of “Hands up, don’t shoot!”, then no use of force by the police can ever seem too excessive. No wonder we need stop-and-frisk—“they” are executioners!

Exactly. This whole “the protests killed Ramos and Liu” ploy is just a way to shut down all protest against excessive force by cops.

Lest we lose sight of the issue: approximately 80 percent of African-American men between 16 and 24 have endured unsolicited stops by the New York Police Department. Only 10 percent of whites in the same age cohort have. This does not reflect inherent criminality, but rather a pattern of discrimination. To observe that much, to discuss it and to push to change it is not the equivalent of “stoking hatred.”

And I for one find it frightening that police officers high up in the chain of command are claiming it is the equivalent.



  1. Jason Dick says

    Can we please stop blaming violence on mental illness, though? Brinsley clearly had a history of violence. That doesn’t make him mentally ill, but claiming it does unfairly paints the mentally ill as dangerous, even though they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the cause of it.

  2. kate says

    I am with you on not wanting to stigmatize the mentally ill. They are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. However, there are a few disorders which do lead people to be violent, and which have been factors in recent mass shootings. I think the linked article as a whole actually dealt with this well.

    A quick definitional primer may be in order, since so many recent shootings have involved either psychosis of some sort—mostly schizophrenia—or post-traumatic stress disorder. Schizophrenia is an incurable brain disease that, in its more paranoid manifestations, can cause delusions of persecution, distorted perceptions of reality, illusions of grandeur, magical thinking and auditory hallucinations (or “voices”). While it is not surprising that such confusion could occasionally lead to aggression, untreated schizophrenics are much more frequently the victims of violence. Often incapable of responding rationally to commands, they are disproportionately among those jailed or killed by police untrained to handle mental illness, as in the cases of Keith Vidal, Dontre Hamilton, Michelle Cusseaux and James Boyd, all schizophrenic civilians recently killed by police.

    Post-traumatic stress disorder is occasioned by exposure to violence or an invasion so deep that it bypasses the capacity for language. Flashbacks are one symptom. Rarer is compulsive behavior that re-enacts some version of the original assault: perhaps promiscuity if one has been molested, or explosive or violent behavior if one has survived war. It is a suspected cause behind Iraq veteran Bradley William Stone’s recent murder of his ex-wife and five members of her family. Rates of PTSD are also disproportionately high among police and prison guards, indicating broad disrespect by policy-makers for the stresses of the job. If there is no funding for screening, counseling or treatment, or if police officers are underpaid or untrained or overworked, or if their higher-ups force on them unfair profiling practices that all but guarantee their presence will be resented on the street—this state of affairs endangers public space no less than common criminality.

    Police officers need to be better trained in how to interact with the mentally ill (and the deaf, and others with disabilities for that matter), both for the protection of the disabled and the police. If PTSD is a contributing factor in cases of police brutality, we need to deal with that as well.

  3. sailor1031 says

    Given that many police departments have a declared hiring preference for veterans it’s highly likely that PTSD is a contributing factor.

    As for NYC isn’t the police commissioner’s failure to control his own officers, as witnessed by their insulting behavior towards the mayor and others as well as their public pronouncements, grounds for immediate termination? I can’t imagine a military service allowing its members to behave so in public without some consequences.

  4. says

    Apropos of a comment I dropped on the Sydney thread: this also seems to be a case in which personal pathology takes its cue from a larger societal issue. As such it shows that the larger issue isn’t necessarily illegitimate, and we shouldn’t automatically blame everyone on the same side as the one who does something outrageous. In any large enough group of people, some of them are bound to be doing something bloody stupid (or worse), irrespective of the overall merits of their cause.

  5. says

    If Brinsley had tweeted that William Shakespeare made him do it, would Fox & Friends be blaming teachers’ unions for troubling the waters?

    Of course. It would be the fault of teachers for not teaching his works in the correct manner. In fact I would be entirely unsurprised if some right wing bigmouth hasn’t blamed say Michael Brown’s death on teachers being Marxist culture warriors or something equally stupid.

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