If an individual is considered to be a danger to ‘self or others,’ the law readily claims them for incarceration by jail or hospital. However, when the roles are reversed … when the environment presents the danger to the self … then one is most often either rendered invisible or criminalized for their attempts to survive.
The person living on the streets with whom no one will make eye contact, or who the police hassle for requesting spare change from passersby. The individual who has learned to cut themselves to manage emotional pain, and so is punished by emergency room staff who sew them up without anesthetic (both physical and emotional pain disregarded), or confuse their efforts for suicide and contain them against their will. The person of color who some might cross the street to avoid, or who is arrested for lashing out when another is murdered at the hands of those employed to ‘serve and protect.’ Each is only looking for a way to survive, but instead finds themselves ignored or blamed.
So, then, who is truly more dangerous? The community that fails to provide enough housing to go around (or a living wage with which to afford it), or the person without a home? The person who has learned to manage emotional pain by causing themselves physical pain so that they can fathom remaining on this earth even a little bit longer, or the person who would rip that manner of surviving away from them in favor of involuntary confinement? The person who causes property damage or throws a rock because they’re so enraged at all the people dying, or the person whose hands are bloody with actual loss of life?
Freddie Gray died on April 19. He was arrested on April 12 after making ‘eye contact’ with a police officer and then fleeing. This sent said officer into an apparently uncontrollable fit of pursuit. (So far, there does not appear to be any reason that the officer chased him, other than that he ran.) Some time during the arrest and subsequent transport, Freddie’s spinal cord was severely damaged. This is why he died.
And so the protests began, calling for justice in yet another instance of a black man (or child) dying at the hands of the police. The riots followed. Images of buildings burning, charred remnants of vehicles, and citizens facing off with police and military forces decked out in riot gear flooded the news.
Of course, this also hastened yet another influx of hate on social media such as Facebook. Protesters were referred to as “animals” with increasing frequency. Words drenched in violence plastered across my screen.
“We open up hunting season on animals that run wild … time to open fire on stupid … really why are they allowed to breathe.”
Yet, the person who wrote that very statement seemed shocked when I challenged their aggression. Not so unusual, really. As these waves of hate have risen, I’ve repeatedly challenged the violent statements people have made. (“Run over those losers blocking traffic!” “Pile the bodies high!”) However, what’s more disturbing than the statements themselves is that – on more than one occasion – others involved in the same thread have retorted, “I don’t see anyone saying anything violent!”
Violence is invisible when it’s carried out by the hands of those in (or on the side of) power.
When our cultural emphasis is on keeping things ‘status quo,’ then the people who are threatening or inconveniencing that way of life become ‘the violent ones.’ Everyone else is simply engaged in righteous efforts to control ‘the threat’ or expressing justifiable outrage at the world’s failure to do so.
Worse yet, the whole mess is self re-enforcing. Society is set up with the decks stacked so high against certain groups of people that they are – at times – quite literally set up to do the very things society claims not to want them to do. Our societal structures are boxing people in (through poverty, discrimination, lack of choice, etc.) to untenable ways of life. Once boxed in, society then proceeds to keep an extra close watch on those ‘high risk’ types (i.e., people whose basic needs are not being met by that society), just waiting for them to step somehow out of bounds in order to make do in a world not necessarily set up with their survival in mind. Society then uses that as the proof they needed to be boxed in in the first place. And, voila: “See, we told you ‘those people’ are bad!”
Never mind that people are angry and desperate because they want to survive. Never mind that they are even angrier and more desperate because they aren’t surviving. That all was well in Baltimore before the riots befell its peaceful streets is little more than an illusion palatable only to those who have distance from the harsh realities thanks to race, geography and/or some other source of privilege. The violence has been there all along.
Strangely, when I say these sorts of things, people seem to hear them as being ‘pro-riot.’ I’m not ‘pro-riot.’ But, nor am I willing to see only one side of the violence while remaining blind to the other. In fact, it’s the institutional violence that has the much more longstanding and far reaching impact. CVS will be rebuilt. Lives will not. One needn’t go so far as being “happy” about the riots to understand that simple truth.
I continue to worry (as expressed in my earlier blog, “Michael Brown and the Peer Movement“) that those of us who post on ‘Mad in America’ and/or see ourselves as part of some sort of movement related to psychiatric labeling don’t see these issues as connected. In reality, this bears much comparison to the violence experienced within the mental health system and that goes unchecked and even unlabeled as violence. So many times we’ve heard that one has been deemed to “need” the psych drugs forced upon them; one would have been a “danger” had we not restrained them; one would have been unable to “care” for themselves had we not contained them. In some ways, yes, these are different movements, but in some ways they are the same. People within both are experiencing discrimination and oppression. Both are being sold a multitude of paths to disenfranchisement as if they represent any real choice at all.
Honestly, I’m far from fully informed about what is happening in Baltimore, or in related efforts. I find myself overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all, and often paralyzed about what the ‘right thing’ to do could ever be or just how much of it I can bear to take in. But, it’s clear to me that we’re not doing ourselves any favors by acting like ‘business as usual’ over here in Mad in America land, while a whole city burns. We’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle if we don’t see that this is about us, too.
If you don’t already get that… If you’re not already afraid or seeing the connection… Try reading this article published just yesterday: “Police officer in Freddie Gray arrest once hospitalized over mental health.”
Yes, that’s right, folks. If you finally stop being able to stand your ground by blaming one oppressed group, blame another one! Just, whatever you do, don’t blame yourself. Especially not if you’re the one currently in power. That could lead to actual change, and we wouldn’t want that.