When Mental Illness is Criminalized, the Community Suffers

When Mental Illness is Criminalized, the Community Suffers
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Police Should Not Be Responding to Medical Emergencies. Formerly incarcerated, formerly homeless, person in long-term recovery from the use of narcotics and alcohol, and mentally ill. These all could be used to describe me, but I self-identify as a survivor of many broken systems. The mental health system is broken and in need of overhaul.

To do so, stigma needs to be addressed and that includes crisis handling by the NYPD. The stigma of mental health is quite isolating and unforgiving toward those assigned a diagnosis. When it comes to encounters with law enforcement, being known to the police as an emotionally disturbed person can be dangerous to one’s health. The baseline for EDP-related 911-calls usually sees that two uniformed cops are dispatched at the very best, or in some drastic cases a collective show of force appears. As a pacifist, I don’t agree with violence at all, which says a lot considering the amount of violence which has been perpetrated against me.

Such a show of force is not necessary always, understanding that when the black gloves are on, they are used for a purpose: subdue using necessary force to make a person comply whether breathing or not. If no crime is occurring, there is no need for law enforcement’s presence during a vulnerable person’s battle with crisis and amplified emotional states. Health emergencies require medical intervention. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that when calling 911 for medical emergencies, law enforcement will not appear even if requested not to.

I am a person who lives with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My family thought it best to call 911, instead of seeking out healthy, emotionally-sound collateral supports. Police encounters were many, and as a formerly incarcerated individual, that is something to be avoided at all cost. Reflecting on my past encounters, I was failed time and time again, and victimized by the mental health system and NYPD subsequently.
Being a client of a Medicaid mill where one affiliated psychiatrist was arrested by the DEA, another being sanctioned by the OPMC, and narcotics and psychotropics being peddled in a staff-sponsored open-air black market, I was offered sedating medications with reckless abandon.

As a result of being prescribed medications at non-therapeutic dosage levels, as well as misdiagnosed, I was in a consistent state of flux emotionally and physically. In choosing to stop taking medication, and no longer wanting to attend such types of community health clinics, my loved ones were told that my being noncompliant deems me a danger to self and others. I fell through the cracks while wanting only to be heard, not abused into submission/compliance/non-resistance.

The mentally ill are usually treated in such ways as if they are without value, and as faceless throwaways who don’t fit societal norms. If they are not treated inclusively for their respective differently-abled needs, then failure is to be expected. The often faceless in the crowd find themselves named and recognized when mentioned in news media headlines, where the lack of empathetic interventions failed their existence.

Persons living with mental illness, or as I like to say, experiencing alternative states, should be celebrated and empowered in the community, not punished for being in critical need of holistic wraparound services.
I spoke recently at the November 20th One Police Plaza Mental Health Decriminalization Rally with the intention to neither demonize the NYPD nor antagonize relations between law enforcement and the mental health community in any capacity.

I shared testimony and offered suggestions on how to create pathways toward healthy crisis intervention that preserve dignity and life. Wondering how to address the crisis at hand, I made a list of questions: Why aren’t warmlines and crisis respite centers being touted as much as prescriptions to stem the tide of mental health crisis in the community? Why aren’t qualified mental health professionals present at all 911-emergencies? If there is no differentiation between calls necessitating medical and law enforcement intervention, then why aren’t ALL NYPD officers receiving Crisis Intervention Training and Mental Health First Aid? Why not establish a non-law enforcement number to address medical-related emergencies?

I know from first-hand lived experience that when mental Illness is treated as a crime, not only does the individual suffer, but the community suffers as well.

Pullout: “Why aren’t warmlines and crisis respite centers being touted as much as prescriptions to stem the tide of mental health crisis in the community? Why aren’t qualified mental health professionals present at all 911-emergencies?”


by Felix Guzman

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