Officer kills "bum" for "crime' of being in a business district?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 28 May 1999 01:10:07 -0700 (PDT)


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On the LAPD killing of a black homeless woman last Friday, LA Times
columnist Shawn Miler writes in the article below that "[S]he was shot
as the result of being derelict in a chichi shopping district, because
merchants had wanted the cops to do something about bums stealing
shopping carts and uglying up the place."

Did the LAPD officer kill a homeless "bum" for the crime
of being in a business district, as Shawn Miller opines?

Do you agree or disagree or have no opinion?  Why?

If Miller's column were an ad, whose wares would she be selling?
Who could the sale benefit?  Who could lose?

Do you agree or disagree or have no opinion?  Why?

http://www.latimes.com/HOME/NEWS/METRO/t000047659.html
FWD  Los Angeles Times - Thursday, May 27, 1999

     IT'S OPEN SEASON ON THE WALKING WOUNDED

     By SHAWN HUBLER

It's hard to convey the frustration that has accumulated this week
around Margaret Laverne Mitchell's death. Maybe it has to do with the
face she has suddenly put on homelessness, which, until now, had been
yesterday's forgotten crisis--the face of someone's mother, slashing
maniacally with a screwdriver at a policeman. Maybe it's the timing, so
soon after the Tyisha Miller shooting--another lawman's panicked bullet
in another troubled black woman's chest.

Or maybe race is a red herring. Maybe it's the fact that she was shot
as the result of being derelict in a chichi shopping district, because
merchants had wanted the cops to do something about bums stealing
shopping carts and uglying up the place. Maybe it's the dawning
realization that there's a difference between "broken windows" and broken
people, that a city is only as great as its attitude toward its weak.

Or maybe it has to do with the fact that, again and again in recent
months, tragedy has come in the same breath with the mental illness. That
is the killer we can't seem to wrap our minds around. It has been the
demon of this long winter and springtime--say it: mental illness--from
the Littleton schoolyard to the New York subways to the streets of Los
Angeles.

Not that we have dared to call it entirely as we see it. At every
turn, we've sought to dilute its importance, lacing every debate with
sideline blather about the cost of care or the 2nd Amendment or the
alleged trouble with kids these days. We can't bring ourselves to simply
say, for instance, that the Littleton shooters were two sick boys who
were unnaturally fixated on guns and bombs and hierarchy and other things
having to do with power. Nah. They were emblems. Yeah, that's it. Emblems
of . . . something more comprehensible. Hollywood. The Internet.

We won't just say that the poor schizophrenic who pushed that poor
young woman to her death from a New York subway platform in January was
the tortured victim of an underfunded, underinsured, deeply stigmatized
system, almost as messed up as the one in California. Oh, no. That
tragedy was . . . something easier. A random breakdown. A New York thing.

And Margaret Laverne Mitchell, the college-educated grandmother who
ended up dead on La Brea after her family had tried so fruitlessly to
persuade her to get treatment--well, it's unimaginable, isn't it, that
she might have resisted them because mental illness is seen as an awful,
shameful thing? Oh, no. She was just exercising her civil right to fall
apart at gunpoint on the street.

A word about the fact that she was at gunpoint. I hate to talk about
guns and mental illness in the same space because the linkage perpetuates
the falsehood that "mentally ill" means "violent." But there is a kind of
link, beyond the fact that both guns and mental illness are vexing and
long-standing problems. For one thing--and it must be said--guns are a
symptom. People who can't be without them are too concerned about power.
If you're healthy and normal, you don't require guns and bombs in your
daily life just to feel OK. There is something wrong with people--cops
included--who in every encounter feel one-down without a lethal weapon in
hand.

There is something wrong with a law enforcement culture that opts for
lethal force as frequently and in as many situations as the police and
deputies do in Los Angeles. There is something wrong with the fact that
California law enforcement officers have so little real training (4 1/2
hours on average, according to one mental health advocate) in how to deal
with the mentally ill.

There's something wrong, for that matter, with the way we all look at
the psychologically troubled. The conventional wisdom is that when
mentally ill people refuse treatment and shelter, it's solely their
warped biochemistry talking, but the broader truth is that there are a
million other reasons for them not to admit they're crazy. No one likes
to be looked down on, and even they can see how we disdain people like
them.

Why we can't rise above that disdain is a kind of mystery. The
repulsion is so instinctive that people who understand these things
suggest it may be Darwinian. The species recoils from traits that could
harm it; it may be partly because of some ancient reflex that the
unhealthy are shunned.

But compassion is also part of what it means to belong to this
species. So what does it mean that at every level of governance, we have
done everything possible to tamp compassion down? The streets and jails
and prisons overflow with our accumulated frustrations--with fellow
humans who might seek and find decent treatment if mental illness, in all
its permutations, were something we could all wrap our minds around.

[Shawn Hubler's column appears Mondays and Thursdays.]

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