I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Sunday, January 9, 2011

AZ v. Loughner v. Arnold v. Sarn

The assassination attempt on AZ Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson this weekend - and the related murders of 6 bystanders, including a child - was deeply disturbing. The young man who appears responsible is seriously mentally ill. I wouldn't be surprised if he's diagnosed with manic depression, the label I carry with me when I chalk.

During a press conference today, one of the responding law enforcement officers suggested that "the problem" is that we don't have the mechanism we had in the 1960's "to incarcerate them", leaving homicidal manics to wander the streets, buy guns, and take out elected officials.

Sadly, however, in Arizona about all we do with the seriously mentally ill is incarcerate them - most for petty stuff. For every one person we put in the hospital in this state for the symptoms of their illness, in fact, we put ten behind bars. Arizona has been fighting court orders to improve community-based treatment for citizens with psychiatric disabilities for over two decades, investing far more in our resistance than we would need to in the solutions. Lives have been damaged and irretrievably lost in the process.

Is this tragedy one which might have been prevented by better treatment, hospital, and residential outpatient options for people with serious mental illnesses? I don't know. Could it have been prevented by more criminalization, longer sentences, fewer options for health and recovery? Highly doubtful. At what point would the system have identified, stopped, and treated Representative Gifford's shooter, and what would that treatment have looked like if such had been possible?

At the least, though, the rest of us could have made it harder for him to buy a gun and less likely that he might see himself as a hero for using it.

I tend to believe there's more we could have done, too. If we didn't collectively alienate and demonize people with mental illness so readily, then maybe it wouldn't be so hard to recognize when one needs help and seek it. If we didn't brutalize them in custody so often, then maybe they wouldn't be so paranoid about people with badges, uniforms, and guns - people with state power - trying to hurt them.

Think about it: suicide is 100% preventable. Homicide really should be as well. We've studied this stuff pretty extensively. So why are political solutions to crime still designed to just appeal to fear rather than actually reduce violence? It's not as if we lack the research or evidence-based practice recommendations. We appear to simply lack meaningful state leadership with both the knowledge and courage necessary to push through both public mental health care improvements and compassionate sentencing reform this year. They're still looking at how to gut the schools and community services while packing the prisons as cheaply as possible.

I'd hope that this devastating assault on Gabrielle Giffords would wake up Arizona's state legislators to what we need to be doing here to prevent the next such tragedy, not how to punish all potential such evil-doers actively exercising our first amendment rights without threatening a soul.

Now that they feel they're the main targets of the violence so many people face on a daily basis, it's possible that things will get much worse for us before they get better, however.
We could face draconian - even criminal - sanctions for not agreeing with our doctor's medication recommendations. We could find our psychiatric diagnoses and treatment non-compliance become an aggravating factor, not a mitigating one, adding years of isolation and harsh punishment to our possible sentences - be they served under lock and key in state hospitals or state prisons.

They tried to pass such legislation recently as it is (sorry - can't find the link now).

We'll see. In the meantime, anticipating that they'll need to find some scapegoats to further advance their fascist agenda with this incident, watch each other's backs out there.

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