The Dangers of Calling the Police on the Mentally Ill
After any mass killing comes the wave of stories that ask why no one saw the tragedy coming. Those who knew Elliot Rodger—who killed six people on May 23 in Santa Barbara, California—were likely aware he was disturbed. The 22-year-old had been under psychiatric care since the age of eight, according to the New York Times; Rodger suffered from anxiety, depression, and likely high-functioning autism, and he became progressively more and more isolated as he went through adolescence.
From what I’ve read, his parents tried to help him as best they could: His mother even called the cops when she found his distressing YouTube videos. On April 30, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies questioned Rodger—who managed to talk them out of searching his apartment—but they apparently never actually watched the videos before deciding he wasn’t a threat to anyone else, nor did they check the relevant databases to see if he was a gun owner. It’s easy to criticize the authorities for not divining that this reclusive loner was more violent than other reclusive loners, or to tut-tut at Rodger’s parents for not persuading the police to respond more aggressively, but doing so ignores the serious consequences of calling the cops on a mentally ill relative, and how limited law enforcement’s responses are.
On May 28, the Washington Post published an article on Bill and Tricia Lammers, who in 2012 turned in their 20-year-old mentally ill son Blaec for planning to shoot up a Walmart. Was it a good decision? Sure—except Blaec is now serving a 15-year prison sentence, and it’s not as if his psychiatric problems will have been healed when he gets out. That just underscores the inflexibility of the criminal justice system: All the cops can do, in cases like that of the Lammers, is charge someone for a crime, which in many cases means they’ll spend a long time behind bars.
Around a quarter of people in the US suffer from some type of mental illness, and about 6 percent are dealing with a serious disorder. If a disturbed person’s family thinks he is planning to do something horrific, it can be very difficult to convince medical professionals to help him against his will. That means that the cops are summoned to deal with situations where a psychiatric expert is needed “The mental-health system is totally broken,” Bill Lammers told the Post. “Calling the police is the only option.”
Deploying the cops against anyone in your family is not a decision to be taken lightly. Any time the authorities intervene there’s a chance of someone getting seriously injured or killed, but cops and the mentally ill are a particularly deadly combination. Police in Fullerton, California, famously beat and killed Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia, in 2011; this March officers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shot a mentally ill homeless man in the back. And it’s not just wandering indigents who are killed this way. In too many incidents to list here, mentally illindividuals have ended SWAT standoffs by provoking cops into shooting them. By some estimates, half of of the 500-some victims of police shootings in America each year suffer from mental illness. Shootings like the one that Elliot Rodger perpetrated in California are relatively rare compared to incidents that end with a police bullet in the body of a mentally ill person—shouldn’t we be talking about policies that solve the latter problem as well as the former?
I smoked weed with the President of Uruguay, which in 2013 became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana. Sorry mom and dad.
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Canada Is Forcing Medical Marijuana Patients to Destroy Their Weed
On Friday, the ideal time for any government to release bad news, Health Canada issued a public statement outlining their new medical marijuana (or as they often refer to it,marihuana) system. In it, Health Canada explains that they do “not endorse the use of marijuana” while adding that they will be “taking the necessary steps to protect public safety while providing reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes, as ordered by the Courts.”
When these new laws go into effect on April 1st, existing medical marijuana patients will no longer be able to grow their own weed. Instead, these roughly 40,000 registered Canadian marijuana patients will have to turn to corporate, legal grow-ops that are being built and regulated all across the country. This means that patients will have much higher costs (Canada’s new legal grows will charge these patients $5-$7.50 a gram), while also being provided with a more limited selection of cannabis.
Property seized in drug raids can help fund police operations, but now that marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado there are going to be fewer drug raids, which means fewer seizures, which means less money for the cops. Good.
The Mexican Doctor Who Leads a Militia Against the Cartels
Michoacan, the fertile agricultural state in western Mexico, is in the midst of war. There are three main players: the cartel known asLos Caballeros Templarios (the Knights Templar), the Federal Police and Mexican Army forces, and the armed civilian groups that have emerged in Michoacan—as well as other states—in the absence of peace and safety.
A sort of moral leader has arisen from these militia groups. Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles Valverde heads the General Counsel for Self-Defense and Community Police Forces of Michoacan. Since communities in the region took up arms to defend their towns from crime last February, Dr. Mireles has been their public voice, appearing on magazine covers and in televised interviews, defending every Mexican’s right to protect themselves from lawlessness.
Last week, photographer Hans-Maximo Musielik spent five days with Dr. Mireles, getting closer to the leader than anyone before. He documented Dr. Mireles, as well as his guards and commanders, as they kept road blocks and sought the expansion of the territory under the command of the self-defense council. On December 29, they peacefully overtook the municipality of Churumuco. Everything remained calm until January 4 when the community police forces took over Paracuaro, the tenth municipality to be added to the self-defense zone. But unlike Churumuco, the arrival of the self-defense groups met resistance, leading to fatal fighting. At least two gunmen for the Templarios were killed during the reported shootings. Two Mexican Army soldiers died in an ambush nearby. Hans-Maximo’s photos also capture the death of one member of the self-defense forces, a killing that was not counted in the major news reports.
The DEA Is Monitoring Your Phone Calls
On Sunday, the New York Times revealed the existence of a program known as the Hemisphere Project, which gives the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies around the country access to a database of Americans’ phone records that goes back to 1987. You might think that a judge would have to sign off on a subpoena in order for the cops to view your phone records, but the process is actually much more streamlined (and invasive): the federal government reportedly pays AT&T to have the telecom giant’s employees sit next to DEA agents and local police detectives and show them whatever data they need. Technically, the information is stored by AT&T and not the government (this avoids some sticky legal issues), but in practice the cops have access to a database that logs billions of calls a day and includes not only who you called, but where you were when you placed the call. (Your call gets logged if it passes through an AT&T-owned system; you don’t have to be a customer of the company for them to have your data.) The current official Obama administration excuse for the program they were forced to admit the existence of is that it helps track down drug dealers and other criminals who tend to use difficult-to-track disposable cellphones.
This story comes on the heels of a story published by Reuters last month that detailed the NSA´s quasi-legal habit of passing on tips to other agencies, like the DEA, that don’t normally work on national security-related cases. After being given these tips, investigators then “recreate” where they got their evidence in a trick known as “parallel construction,” which allows them to hide where they got their information from defendants, judges, and even prosecutors. (Members of Congress have been pressing Attorney General Eric Holder about this, and he claims this is a common tactic used to protect sources.)
All these revelations about the scope of the information the DEA has access to are frightening, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although the government originally claimed that it would only use its massive powers of data collection and surveillance in serious, rare, 24-type situations, of course they are using these same powers to go after more mundane criminals. For instance, “sneak and peek” warrants, which allow the police to search your property without informing you as they normally would, were legalized by the terrorism-centric PATRIOT Act but somehow wound up being used more often in drug investigations. This sort of codependent relationship between the war on drugs and the national security state makes it difficult to separate the two. It’s becoming clear that it’s unrealistic to ask the government to play by the rules law enforcement is supposed to be following except in situations where big bad terrorists are involved; mission creep is inevitable. More than one tentacle of government needs to be hacked off before Americans get some privacy back.
The Feds Will Let States Legalize Pot… Maybe
Ever since Colorado and Washington state voted last November to legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol or coffee or anything else that comes from nature, maaaaaaaan, the question has been how the federal government would respond. Would the people in charge of conducting the war on drugs really be OK with letting state law trump federal law? Well, the Department of Justice released a memo today and it turns out that yes, they’ll let everyone from Seattle to Denver light up legally—but there are some caveats, as always.
The memo (which can be read in full here) says that the DOJ has already been prioritizing stopping the really bad crimes that are connected to marijuana, like the sale of pot to kids, revenue going to cartels and other criminals, and violence that’s connected with the weed trade. It goes on to advise prosecutors that focusing on those activities is still a good idea before tackling the meat of the matter at hand: though some states have legalized weed, it shouldn’t change the Feds’ policy of going after drug growers and dealers who are killing people, growing pot on federally-owned land, or breaking the law in other ways.
Nope, the GOP Still Isn’t Libertarian
Above: Republican senator Ted Cruz speaking to a conference of social conservatives. When this guy is considered a leading figure in your party, you’re a long way from libertarianism. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
If you’re bored with the political news this summer—it’s not an election year and Congress is in recess after doing diddly squat for six months—you can always read about how the United States is having a “libertarian moment.” The idea is that after decades of being bandied about by eccentric middle-aged white men and collegiate stoners who made zines and unreadable websites, libertarian principles are finally entering the mainstream.
Most articles on the subject first bring up Rand Paul—son of Ron, hater of drones and the NSA, would-be friend of Silicon Valley’s money, painfully awkward ambassador of the white race, and the most prominent libertarian-ish politician in the country. They then go on to mention that Paul’s antigovernment views and relatively liberal opinions on social issues make him a model for how Republicans can attract the young voters who have largely abandoned the party. (VICE itself took this tack last year.) The “libertarian moment” discussions will also invariably feature polls that show a majority of Americans favor legalizing weed and gay marriage, both issues that libertarians have been talking about for years. (Name something, and libertarians will be in favor of legalizing it.) The final ingredient in the libertarian article recipe is the Tea Party’s influence in Congress. When the Kansas City Star wrote about this, the paper referred to senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and representative Tim Huelskamp (along with Paul, of course) as “libertarian Republicans” and noted their opposition to NSA wiretapping and Obamacare. If you’re keeping score at home, the equation generally works like this:
Young People Hold Antigovernment Views +
Rand Paul! +
The Tea Party’s Influence (a.k.a. Stranglehold) on Congress +
Americans Tolerating Weed and Gay People =
A Strain/Rising tide/Explosion/Pick Your Metaphor of Libertarianism in America
The thing is, I’m not sure this math holds up in the real world. To start at the bottom of the equation, it’s true that America is a far more tolerant place for gay people who want to celebrate their legal marriage by lighting up a fat blunt. But though those causes have libertarian support behind them, the pro-weed and antihomophobia movements have been fueled by liberals; it’s Democrats, not right-wingers, who have advocated for gay rights and tried to push marijuana legislation at the federal level. And many libertarians favor decriminalizing all drugs in the name of individual liberty, which is several steps further than most pot activists are willing to go.