Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Police not at fault – failed mental health system is

Everyone knew Mr. Pierson struggled with symptoms of mental illness. Lately his symptoms were worse. He was hearing voices and would sit in the dark alone all day. His neighbors were scared of him – even the postman knew he was “disturbed.” On Tuesday, Mr. Pierson was fatally shot by police when he refused to lower the shotgun he had been firing in the neighborhood. His family doesn’t fault police - "If I was in the same position, I would probably have done the same thing," his son said.

The fault lies with Virginia’s mental health system that makes it nearly impossible to help a man who may be hearing voices but is not yet “imminently dangerous” or “substantially unable to care” for himself. Despite the family's understanding, it is likely that the police who shot him will suffer that memory. They too should demand accountability from a failing mental health system that results in police killing people with mental illness at a rate nearly 4 times greater than the general population.

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