Thursday, March 13, 2008

An ounce of prevention

Three weeks ago, Derek Johnson was shot to death by police in Flowood Mississippi.

Johnson was suffering from severe mental illness and engaged in bizarre behavior. A neighbor observed Johnson naked and screaming that Armageddon was coming. When the police arrived, Johnson came at them wielding a boxcutter. Johnson was shot and killed.

The brother of Derek Johnson claims the Flowood police overreacted and should have been more sensitive to his mental illness. A representative for the police claims that the responding officers felt their lives were in danger and made a reasonable choice to use deadly force. The courts will inevitably sort out this particular tragedy.

In the meantime, the overall factual pattern and its tragic consequences are far too common. Every year, an alarming number of people struggling with mental illnesses and dedicated police officers lose their lives in altercations similar to this one.

The most important question to ask when we read stories about people such as Derek Johnson is not whether or not the police acted properly. Rather we should be asking why a person like Derek Johnson with such a severe mental illness was not being properly treated in the first place.

The best solution to address this national problem is to ensure better treatment for all people overcome with severe mental illnesses.

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