Monday, March 16, 2015

Mental illness, Westlake police and the politics of bigotry!



     Recently, a severely mentally ill women, Tanisha Anderson, died in the midst of a crisis call with the Cleveland Police which has once again put a spotlight on police contacts with this misunderstood group. The coroner reported that Tanisha died of a heart condition, which is likely the result of her illness. There has been a rush to judgment on her death and some unfair scrutiny of the Cleveland police.
     For over a decade, I have been involved with Crisis Intervention Team training, which is a blueprint for de-escalating police encounters with the mentally ill. I have witnessed firsthand that the Cleveland police have been an ambitious participant in this program. However, this event opened up wounds from my past experiences with one local law enforcement agency, the Westlake Police, whose actions can best be labeled as emotional brutality.
    Bigotry is defined as “the possession or expression of intense, unreasonable prejudices, or opinions.” Individuals, such as myself who suffer the indignity of being diagnosed with mental illness often face a painful backlash when others either find evidence or witness the symptoms of our affliction. In the Westlake Police department, they have brazenly expressed a culture of ignorance towards those diagnosed with one of these conditions, which lit the fuse of unchecked discrimination.
     The storyline was that a former business associate of mine began a series of allegations against me, which were later proven to be fictitious. His weapon of choice was first and foremost my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. The Westlake police were more than pleased to assist him and began to call me routinely in for questioning. It was here that no matter how much I implored them to leave me alone, they continued their emotional assault. It is important to point out that despite their best efforts, they were never able to identify any nefarious activity which was the basis for the accusations.
     During these “interrogations” I attempted to file claims of possible criminal activity committed by the accuser. It was at this point in the timeline that the bigotry of the Westlake police came to light. On three different occasions, the police denied me the right to file a report. I felt like Jesus did when in biblical teachings, St Peter denied him on three different occasions. It bears mentioning that there are over three hundred million citizens in this country, and all are free to protect themselves by filing reports for help, except for those diagnosed as mentally ill in Westlake Ohio.
     In follow-up calls to the police, I was referred to as a “psycho” in much the same context as the “N” word would be used in a racist manner. A Captain Guy Turner seemed to find glee in mocking and demeaning my plight. He even ran interference for the then Chief of Police Richard Walling and would never allow me to speak with him. It became painfully evident that the police culture in this community was exposed as one of arrogance and stupidity.
     In an effort to find a different avenue for protection, I contacted the community leaders. It was with this cast of characters that the old saying that “A fish rots from the head first” was on full display. It was here that the root cause of their discriminatory practice going unchallenged was exposed, which is the city leadership’s inability to look past their own phony self-righteousness. 
     First on the list was Mayor Dennis Clough, who boasts a Harvard Education but did not even seem to understand that the word bigotry extends far beyond racial boundaries. He has made a career working in Government, and it has been alleged that he has used local public sector jobs as his family’s personal employment agency. My conversations with him were visceral at best, and he kept telling me I can write a letter, which he insisted were as good as a police report. He never once answered the question as to why I was prohibited from filing a complaint like the other 300 million plus citizens of this country.
      Next, I contacted the President of City Council Mike Killeen. He did nothing but become demeaning and claimed he is an expert on police work. When I attempted to explain that I was also elected to the city council, he would just rudely interrupt. This encounter with him reminded me of an old southern sheriff from the 1940’s speaking with a black family who came into the local police station to report a crime against them. The one that would ask the father, “boy, what is your problem?”
    Finally, I contacted then Councilwomen and current State Representative Nan Baker. She spent her time boorishly describing what a superhero she is and that there had ‘never’ been a problem with their department. Like the others, she became very demeaning and reminded me that the mentally ill can be dangerous. Out of all of them, she was without question, the most disgusting and kept claiming she was not bigoted. I kept waiting for her to defend her actions by insisting, “Some of my (her) best friends have a mental illness.”
     There is one common denominator, and that is, all refused to address the police refusing to allow me the right to protect myself. To all of them, I was viewed as some weak, crazy individual who did not deserve their efforts. It appears their real ambition in life is to live in a gated community as a means to avoid those not deemed part of their “moral universe”.
     In thenn attempted to contact then State Senator Bob Spada, who was known to be a strong advocate for those afflicted with mental illness. It is important to acknowledge that both he and his wife should be commended for the great deal of time and resources they have provided as advocates to eliminate the stigma of these conditions. However,  I was to soon discover that politics overrides the needs of those who suffer the indignity of being stigmatized by those he categorizes as favorable politicians.
     My reason for contacting the office of Senator Spada was not only for help, but to try and understand his supporting Nan Baker in her run for the Statehouse, when she has shown such disdain for those in need. Surprisingly, my calls were ignored, as I became invisible to him. I was disappointed to learn that in spite of his advocacy, he acted as if my illness made me unbefitting of his efforts.
     Undeterred, and ironically at a luncheon that was supporting a cause to eliminate the stigma of mental illness, I was able to confront Senator Spada. He responded by defending Nan Baker and informing me that there were “more important issues than bigotry.” His response left me both speechless and shocked. Even more bizarre was he then insisted that he and I have our picture taken together.
     After being a victim of both bigotry and emotional police brutality, this inspired my personal advocacy. I had decided that no one should be treated in such a manner as I was during those early dark days of recovery. Over the years since, I volunteered a great deal of time and effort in working with local police departments on the issues of their contacts with the mentally ill. I have likely been involved in the training of nearly 1,000 police officers throughout Northeastern Ohio and that work continues to this very day. I have developed mutual respect with countless police officers, but none from Westlake, which I classify as a “rogue” department.
     As time went by, I would attempt to discuss this issue with them, but to no avail. One Lieutenant whom I ounce spoke with said, “we were just talking about you the other day” then proceeded to laugh and hang up. What else would one expect from a police department who found it funny to use someone's pet for personal target practice, when they shot and killed a family dog.
     Recently, I decided it was time to discover if the culture of stupidity that permeated this department was still moving full speed ahead. First stop, the Mayor.
     Mayor Clough still did not grasp the notion that demeaning people because of illness was both improper and discriminatory. He once again refused to explain this departments denying me the right to ask them for protection. He continued to ask me why I didn’t call the police chief, and told him, that I could not get past Captain Turner, who, as I repeatedly told him, refused to put my call through. He went so far as to threaten that I could face criminal charges if I did, in fact, write a critical story about his police department. Perhaps he was asleep in his Harvard Civics class when they discussed the First Amendment right to freedom of speech..
     Calls to State Representative Nan Baker were expectedly ignored. She practices one of the cowardly forms of bigotry by turning her object of disdain invisible. In her defense, I am sure she was busy passing tax breaks in the statehouse to benefit her family business while continuously slashing the budget for suicide prevention programs.
     An email to Robert Spada, now President of the National Alliance on Mental illness of Ohio, NAMI, resulted in his developing a selective memory and he could not imagine that he spoke anything such as what he said to me. He also claimed that Mayor Clough and Representative Baker were quality individuals.
     To further examine the current zeitgeist of the Westlake Police, one needs only to read their annual report of their 2014 activity. This document was a masterpiece of political spin, and the author could have used their talents to elect the currently imprisoned O.J. Simpson as the next Pope. The highlight of this narration was spotlighting the efforts of Captain Guy Turner to eat his donuts at a local church. Rumor has it that his efforts have negatively impacted the stock price of Dunkin’ Donuts.
     The one positive to emerge from my recent inquiries was I did receive a call from the current police Chief Kevin Bielozer, who it must be conceded, was genuinely respectful. The only person on their police force or at City Hall who treated me in that manner. He informed me that the department now had 4 officers trained in CIT. However, they did not receive that training till 2013, a full decade after nearly every police department in Northeast Ohio embraced this program. In his defense, he did not become police chief until February of 2014. It is painfully evident that during my encounters, they had no one properly trained to understand that not everyone struggling with mental illness has villainous ambitions.
     What became of that former business associate whom Captain Turner and company held in high esteem? Besides being dragged into court over twenty times for non-payment of child support for his three kids, he had his Securities License suspended for five years by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for among numerous reasons, “Lack of Good business Repute.” However, he still occupies an office in Westlake and never faced the scrutiny of the local Police.
     Little doubt remains that the culture of arrogance that Westlake previously displayed has changed very little, and the police still exhibit a high level of reluctance to understand mental illness. Captain Turner, between rotating where he consumes his donuts, will likely continue to find brevity in degrading those not members of Westlake’s socioeconomic class.
     In conclusion, I have a message for Mayor Clough, Councilman Killeen, Captain Guy Turner and State Representative Nan Baker. The cross you burned in my yard may have only been metaphorical, but it still burns as a symbol of ignorance and exclusion. That is nothing for any of you, the police department or your community to hold up as a symbol of pride.      

Monday, November 3, 2014

Brittany Maynard, terminal illness and assisted Suicide



     Recently, a young women, Brittany Maynard ended her life as she entered the final stages of suffering from an untreatable stage 4 brain cancer. Her actions were to avoid prolonging an inevitable agonizing death. This finished a story of how, after receiving the diagnosis of her terminal condition, she made what many consider a courageous, but controversial decision, to hasten her demise with assisted suicide.
     As a mental health advocate, and one who advocates on the issue of suicide prevention, it would be easy to assume that I would be pounding the pavement in opposition to what many consider to be her immoral decision. Like many assumptions, it would be wrong. This is not about suicide; it is about death with dignity. It is about facing the inevitability that their last days will be in torturous pain while lacking a clear mind. Additionally, mental illness, which is the cause of nearly every suicide, is treatable, while her affliction was not.   
     Many who oppose this method of death, will speak up and announce that there is always the possibility of a miraculous recovery by way of a divine intervention. The last miracle I have seen was not the miracle Mets in 1969, nor the USA hockey teams stunning upset win over the Russians in the 1980 Olympics. They were just sports teams that turned out to be better than any prognosticators could have foreseen. In reality, what I have witnessed in life is that real miracles as taught in the bible, just do not occur.
     It bears mentioning that in many ways, we as humans treat animals more humanly than we treat those with terminal afflictions. If a pet has a disorder, and it becomes painful, we then euthanize the animal to spare its suffering. Additionally, we openly criticize those that do not end the animal’s torment and categorize those non-actions as animal abuse. The same is not said with assisted suicide.  
     When I think Christian beliefs of being against ending one’s life, I think about the immorality of unending suffering and physical torment. As a young child, I came to understand the desperation that many feel when given the nightmarish news that the expiration date on their existence was rapidly approaching.      
     Much of my conviction on not being critical of her decision is based on the most traumatic event of my life, the death of my mother on Christmas Day 1965. What I recall about her battle with bone cancer was her being bedridden and in pain for about a year before she finally succumbed. Additionally, her final months were spent either in the hospital or being confined to a rented hospital bed in the dining room of our home at East 104th Street on Cleveland’s southeast side. To say she had a minimal quality of life at her end would be an understatement.
     As kids, we always believed that she would eventually recover and be the mother we loved dearly. We still looked forward to the day she would be able to take us once again on the family trips to Euclid Beach Park to celebrate her heritage at the Irish picnic. Next would be a post office day at Geauga Lake Park for my father’s job. None of the five of us were old enough, ages 7 through 13, to understand terminal illness or death. We could never grasp the idea that she was never going to survive this affliction.
     My mother was a strong Irish woman, and a devout Roman Catholic, who took all of us to Sunday morning services. We would all sit together at the old Saint Catherine’s Church off of E. 93rd Street. It was her undeniable love for her family and her strong belief in God that compelled her to battle this condition. We have no way of knowing with certainty if she understood her grave diagnosis, but there were indications that as she was being hospitalized for the final time, she knew the outcome.
     My oldest sister, Sharon Staursky Smoak, vividly recollects the pain and distress our mother endured. Her last memory of seeing her was two months before she died, and she was hooked up to many tubes, with one arm taped down. She remembers her suffering and in a great deal of pain. Sadly, even two months before her death, she was no longer aware of her surroundings. My father once told me that there were times that if you just touched her, she would scream in agony.  
     My sister also recalls the burden on my father. His schedule would be to wake up at 4:30 in the morning, go to work, come home, cook dinner, wash clothes, and then go to the hospital to spend the evening caring for our mother. My sister reiterated that she did not believe that he ever missed one day going to the hospital. Additionally, while raising the five of us, he never once complained about this herculean task he faced with courage.
     Looking at Brittany’s death from a personal view it is easy to wonder. As my mother entered the final painful stage of her battle, if she would have told us kids that she wanted to spare herself and her family from her painful result, and elected assisted suicide we would have screamed, no don’t give up. We would have told her we would pray harder and that one never knows the eventual outcome. We did not grasp that medical science is the realism of life. They do not deal with spirituality; it is strictly biology. There is no actual divine intervention that would have cured her condition, only the inevitable painful and degrading end.
     However, as an adult, if she would have told me she wanted to do what Brittany Maynard did, I would have responded with, I will be there at the end. I would have wanted to spare her the suffering; I would have wanted a chance to be with her before her condition worsened to the point of her not even being conscious to the people who loved her. Lastly, I would have wanted her to meet her end with dignity and empathy.
     My sister Sharon was not sure if she would have chosen that course mainly because of the five kids involved. She did say “I do know the final couple of months of her life were not worth the pain and agony she went through and the hardship on dad.” When asked if she would have chosen assisted suicide, she would have agreed with any decision she made, and added that she would have liked to have that as an option.
     When people think of Brittany Maynard, many misconceptions are drawn. Like my mother, she did not wish to die, quite the contrary. From all news accounts, she had a zest for life, but she also possessed the courage to accept her diagnosis, and the fate from her illness. Her actions spared not only the pain she would suffer, but her family would not have to witness all the she would have to endure. Her actions should be construed as totally unselfish. 
     Many will consider this article an exercise in hypocrisy, but it is not. I am neither condoning nor encouraging her decision, nor will I condemn her choice. In a recent People Magazine interview, she stressed that she did not believe she was committing suicide. Neither should anyone. What she decided should be viewed as a method of sparing one and their loved ones possibly months of pain and agony, just to witness the same outcome. She died with dignity and in a compassionate fashion. That is the way all of us deserve to leave this existence. God bless you Brittany Maynard, may you rest in peace!th. bible assume that iw ould beMyrtle Beach outh Carolina, recalls the pain she would witnesdeath. bible assume that iw ould be

Monday, August 18, 2014

Governor Kasich, Jim Tressel, and bigotry of the mentally ill!



     There is an old saying, “show me who you are with, and I will tell you who you are!”
     It was recently announced that Governor John Kasich, a man who claims to be one who cares about the mentally ill, will share a stage with disgraced former football coach Jim Tressel, as he is installed as president of Youngstown State University. This is another example of the wealthy ethically failing upwards and being rewarded handsomely for acting as if the rules do not apply. Mr. Kasich’s appearance appears to endorse Tressel’s past lack of moral standard, and his personal contempt of the mentally ill.
     Years ago, not long after Ohio State won the National championship, the first of numerous scandals involving Tressel at that school occurred. This consisted of possible academic fraud by several players, including the star, running back Maurice Clarret.
     During a class, a young teaching assistant, Norma McGil, witnessed what she felt was preferential treatment of those players. She took this information to her superiors, who turned around and began to incite a modern day lynching of this girl. Since she did suffer from depression, it became open season on her from not only the ones on campus, but all of buckeye nation. Her suffering with a socially unacceptable disease made her an easy target, especially by the cowards in the school administration.
     While the campus erupted with derogatory description’s attacking this women’s struggle with mental illness, statements such as crazy black bitch and referring to her as a mental freak were the norm. During this episode, Tressel stood in a silence, hoping that Clarret could play again. He never did!
      The teaching assistant, after facing false and slanderous accusations, along with the many dehumanizing and ignorant characterizations, finally surrendered and left the school. Though Ohio State has since reached out to both Tressel and, once he served his time for a felony, Clarret, no evidence exists that they done the same for that teaching assistant. Efforts to get answer as to why from the schools media relations department have been met with silence.
     However, to his credit, though Tressel stood in silence while this girl was being tarred and feathered, he did it with a valid driver’s license which made that behavior acceptable in the eyes of the Kasich followers. To them, it appears that was more important than the safety and well-being of a student.
     Many of Tressel’s apologists immediately run to his defense when he is being held accountable. In a previous column, one women attacked my premise that he knew anything about what this girl endured or even reported. To answer, first, he was questioned by the NCAA about her allegations and he stood by his assertion that Clarret was an exemplary student athlete. Lastly, his ignorance to what happened to her is about as likely as the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s claims that he knew nothing of the years of child molestation by his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. It is just beyond the realm of believability.
     Another defender of Tressel’s attacked me for comparing his ethical lapses with those of Former President Richard Nixon. I was told that it was despicable for a comparison such as that and I owe him an apology. To that I agree, that was a disgusting analogy. Soon, I will be sending that deserved apology to the Nixon family.
     In a conversation with Governor’s office, they insisted that this appearance was not about Jim Tressel, it was about Youngstown State. The spokeswomen insisted this was about a new President being installed.  I asked that if a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan was being installed as President of an Ohio College if Mr. Kasich would give the same response. I was told they would not be dealing with hypotheticals.
     Next his spokesperson delved into how Governor Kasich was a real friend of the mentally ill. Often, they point to his support of the expansion of the Medicaid program. His offices theatrics aside, his pillar was not about assisting those in need, but about saving money. This expansion was paid for by the Federal Government and this freed up state tax revenue. This can best be termed a shallow accomplishment and would have never occurred without federal intervention and a financial benefit to his backers.
.    Mr. Kasich did have the opportunity to step up and truly put the mentally ill first as he has proclaimed in the past. However, he failed miserably and to use a football metaphor, he punted the problem into oblivion.
.    In 2011, shortly after taking office, he killed the plans to build a new public mental health facility in Cleveland. This would have served the state’s largest group of homeless mentally ill, but the governor decided they could go to Summit County for help. What was ignored is that many of these family members live below the poverty level which makes travel nearly impossible. To this day, Cuyahoga County, with the states greatest need for public Health beds, has none to offer. That is inexcusable and is a major blemish on Governor Kasich’s record!  
     Now that he is safely ahead in the polls, Governor Kasich will sip champagne and feast on a taxpayer funded meal with the new President of Youngstown State University. He will gleefully make this trip to garner support for his re-election campaign, and find plenty of time to mingle with his financial backers, while taxpayers foot the bill.
     One group that Kasich did not have time for, were the families of the poor in Cleveland who desperately needed that facility to provide treatment to their severely mentally ill loved ones. He did not have the time to explain his motivation for his belief that they had no real value. He refused overtures to explain this poor decision that he made involving those that are most vulnerable. They did not have champagne to offer him, nor an expensive meal, all they could do was try to convince him that the mentally ill are human beings, ones that developed an illness and need treatment. However, he did not have the time.
     It has been said that describing the actions of these individuals as bigotry is being overly harsh and misguided. My answer is what do you call the persecution of a mentally ill girl who was doing her job and then was terrorized by the backers of the school’s football team, harmless hazing? When a Governor refuses to fund a much needed treatment facility that could save lives, do you compare him to Mother Teresa? In both cases, no, they should not be glossed over, they are what they are, hateful and filled with an abundance of discrimination.
     Jim Tressel has made it well known that he looks forward to being part of academia and assisting the students. If his actions during that past scandal is any indication of what he plans, it has the potential for a tragic outcome. That Governor Kasich, would not be something one would want on their campaign literature. Or is it?