Category Archives: violence
I wanted to draw your attention to this article from the Los Angeles Times, Police fatally shoot unarmed man in Koreatown:
Los Angeles Police officers shot and killed a man in Koreatown early Saturday morning after he reached into his waistband for what officers believed was a weapon, authorities said.
The man was twenty-seven year old Steven Eugene Washington, and he died after a single shot to the head. The officers are Allan Corrales and George Diego; both fired and it’s not known as yet whose bullet hit Mr Washington. Both officers have been reassigned until the investigation is over.
The article goes on to say that ‘Washington’s relatives criticized police and said the dead man had suffered from a learning disability and was generally afraid of strangers. They insisted that he was not violent and that he probably was walking home after visiting a friend.’
One has to wonder how, in such a situation as officers deemed it necessary to shoot, the bullet hit such a vulnerable mark as a head, given that police are trained to not shoot fatally where possible. (Edit: It seems that this is not so universal as I’d thought; Lauredhel’s understanding is that police are trained to not shoot unless they have to shoot someone at once, in which case the only reliable way is a kill shot.) One has to wonder about how and why police shootings of innocent people are as common as they are. But that’s not what I want to focus on today.
I want to point to how dangerous assumptions about normative behaviour are to PWD. There’s a great deal of potential for acts that are quite in line with harmless behaviour for the way one’s brain works to be read by others as scary, threatening, dangerous. All too often, though, it’s those abled folk who feel threatened who end up doing the harm.
The police officers were expecting one thing, but the reality was quite another. And they were the ones with the power.
And a man has died for it.
Recently a link was making the rounds on Tumblr about how SSRI anti-depressants caused violent and homicidal reactions in people (h/t to the lovely Cara for making sure we saw it). I was largely ignoring it because, frankly, there’s a lot of unproductive discussions about whether SSRIs, or anti-depressants in general, or even psychotropic drugs as a whole, are teh most awesome things ever! or an evil tool of big pharma or poisoning our children or should be put in the water supply to help the population at large. And my attitude towards psych treatment, whether it be therapy or medication or anything else, is pretty similar to my attitude about religion: everyone has the right to make their own determinations about their treatment and whether they would or would not like to take psych meds, and just as my atheism doesn’t make someone else’s faith any less valid, I can support someone’s decision to reject psych meds without lessening my own right to believe they help me personally. (To extend that, I support anyone’s right and decision to pursue or not pursue any kind of treatment, to identify as they feel appropriate, and to reject the whole framework and basis of psychiatry.)
That said, I thought it might be useful to take a look at this article to discuss some of the issues I see in a lot of these arguments and discussions. The basic gist of the article is to publicize an archive of “3,500 crime related news reports linked to the use of SSRI antidepressants … Pharma and the FDA may still be agnostic about SSRIs causing violence but 700 murders, 200 murder-suicides and 47 postpartum depression cases, including the 2006 case of Andrea Yates who drowned her five children on Effexor, don’t lie.” The article describes the site as “more of a public service than the FDA which has yet to withdraw the drugs named in the 3,500 stories–or even call them dangerous,” so the clear goal of the article is to encourage prohibition of SSRIs as a class.
That’s a pretty broad goal to be supported by such thin and unconvincing evidence – and that’s my problem with these kinds of arguments. Whenever I talk about these kinds of science articles, I often use the same phrase: “correlation does not equal causation.” This means that although two variables may be very closely associated, there’s not enough information to figure out which of them causes the other, or even if the two are related by anything more than chance and coincidence. A simple example is that everyone who orders food at McDonald’s is a human. Can we assume that if a dog walked into McDonald’s and ordered food, it would magically transform into a human because of the correlation between ordering at McDonald’s and being human? No.
To unpack this further, let’s look at the fact that a lot of people who walk in my neighborhood have dogs. I know some people who got dogs specifically in order to encourage themselves to do more walking – so the dog is influencing how often they walk. However, I also know people who do a lot of running or hiking and got a dog to keep them company on their outings – so their walking/running influenced their having a dog. So does being a person who walks outdoors make you more likely to get a dog, or does having a dog make you more likely to walk outdoors? We just do not have enough information to figure that out. This means my observations of walkers and dogs should not justify a public policy to issue dogs to every household to ensure people walk outdoors.
To extend this to the SSRI stories, there’s not enough evidence for us to determine if people who are not violent or homicidal become so when they are given SSRIs, or whether people who are already violent or homicidal are likely to be given SSRIs for treatment. And that’s a very important thing to be absolutely clear on when we’re talking about having the FDA eliminate an entire class of anti-depressants that some (including me) rely on for treatment.
There’s a couple other factors in the dog analogy that I also see at play in this SSRI story:
- Observer bias: I think dogs are pretty cute, so when I’m out and about, I tend to notice pedestrians with dogs more than I do pedestrians without dogs. So if I see 10 pedestrians and 4 of them have dogs, I’m much more likely to notice and remember the dog people and think that the majority of pedestrians have dogs. Similarly, self described “anti-SSRI advocates” are more likely to notice and prioritize instances where SSRIs occur with violent behavior.
- Who is observed: I happen to live two blocks from the most popular dog park in town, so people from miles away drive here in order to hike with their dogs. There are a lot of trails that don’t allow dogs and if I lived right next to one of them, I’d likely see a lot more walkers who are dogless. So I’m not looking at the entire population of walkers and dog owners when I’m observing a connection between those two characteristics – I’m looking at a population more likely to suggest to me that the two are connected. Similarly, the SSRI stories are drawn entirely from crime reporting. Stories about people who take SSRIs and do not engage in violent, homicidal, or otherwise criminal behavior are not going to be in a crime story – so the archive is looking at a subset of SSRI-takers that is more likely to confirm their perception that SSRIs cause criminal behavior.
- Interpreting evidence to fit desired results: when growing up, I tried out the “dogs will make me walk and exercise more” argument on my parents. This is because I wanted to get a dog, and I was trying to put together any argument I could to support that conclusion – I had started with the conclusion instead of with the evidence. Some of the stories mentioned in the article make me wonder if the SSRI stories suffer from the same problem. One of the quoted stories is “Lynyrd Skynyrd harmonicist Mike Caruso’s remark that, ‘the doctor put me on Cymbalta. That turned me manic.'” To me, giving an anti-depressant to someone with undiagnosed bipolar and triggering manic behavior is a very different argument than if taking the SSRI created violent or homicidal behavior that hadn’t previously existed in the person.
In order to convince me that SSRI used caused these behaviors in people who otherwise would not display them, I would want to see a clinical study where people were observed before and after starting SSRI treatment and a control group was also monitored while not having SSRI treatment. Those kinds of scientific studies are the only way to meaningfully determine whether the two variables have any kind of causal relationship. And without that data, this article does a lot more harm than good – by reinforcing existing perceptions that criminals are all mentally ill and by shaming or scaring people who take and benefit from SSRIs.
 I should note that requests for data and scientific studies are often used to invalidate or minimize reported personal experiences from marginalized groups, an academic privilege argument of sorts. I do and continue to credit individual experiences where SSRI treatment caused specific behaviors for that individual, but I feel very uncomfortable making blanket decisions about whether or not these drugs should be available at all, for anyone, based on third party descriptions of the experiences of others.
**TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSION OF SELF-HARM**
I’ve been under some significant emotional stress lately, more so than usual. And I’ve had a couple of incidents when I received some very upsetting news. Of course I’ve cried. Sobbed, even. And reached out to my friends and family and cared for myself in all the healthy and productive ways I learned in my years of therapy. Take a hot bath. Read a good book. Snuggle with the kitty. Get enough sleep. All that kind of thing.
But before that – before the tears even start welling up, much less spilling over – my mind flashes on an image of my left forearm. Sometimes it’s being slashed with a razor blade. Sometimes it’s being burned with a cigarette or the hot metal of a lighter. In one particularly vivid recent image, my left wrist was being smashed with a hammer. This happens in less than seconds, before any other reaction. It’s entirely unconscious and I’m often surprised by how quickly and vividly the images take over my consciousness.
I used to self harm a lot. I thought I’d made it up myself, back when I realized that scratching at one spot on my skin with a thumbnail would peel back the skin to expose glistening wet red pain. I quickly progressed to razor blades and learned the exquisite joy of making a perfectly straight line in my skin, imposing some kind of geometry and order on my out of control body that would hopefully extend into my increasingly disordered mind. I learned how pressing a hot lighter to the inside of my ankle would send a poker of pain straight up my body in a wave so powerful it drove out every other sensation or thought. I learned about long sleeves in summer, the trick of putting a painful cut on the inside of my wrist so it would throb every time I took my mittens on or off. My arms looked so bad people thought I was using heroin. (Even writing this out makes me want it.)
And then I stopped. (Not so easily, of course, lots of safety contracts and lists of health coping activities and techniques and medication and relapsing and all of that. But I stopped.) And it’s been … I don’t even remember the last time I did it. Over 10 years, certainly. Long enough that you can hardly see any of the scars unless you know exactly where to look.
But it is still the first thing I think of. My first unconscious innate reaction to stress or emotional pain or just feeling overwhelmed and drowned by my own emotions. It is always there, just under the skin, waiting for me to be weak enough for it to take over again. That’s why I will never trust myself enough to have a razor blade or an x-acto knife in the house – I know that if they’re there, I’ll lose my way sometime.
[I just turned my head and saw two straight pins sitting on the desk (I was mending a hem) and *boom* I see them plunging into my wrist, just near the bone. It’s not that I imagine the process of picking them up – my mind flashes straight to an image of me pushing it into my skin, with the idea that “this is right, this is good.” I can almost feel myself relaxing while I visualize it and then I shake my head and it’s gone and I’m disappointed in myself for even thinking of it.]
I’m beginning to think it will never stop. I may never do it again – I hope I never do it again, I intend never to do it again – but it will always be there. It will always be the first thing I think of, before there’s even time to think.
The FBI recently released the 2008 Hate Crimes Statistics report, summarizing hate crime data from over 13,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. The Attorney General is required to compile and report on this data yearly. Although the majority of hate crimes are based on race, it includes reporting on crimes “motivated by disability bias,” which made up 1 percent of the reported incidents.
Of the total 9,168 hate crime offenses in the report, 85 were on the basis of disability: 28 against a person with a physical disability and 57 against a person with a mental disability. The most common offenses were “Simple assault” and “Intimidation,” with a number of “Vandalism” incidents also. The vast majority of incidents took place in the victim’s residence or home. This mirrors the overall data – the majority of all hate crimes regardless of basis were assaults and intimidation taking place in or near the victim’s residence or home.
What is most clear from the report is that the majority of crimes committed against people with disabilities are not considered or categorized as hate crimes on the basis of disability. The US Department of Justice released a 2007 report on crime against people with disabilities finding that in one year, approximately 716,000 nonfatal violent crimes and 2.3 million property crimes were committed against people with disabilities. Even considering that only one in five PWD crime victims “believed that they became a victims because of their disability,” these numbers are an order of magnitude larger that then total crimes against PWD listed in the hate crime statistics.
Whether crimes against people with disabilities should be considered hate crimes is a difficult and complicated question. One on hand, the DOJ report demonstrates that the rate of nonfatal violent crimes against PWD was 1.5 higher than the rate for TABs, with the rate of crimes against women with disabilities almost twice the rate for TAB women. It is hard to imagine that disparities this significant are unrelated to disability status.
At the same time, I am concerned about giving more power to the criminal justice system. I read a compelling piece at The Bilerico Project recently which, while focus on trans issues, seems relevant to this discussion:
No one can deny that particular groups are in fact treated with discrimination and even violence. But rather than ask how about how to combat such discrimination and violence, we’ve taken the easy route out and decided to hand over the solution to a prison industrial complex that already benefits massively from the incarceration of mostly poor people and mostly people of color. It’s also worth considering the class dynamics of hate crimes legislation, given that the system of law and order is already skewed against those without the resources to combat unfair and overly punitive punishment and incarceration.
What do you think – should crimes against PWDs? be punished as hate crimes? Is that an effective way to address and prevent continued crimes against PWDs?
Cast Offs is a new British TV show. This scripted fake-reality show aims to spoof Survivor-type shows by placing six people with different disabilities (all physical or sensory) on an island. All are played by actors with a disability. The show also shows a series of flashbacks, with each episode focusing on one of the characters’ lives.
This isn’t a full review of the pilot, except to say that I’m not all that convinced that having PWD sledging each other for having a disability, Crips Behaving Badly-style, is all that much of an improvement over having temporarily-abled people sledging PWD. Self-deprecating and collaborative humour I’m all about; pitting PWDs against each other in snide and nasty ways, not so much. As usual, the show claims that it’s terribly adventurous and new, and that it’s all about “satire” and “the last taboo”. Who is being “satirised” and why here?
The point of this post is mainly to warn you about a scene near the beginning, if you are thinking of watching, but you’re triggered by sexual violence and threats of rape. The scene occurs without any warning or inkling of the turn the content is about to take.
Description and clip below the cut. **Trigger warnings apply.**
As you may have heard, this afternoon at Fort Hood in Texas, a shooter killed 12 and wounded 31 people. The shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was killed during the incident.
While this is not a breaking news blog, my initial reaction was fear that the shooter had or could be construed to have had a mental disability that would be seen as the basis of the attack. And because emotions run high after this kind of disaster and people feel protective, there can be some nasty and hurtful rhetoric flying around. (I have already seen some vile and awful things said about his potential Muslim heritage. Needless to say, none of that will be tolerated in comments.) We wanted to create this as an open thread, safe space kind of area to discuss any concerns or thoughts raised by this incident.
Here’s a few resources I’ve seen, more will undoubtedly develop as the story progresses:
- If you are concerned about specific individuals in the area, check the Red Cross Safe and Well List for more information.
- Local blood donations are being accepted at Scott and White Memorial Hospital, 2401 S 31st St, Temple, TX?. They will be open until 10pm local time today and re-open at 8am tomorrow. ETA: The hospital has closed to donations for the day due to overwhelming response – please try them again tomorrow.
- To find other locations to give blood, check the Red Cross website. Even if you live nowhere near Texas, consider donating blood (if it is healthy for you to do so) to prepare for future disasters.
Our warm thoughts and hope for speedy recovery go out to those affected by the shooting and their friends and families.