On Givens: Mental health focus is key to gun violence

Crosspost of my comments on Gainesville Times blog: http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/section/24/article/78879/

I am quite aware that the authors of op ed columns do not write the headlines. I  hate to see this excellent description of the profound needs for diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in this country by a headline that I see as misleading.

The headline implies an over-simplified and dangerous assumption that preventing criminal gun violence is a matter of identifying individuals likely to commit such crimes on the basis of some criteria, calling them mentally ill, and making it illegal for them to obtain weapons.

Done and done! Now it is on the backs of overworked and underfunded law enforcement and mental health providers.

Of course we know States numerous Republican and Democratic Congresses have serially starved by defunding dismantled the community mental health system over the past 20 or so years. In part thanks to the Republican Congress (complying with NRA demands) that shut down CDC and other government research programs designed to develop an understanding and capacity to prevent criminal gun violence; NO ONE knows a lot about how to predict what a particular individual may do.

More to the point, frankly the broad profile available today likely encompasses at least one of our friends or family. To begin operating on such a broad profile represents a real danger to civil liberties of the kind not seen since the Salem Witch trials.

Beyond that in he cases that seem especially dangerous there is a labrynth of legal and liability limitations on what the concerned professional or citizen may report as well as who to report to.

Brief note to Ms. Panter. IMO teachers and, ironically, jailers as a group are the most knowledgeable and astute in their observations of family and individual dysfunction. Unfortunately too often their knowledge goes begging.

It is my personal belief that gun and other violence is a cultural illness. As long as the culture glorifies, and blurs the distinction between sociopath killer and hero we will have people at the margins who will strive to find ways to shine that glory on themselves.

Attending to the emotional needs of all especially the marginally capable is one starting point. Another is to decrease the easy availability of these killing machines. A small group of individuals do not have the Constitutional or moral right to maintain themselves as an army capable of usurping our democratically elected government.


Eugene Patterson

The weekend brings news of the death of Eugene Patterson.  The New York Times obituary refreshes my memory of those years. I know his  and Ralph McGill’s Atlanta Journal Constitution columns. Writing during our greatest period of Civil Rights activism, they confronted southern racism in Atlanta and the deep south with words tht were transforming for this naive and so sensitive young medic trying to learn how to be a doctor during those years.

As noted in Friday’s essay, the topic of how to communicate with and soften fixed views, which can be called nothing other than wrong-headed, held by family and neighbors has been prominent in conversations with writer friends.  Gratefully The Times obituary includes a link to one of Eugene Patterson’s most famous columns, A Flower for the Graves, that appeared in reaction to the event and the AP photograph of a relative holding a shoe of one of the little girls killed in the Birmingham Church bombing; retrieved from the rubble.

My memory is that the column is representative of the tone and approach that Mr. Patterson and McGill employed in their columns. His life story recounted in the obituary reflects the authenticity of his writing.  The language is beautiful and respectful addressed to family and friends whom we love but we believe to be misguided, even tormented by the consequences of their beliefs.

In offering redemption to loved ones, his voice echoes King’s, or perhaps King echoed his. (One of the things so wonderful about a powerful non-violent movement is how we nourish each other.) I never marched or carried a sign but my lifetime world view in many aspects was formed by the words, the images and my own work in intimacy serving the medical needs of  the most benighted of the African American community.



How to move a culture

Good conversation yesterday with friends at Sweet Breads for lunch.  Among the topics was how to communicate and bring disparate philosophies into comity if not agreement. I tend to agree that a culture is transformed gradually, one by one through discourse and likely fully by no other way. Simple oppression of one viewpoint is only to, in isolation, incubate its expansion to extremes and inevitably its resurrection.

As a citizen of the human community, I see my role, indeed obligation, to at the least be as a firefly among the millions; perhaps carrying the hope of my message being noticed by another to come together and separate, each changed by the experience.

Just the fact of being among the visible lights however not only succors loneliness but reinforces sense of community.  I can’t speak for others, but my own experience when observing the first (and still now) images of the earth at night from space brings a deeply felt awe and comfort at the evidence of other life.

In our table conversation I think it was not altogether welcome when the suggestion of existence of powers opposing transformation and comity was introduced; the notion that conditions may dictate the need for bonfires also. I find myself awkward in trying to frame the language of “political” activism and  movement and was grateful to find Kit O’Connell’s article on FiredogLake bringing clarity and affirmation.

3 Ways Movements Spread Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

It is really well worth the read



The News

As I recount on the newly revived Morning Worship, I find myself once again saturated with the acid of acrimonious politics and it begins to change my own pH. The Morning Worship diary project is one of the remedies that has worked in the past. Another is to diminish my exposure to the overheated Television and the Internet blogs.

Then comes this great column on today’s truthdig by Bill Boyarsky. Communities Need Newspapers  He writes about the value, indeed the necessity for newspapers to continue to have a major presence in the world of news media.

It strikes me today having just decided to actually pay for reliable online news and subscribe to the New York Times online version. Those who know me are aware of my impatience with having to pay for anything on the Internet, especially news. There has been a conversion. I observe the irrefutable evidence that it is time for the business of news collecting and reporting reclaim its position as a professional service.

Choices of content and reliability so essential for an informed public simply cannot be made without prejudice if the very existence of the publication is dependent on fulfilling the expectations of business and corporate advertisers. The once sacred wall between the corporate sponsors and positions as to content and opinion has been demolished in recent years.

Most people will continue to get most of their news from Television entertainment shows and the labyrinth of the Internet. Those who are serious consumers of news will I believe pay for serious news. But I believe the very existence of ethical national and global newspapers exercising high standards can  have an effect on how other media and the public judge news. At the least there will be a remnant of reliability for the public to turn to when confused.

I am a great believer in small and mid-sized city newspapers because only they can be in tune with and present the regional culture but the turn taken by local TV and print news outlets some years ago to report only on local events was a terrible mistake because it has promoted the affliction of regional parochialism.

Focus on the regional may please local advertisers but it is a serious defect. There must be some way  for small operations to free themselves from the tyranny of the politics of the advertisers. Perhaps organizing as non-profits would offer a solution. With some remarkable exceptions, the most reliable news during the Civil Rights thrust and the Viet Nam War came from free street corner papers. And before the “monetization” of the Internet, when news was presented at a cost to the pajamas clad midgnight provider it served as that corner freebie of the 60s and 70s.