This is of course immensely foolish and destructive of city life in Austin. One of the awful things about it is that the privileged band of goons going around doing it professes to be the “city of Austin,” in the living flesh, when in fact they are nothing but raiders mounting an armed attack on the city and its physical, technological and human transportation infrastructure.
I am happy to announce that Markets Not Capitalism is coming to Austin, Texas next weekend. I will be appearing at Brave New Books near the UT campus, and MonkeyWrench Books in North Austin, for a talk / reading / Q&A / market anarchist shindig on Saturday, February 4, and Sunday, February 5. Books will be available for purchase, I’ll be available for discussion and signing, caffeine will be available for consumption; spontaneously-ordered sociality to follow. Come on down; invite yr friends!
Markets Not Capitalism Book Talk/Signing
Charles W. Johnson (editor, contributor)
Markets Not Capitalism:
Individualist Anarchism Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Inequality, Corporate Power, and Structural Poverty
(Published by Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, November 2011).
I’ll be giving a brief talk at both events, and then a reading from the collected essays on the nature of capitalism, role of the State in creating and propping it up, the place of mutual exchange and individual ownership in a radical, bottom-up alternative, the radical possibilities of freed-market social activism, and the individualist and mutualist tendencies within the anticapitalist tradition. Q&A, discussion and book-signing will ensue.
Many, many thanks are due to Crystal of the Austin / Central Texas A.L.L., for suggesting and organizing both of these events. And many thanks also to the spaces that have generously agreed to host us. Brave New Books is an underground radical libertarian bookstore, located one block from the University of Texas. In addition to fiction and nonfiction about a wide variety of topics, they also host community events including film showings, community meetings, music, speakers, book signings, and more.
MonkeyWrench Books is an all volunteer, collectively-run radical bookstore in North Austin. They provide an extensive collection of radical literature and media, prioritizing books, magazines, movies and zines that you won’t find at your average corporate bookstore; they also provide a place for meetings, film screenings, workshops, benefits, book readings and performances. The store facilitates greater interaction among individuals and organizations working toward social and economic justice. It’s a place where both experienced organizers and people new to political activism can find support, information, and a range of progressive viewpoints. It’s also a relaxed space to network and make connections over a cup of organic coffee or tea.
I’ll see you there!
Officer Justin Barrett. Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Police Commissioner recently suspended and moved to fire Boston patrol cop Officer Justin Barrett, after being forwarded a racist-ass e-mail that Barret wrote in response to Yvonne Abraham’s Boston Globe column criticizing Sergeant James Crowley for his stupid arrest of Henry Louis Gates. All the news stories have mentioned how Barrett stated
I am not a racist, but I am [prejudiced] towards people who are stupidand repeatedly described Gates as a
banana-eating jungle monkey.Some also mentioned active patrol cop Barret’s statement that, had he been in Crowley’s place, he not only would have arrested Gates but would have pepper-sprayed him
in the face.None of the mainstream media articles I’ve read so far have mentioned that active patrol cop Officer Justin Barrett also complains that
Your defense [4th paragraph] of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted [INDEED] with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and will always be a suspect.(Brackets in original; emphasis mine.) Or that, alongside the violent racism and explicit totalitarianism, he adds some crude misogyny, writing to the immediate target of his letter, Yvonne Abraham, that
You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a harsh field. … You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning.He later repeats the joke about coffee and says that
you just need to get slapped.Officer Justin Barrett, when not a racist, sexist, police-statist patrol cop, is also a veteran of the United States government’s Army; he felt comfortable forwarding his racist, sexist, police-statist e-mail to a few of his buddies in the Boston police force and several of his buddies in the Army National Guard. Since the story hit, Barrett has complained to the media that in the uproar over his repeated use of the phrase
banana-eating jungle monkey,
People are making it about race. It is not about race,and that, although he made a
poor choice of words,
I didn’t mean it in a racist way. I treat everyone with dignity and respect.His lawyer says that he plans to fight to hold onto his cop job at the upcoming hearing.
Disorderly conduct. Patrolman Robert Lang, Patrolman Jared Bock, and Patrolman Shawn Panchick. Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. Three white patrol cops in Pennsylvania are being investigated by another local government’s cops in response to allegations that they beat and robbed a three black teenagers who they arbitrarily commanded (why?) to clear off of a friend’s front porch where they were hanging out late at night. I don’t know whether or not the allegations of robbery are true — one of the victims, Kyle Dudley, claims that he was beat down and robbed of his watch and money by a group of cops possibly different from the three who originally responded to the call, which makes it hard to compare stories — but I do know that, whether or not those allegations are true, the story that the cops all agreed on for their report is more than enough reason to call their conduct belligerent, violent and stupid. Cops have exactly no business singling out black teenagers to be hassled, or for forcing them down and arresting them on a
disorderly conductbeef simply for refusing to obey arbitrary bellowed commands that they leave a private residence where they have been invited to hang out with their friends, or a neighborhood where they are hanging out on public property. And once again, it is clear that
disorderly conductcharges are the
sheepdogs’favorite threat for making that the
sheepstay just where they’ve been herded, regardless of whether or not anyone is actually doing anything that would threaten anyone’s rights even in the slightest.
Cops are here to keep us safe. (Cont’d.) By sideswiping our cars while they tear down the road at 20 mph over the posted speed limit with no lights and no sirens on. Then by concealing information or flat-out lying in the accident report and to the media about how fast they were going, until they finally reveal, a couple days later, that the accident was, after all, clearly the fault of the cop’s speeding. Where have I seen that before…? I guess his victim is lucky that he wasn’t doing 100; if he had gotten himself hurt or killed in the crash he caused, she probably would have been arrested for
reckless drivingand smeared as a cop-killer all over the local papers.
Fun for ages 7 to 70. Unnamed patrol officer, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Deputy Chris Beize. Austin, Texas. In Knoxville, a government cop, who had important business to do Investigating reports of some neighbor kids getting into a fight, has been accused of trying to coerce a 7 year old boy into talking more candidly by handcuffing the child and cussing him out, while the boy was crying and asking for his mother. The 7-year-old was not involved in the fighting and was never suspected of, or charged with, any crime.
Officialsrefuse to so much as disclose this dedicated public servant’s name, but they promise that the matter is being Internally Investigated.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Deputy Chris Beize tasered Kathryn Winkfein, a 72-year-old great-grandmother, twice during a routine traffic stop, after she refused to sign a ticket and he decided to escalate the situation by ordering her out of her car, instead of just mailing the damn thing to her home address. Beize claims that she swore at him (which is not a crime) and that she
pushed him into oncoming traffic(no she didn’t; the dashcam video clearly shows that he lunged over and grabbed her and shoved her back several feet, when she tried to de-escalate the situation by sidestepping him to get back to her truck). Then he blasted her with a 50,000-volt electric shock from the taser, and then tasered her again while she was lying on the ground. Then he arrested her for resisting arrest. His superior officers in the paramilitary chain of command have defended Beize’s hollering belligerence, physical assault, and torture by repeated electrical shocks, against an unarmed, 4′11″, 72-year-old great-grandmother who never threatened any physical harm and was guilty of nothing more than a moving violation and
contempt of cop,as an appropriate reaction to a
dangerous situation.By the by, when Beize is not busy shocking the hell out of elderly women, he is a taser instructor for the local police.
Officer Morris Taylor. Springfield, Missouri. Officer Morris Taylor, a cop formerly on the Springfield, Missouri city government’s police force, is facing misdemeanor assault charges for beating John Sedersten, a prisoner under his authority, after Sedersten had been restrained and booked in the Greene County Jail. The story’s in the news because Sedersten, the victim of the beating, recently decided not to testify against Taylor in the criminal case, on advice from his attorneys, because of the danger that his testimony will open him up to lines of questioning that the government can use against him in his pending criminal cases. Sedersten is pursuing a separate civil lawsuit against Officer Morris Taylor for the beating; apparently he’s just not particularly interested in working closely with the same government office that is trying to lock him up in other cases, particularly not for so minor a vindication as a misdemeanor assault conviction. Even without his testimony, apparently
portionsof the assault are recorded on video.
Besides having spent 11 years in local government police
forces,Officer Morris Taylor also has experience in dealing with prisoners from working as a government soldier in the U.S. government’s war and occupation in Iraq.
Deputy Marcus Smith. San Joaquin County, California. San Joaquin County Sheriff’s deputies stopped a car on a routine traffic stop near Manteca; Charles Inderbitzen was riding in the car. Inderbitzen was ex-con out on parole, and believed that he had a warrant out on him, so he got nervous around the cops. He tried to leave the scene without the cops’ permission; even though the police had no reason whatever, at this point, to suspect that he had committed any crime, or even (since he was not the one driving the car) of even the most minor civil infraction. But government cops in America aren’t actually interested in dealing with crimes; they are interested in targeting suspects, and are more than willing to summarily declare you a
suspectsort of guy based solely on your failure to follow their arbitrary bellowed commands, or your decision to try to leave the scene when they are present. So a gang of police chased Inderbitzen down, cornered him in a back yard, drew their guns on him, and ordered him to get on his knees and put his hands on his head. After Inderbitzen complied with their orders, with several cops pointing guns at him and while physically at their mercy, Deputy Marcus Smith hopped the fence, kicked Charles Inderbitzen in the gut, punched him in the back of the head, kicked him two more times in the stomach, and then punched him about 5 or 10 more times until Inderbitzen was beaten unconscious. I guess he’s lucky they didn’t taser him to death instead.
Oops. Our bad.Deputy Matthew Paul. Seattle, Washington. Christopher Harris was trying to get away from a group of King’s County police (or rather, a gang of beefy, heavily armed strangers, dressed all in black, who didn’t bother to identify themselves before they started hollering and chasing after him late at night). Turns out he didn’t actually do anything wrong (they were chasing him because a witness fingered him as having been involved in a bar fight; the witness was wrong). But rather than risking the possibility that someone possibly might get away from the cops (even when he had no way of knowing they were cops, who had every right to leave the scene, who posed no physical threat to anybody, and who, at the very worst, was
suspectedof some minor-league drunken fighting), Deputy Matthew Paul, who outweighed his victim by about 100 pounds, decided to put an end to things by waiting until Christopher Harris slowed down to a walk, and then body-tackling him so hard that he knocked him eight feet into a wall, slamming Harris’s head into the concrete so hard it put him into a coma. The story’s in the news because Deputy Matthew Paul’s coworkers in the King County government’s prosecutor’s office have announced that, as far as they’re concerned, Deputy Matthew Paul did not violate Christopher Harris’s rights and the only personal consequence that Deputy Matthew Paul will face, for putting his falsely accused, completely unarmed and physically harmless victim on life-support, is having been given a paid vacation from his job for a while during the investigation. According to the county government,
It’s a tragic incident.Well, oops. I guess he’s lucky they didn’t just shoot him in the back instead.
Non-Lethal Force (Cont’d.) Unnamed officer, Officer Debra Lynn Indovina-Akerly and Officer Charles Watson. Swissvale, Pennsylvania. Last summer, a 37 year old unarmed black man named Andre DeMon Thomas was extrajudicially electrocuted by a gang of three Swissvale cops, who tortured him with three 50,000-volt electric shocks, handcuffed him, and, after he was handcuffed, kicked him, punched him, and crushed him until he vomited, passed out, and died. They were electrocuting him, incidentally, For His Own Good, after he begged neighbors to call the cops to help him out. He was unarmed; he wasn’t acting aggressively; none of the neighbors felt threatened by him; he was never at any point charged with any crime at all by anyone; he seemed disoriented and terrified, and he wanted the cops there to keep him safe. But in cop-think, being terrified and disoriented means acting
erraticin the judgment of a cop, even if you pose no threat to anyone and even if you have not been so much as accused of committing a crime and even if you are yourself seeking help, is reason enough for you to get Served and Protected good and hard until you are physically
subdued.Or dead, whichever comes first. [And]((http://radgeek.com/gt/2009/06/22/the-police-beat-3/) yet again, it became necessary to kill Dre Thomas in order to save him. The case is in the news again because the family has filed a lawsuit and the coroner’s autopsy report, which revealed deep and widespread bruising all over Thomas’s body, contradicts the Medical Examiner’s initial report absolving the cops and claiming that Thomas died from a mythical made-up condition called
Gang cops (Cont’d.).
Gang Strike Force,Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Seven victims of racist shakedowns by a multi-agency paramilitary
Gang Strike Forcein the Twin Cities have filed suit against the members of the
Strike Force,the city governments that put it together, and the boss cops who commanded it. The
Strike Forcewas permanently shut down earlier this month after repeated complaints about the cops on it making
improper seizures,which is to say armed robberies under color of law, of money and property from innocent people with no connection to gang activity, but who happened to be immigrants (hence easy targets). If only we had some warning, had some way of knowing, that an
elitegang police unit with an unlimited mandate, overwhelming force, and extremely broad legal powers to roust people and take their property with minimal legal accountability, might end up just acting like the baddest gangsters on the block. But who could possibly have foreseen that? It’s not like anything like this has ever happened before.
Detective Keith Alfaro. San Antonio, Texas. A couple years ago Detective Keith Alfaro of the San Antonio police department got himself involved in what the media at the time dignified as a
poolside scuffle with a teenager. By which they meant that he punched an 18 year old girl in the face, then, after he knocked her down, got on top of her, put her in a chokehold, and, according to an unrelated witness,
pummeledher black and blue while she was on the ground. After Alfaro ran away from the Sheriff’s Deputies who responded to a call, Vaughn had to be taken to the hospital; she still couldn’t open her jaw for weeks after the attack. The reason he did this was that she told him to put out a cigar he was smoking; the community pool had a no-smoking rule. Tamara Vaughn claims she asked him politely; Alfaro claims she copped an
attitude, got up in his face, dared to say some vulgar words in his hearing, and tried to swipe the cigar out of his mouth. Apparently, even if we grant his story to be true, Detective Keith Alfaro believes that that’s good enough reason for a grown-ass man to throw the first punch, then beat the living hell out of an 18 year old girl while she’s lying on the ground, and that doing so
was totally defensive … It was her own actions that forced me to take those measures.Perhaps that’s also what forced him to answer her request that he not smoke a cigar at a non-smoking pool by telling her to
take that East Side attitude back over there;maybe that’s also what forced him to call her a
half-breedwhile he was beating the hell out of her, or to tell Vaughn, who is a lesbian, that
You wanna look like a man, I’m gonna treat you like a man.. Detective Keith Alfaro testified that his problem was not with her race but with her
attitude(you know, the East Side kind), and that
She though she was talking to a child, … She thought she was talking to someone she could bully — not an adult family man.Apparently Detective Keith Alfaro believes that
an adult family mandeals with tense social situations by punching 18 year old girls in the face and dislocating their jaws. In any case, this
adult family manbragged in an online profile for an Ultimate Fighting website about his
countless street KO’s.
The story is in the news again because Keith Alfaro finally ended up going to trial this year on a misdemeanor assault rap, along with some resisting and evading arrest for having run away from the Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies. And just today, after the judge refused to allow Bexar County prosecutors to tell the jury about the online bragging about street fights, or about the numerous existing complaints against Alfaro in his internal affairs file (complaints which, of course, never endangered his position with the San Antonio Police Department, until he got into a fight on another police agency’s turf), the jury voted to acquit Alfaro on the assault beef. They convicted him on the misdemeanor evading and resisting arrest charges, because apparently busting up an 18 year old girl’s jaw is OK, but they’ll be damned if they’ll let anyone get away from the po-po.
Rapists on patrol. Officer Feliciano Sanchez, Los Angeles, California. (Possible trigger warning.)
Officer Feliciano Sanchez, formerly hired muscle for Los Angeles County’s Bell Police Department, recently plead guilty to using his police powers to abduct a woman he had detained on a traffic stop, drive her to an isolated location, and then flashed his gun and coerced sex from her before he would let her free. Bell Police Department Captain Anthony Miranda says he is
shockedto hear that a male cop might use his government-granted legal powers and his arsenal of deadly weapons to intimidate and violently coerce sex from women who come under his power. He says that he’s in
disbeliefbecause he’s never heard of such a thing before. Well, I’m not. I have.
18 shots for running a stop-sign. Officer James Arnold. Fort Wayne, Indiana. The city government in Fort Wayne, Indiana just spent $335,000 of other people’s money in order to cover Office James Arnold’s ass after he shot an unarmed immigrant named José Baudilio Lemus-Rodriguez 18 times, after Lemus-Rodriguez refused to pull over for a routine traffic stop for running a stop sign.
Fort Wayne Police Officer James Arnold, by the way, was just four months on the
forcewhen he lit up Lemus-Rodriguez’s car; before that, he had years of combat experience as a United States government Marine fighting for the U.S. government’s occupation and counter-insurgency operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards refused to file any criminal charges; the city hired on a PR flack to declare Arnold’s actions
objectively reasonable.The city’s main concern in settling the family’s lawsuit, besides using taxpayer money to cover Officer James Arnold from any personal legal liability for his lethal actions, is apparently as a bribe to ensure that the objective video record of the
objectively reasonableshooting remains permanently concealed from the public.
¡Sí se puede! Coalition of Immokalee Workers announces another victory in penny-per-pound agreement with Whole Foods
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based union in Central Florida that has been winning a series of remarkable victories on wages and conditions for Florida farmworkers, with no government recognition and through the creative use of secondary boycotts and other forms wildcat unionism, has just announced another major victory in the struggle. After the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ hard-won victory in the struggle to make Burger King sign on to the penny-per-pound passthrough agreement, here’s what C.I.W. organizer Lucas Benitez had to say about the future of the campaign:
Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said,The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Social responsibility in this country’s food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida’s farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.
There are companies — like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry — that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims. It is time, now, that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers’ words.
And there are companies — like Subway and WalMart — that, by the sheer volume of their purchases, profit like few others from the pernicious poverty of workers in Florida’s fields. They, too, must step up now. After eight years of this campaign — and the very public commitment of the three largest fast-food companies in the world to the principles of Fair Food — they can no longer claim ignorance of the problem nor can they say that the solution is not possible.
So to all of you who have marched with us, organized petition drives with us, prayed with us, and struggled with us, today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought victory. Tomorrow, with renewed energy and purpose, we begin our work again to make respect for fundamental human rights in Florida’s tomato fields truly universal.
And yesterday, the C.I.W. announced the first victory in these new campaigns: they have won an agreement for Whole Foods to participate in the penny-per-pound campaign, and to begin crafting purchasing standards for labor conditions in the fields.
Whole Foods Market Signs Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to SupportPenny-per-PoundTomato Program in Florida
Company Also Exploring Program to Help Guarantee Ethical Sourcing and Production in the U.S.
AUSTIN, TX (September 9, 2008) – Whole Foods Market, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based farm worker organization spearheading the growing Campaign for Fair Food, announced today that the two will work in partnership to help improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.
According to an agreement signed this week, Whole Foods Market will support the CIW’spenny-per-poundapproach for tomatoes purchased from Florida, with the goal of passing these additional funds on to the harvesters.
With this agreement, the Campaign for Fair Food has again broken new ground,said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW.This is not only our first agreement in the supermarket industry but, in working with Whole Foods Market, we have the opportunity to really raise the bar to establish and ensure modern day labor standards and conditions in Florida.
We commend the CIW for their advocacy on behalf of these workers,said Karen Christensen, Global Produce Coordinator for Whole Foods Market.After carefully evaluating the situation in Florida, we felt that an agreement of this nature was in line with our core values and was in the best interest of the workers.
Additionally, Whole Foods Market is exploring the creation of a domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production, using the company’s existing Whole Trade Guarantee program as a model. Whole Trade Guarantee, a third-party verified program, ensures that producers and laborers in developing countries get an equitable price for their goods in a safe and healthy working environment. The goal is to purchase Florida tomatoes from growers that will implement a similar program.We are especially excited about working with the CIW to develop this domesticsaid Christensen.Whole Trade-typeprogram,
This is a big win, and it’s hardly the end. The C.I.W. is still fighting to get an agreement Chipotle; there’s a lot more yet to come.
Fellow workers, the C.I.W.’s series of inspiring victories for creative extremism and wildcat unionism are both an inspiration and a reminder. We should never forget that the workers have more power standing with our hands in our pockets than all the wealth and weapons of the plutocrats and politicians. Yes, we can do it—ourselves. And we will.
¡La lucha sigue—victory to the farmworkers!
- GT 2008-09-09: Slavery in Florida’s tomato fields
- GT 2008-07-03: ¡Chipotle, escucha: estamos en la lucha!
- GT 2008-05-27: Even better than I thought: victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers against the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, too
- GT 2008-05-23: ¡Sí se puede! Victory for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the Burger King penny-per-pound campaign
- GT 2007-12-06: Solidaridad
- GT 2007-11-30: Coalition of Immokalee Workers marches in Miami
- GT 2007-04-19: ¡Sí se puede! The CIW wins a groundbreaking wages and conditions agreement with McDonald’s
- GT 2005-03-31: Anarquistas por La Causa
- GT 2005-03-23: ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
- GT 2001-08-30: ¡Sí se puede!
Trigger warning. The news report I discuss includes verbal descriptions of sexual exploitation and extreme violence by
caretakers against male and female patients under their control. It may be triggering for past experiences of violence.
In the past, when I’ve written about violence committed by government police officers or prison guards, I’ve often written something like this:
Please note that if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, the people around us would more or less universally conclude that we’re belligerent and dangerous lunatics. In fact, if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, and it was caught on camera, we would soon be in jail for on a charge of assault and battery. When someone with a badge and a gun acts like this, and it’s caught on camera, with a very few exceptions, the worst that ever happens is that they might get fired. The most common response from the powers that be is either to do nothing at all, or else to give the pig a paid vacation and a verbal reprimand.
That’s a point that I stand by, and that I think is vitally important. But one thing you’ve got to remember when thinking about that point is that the class of government-privileged cops and prison guards is larger than the obvious cases you might first think of when asked.
Badges and guns come in a lot of shapes and sizes and prisons can be found in a lot of places. Sometimes the badge is a gold shield and the prison is a penitentiary surrounded by razor-wire and high fences. Sometimes the
badge is a white coat, the
gun is a syringe, and the prison is the locked
mental ward of a hospital. What matters is not the external form, but the underlying relationship of power, and when so-called
caretakers have the legal power to restrain, confine, hold down, drug, shock, spy on, and otherwise coerce or violate a so-called
treat her against her will, to force her to remain in a locked room even if she wants to leave, and to chase her down and force her back into that locked room if she tries to slip out without permission, then those so-called
caretakers function as a jailers, and their
hospital as a prison, no less than the
corrections officers and
correctional facilities of the official State prison system.
This is, by the way, a basic point that needs to be made, and needs to be accepted, whether or not one accepts presuppositions of institutional psychiatry, and whether or not one accepts the common practices of involuntary civil commitment, the imprisonment of criminals deemed legally insane in State-run psychoprisons, drugging
patients through the use of force or deception, etc. etc. etc. If you accept those presuppositions and you support imprisoning and forcibly drugging people who, for example, try to hurt (only) themselves, or who have hallucinations, or who steadfastly cling to beliefs that the majority of people consider irrational, then you should go ahead and defend that. But that is what you need to defend–imprisonment and coercive force–not some sentimentalized
helping professions myth in which caretakers are helping willing patients through a disease
just like cancer or diabetes. If you have cancer and diabetes, and you decide (for whatever reason) that you’d rather suffer or even die from it than undergo the conventional treatments, nobody has the legal power to force those treatments on you against your will. And therein lies one of the fundamental political differences between real doctor-patient relationships and psychiatry as it is practiced today. If you want to try to defend psychiatry as it’s practiced today, that difference–the fact of psychiatric imprisonment–is something you’ll have to admit, and where you’ll have to start.
And for those of us who have spent some time watching how the official State prisons and their prison guards work, and who know that the pervasive violence and domination that runs through the system, even when it is judged
excessive or abusive by the powers that be, should be dismissed as Yet Another Isolated Incident carried out by A Few More Bad Apples, but rather recognized as the natural and inevitable result of the kind of environment fostered by the unaccountable power of government enforcers–well, for those of us, things like the Dallas Morning News‘s recent report on intense, pervasive abuse of
patients in Texas’s state psychoprisons should be an outrage, but (heart-breakingly) not at all a surprise:
Last year, one [Texas] state mental hospital employee tackled an adolescent patient who was sobbing for his mother, dragging him across the floor by his wrists and hair.
The year before, another brought a female patient into a hospital bathroom and sexually abused her.
And dozens more have participated in brutal beatings at the psychiatric hospitals since 2005, employee disciplinary reports show – using chokeholds, headlocks and threats of violence to restrain the patients under their watch.
In all, 72 employees across Texas’ 10 state mental hospitals have been fired in the last three years for allegations of physical abuse, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of state personnel records. Hundreds more have been terminated for other violations, the records show, from sleeping on the job to over-medicating mentally ill patients.
Among the allegations of abuse and neglect state hospital workers have been fired for since 2005:
A worker at the North Texas State Hospital slammed a clipboard on a patient’s head, dragged her by her feet and kicked her in the legs and buttocks.
An employee at the Big Spring State Hospital failed to notice a patient who knotted her sheet and strung it around her neck. The patient was blue by the time staff found her.
At the Austin State Hospital, a male employee brought a female patient into a private room for her to carry out a sexual act on him.
An employee at the Austin hospital tackled a juvenile patient and pinned the patient’s neck and head to the floor, bloodying his lips and face and breaking his glasses.
Other employees were punished for offensive treatment, from using racial slurs on patients to making verbal threats and sexual advances. Some ignored patients’ cries for help while they watched TV, played video games and wrote text messages. Others stole state property and sold tobacco products to patients.
Jason Evans called 911 in November during a bipolar meltdown and was admitted to the Terrell State Hospital. Days later, the 34-year-old was dead – and his parents still don’t know why.
State officials told the Kaufman couple that their son, who was severely mentally ill but in good physical condition, had been disruptive that evening, and records obtained by the family indicate hospital workers medicated him before sending him to sleep. Mr. Evans was apparently found hours later in his bed, and was no longer breathing.
Lynn Evans, his mother, said psychiatric hospital workers attributed the death to natural causes, and doctors said her son had lost oxygen to the brain. But she and Mr. Evans’ father, a pharmacist, have been unable to get specific details about their son’s death. They believe Jason was effectively overdosed by hospital workers trying to restrain him.
It was a disease. Jason couldn’t help it,said Mrs. Evans, choking back sobs.In my heart, I will go to my grave knowing that hospital killed him.
Mr. McBride said that the agency is prohibited from confirming the identities of anyone in their care – but that any unexpected deaths are investigated by the Department of Family and Protective Services or by local law enforcement.
There were no deaths among Terrell State Hospital patients last fall from anything other than natural causes,he said.
And anyone who has followed the official response to past prison abuse scandals (cf. GT 2008-02-21: Mississippi Corrections, GT 2008-02-05: Rapists in uniform, GT 2007-10-28: Corrections officers, etc.) should be outraged, but not at all surprised, by the fact that state
Mental Health officials have responded to the threatening, neglecting, assaulting, raping, and torturing of imprisoned
patients in the usual way that prison bosses respond. That, when the administrators are forced to admit that abuses have happened, the individual psychoprison guards are usually administratively
disciplined, or at worst fired, rather than arrested or sued like the violent criminals that they are. That, when asked, the official mouthpieces of the
mental health prison system reply by lying, covering up, whitewashing, isolating, or minimizing the extent of the violence against patients, by making excuses for the perpetrators, and by telling a bunch of sob-stories about the hard luck of supposed trained professionals who are expected to actually do their tough job without hurting people.
State officials say there will always be some reports of abuse and neglect in an institutional setting. And they say they take any allegations of mistreatment seriously. But the records show that as in other state-run facilities, abuse and neglect are systemic.
The state’s juvenile prisons, group homes for the disabled, and state schools for people with mental disabilities all came under fire last year for reports of widespread physical and sexual abuse.
Officials with the Department of State Health Services, the agency that runs the psychiatric hospitals, say abuse and neglect areabsolutely notpervasive – and verified cases are actually dropping.
In the last two years, they confirmed 15Class Icases – the most serious abuse. On average, investigators substantiate 5 percent of the more than 2,000 allegations they examine annually. And 90 percent of patient deaths since 2005 were attributed to natural causes, agency spokesman Doug McBride said. Five were suicides, and none were the result of abuse.
Keep in mind there are about 7,400 employees, 18,000 patient admissions and probably hundreds of thousands of staff-patient interactions in a year,Mr. McBride said.
State officials acknowledge that the psychiatric hospitals are stressful environments; there are times, Mr. McBride said, when employeesdo not handle a situation appropriately.But they say the rules for reporting abuse and neglect are stringent – and confirmed cases of physical and sexual abuse are reported to police.
And they balk at the suggestion that conditions bear a resemblance to the state schools for people with mental disabilities, where the U.S. Justice Department has intervened twice in recent years.
The state psychiatric hospitals, which have about 2,500 patients daily, had 137 confirmed abuse cases in 2007. The state schools for people with disabilities, which have twice as many residents, have an average of 300 confirmed abuse cases per year.
But some advocates fear the mentally ill patients may face greater risks. Patients of the psychiatric hospitals are largely indigent, transient and not connected to their families, so they have few allies as they bounce through the mental health system.
It’s a population that’s easy to abuse because they’re not on the radar in any way,said Richard Hansen, a Texas mental health advocate who was chemically restrained, shackled and beaten to the point of broken ribs years ago while suffering from bipolar disorder in a New York mental hospital.
Mr. Hansen said many employees are conscientious, but conditions vary from hospital to hospital and ward to ward. Some are simply warehouses, where patients are often overmedicated and ignored. In others, patients frequently turn up with unexplained injuries, he said.
Besides the fact that it is just a lie to claim that a problem that has involved hundreds of employees in the last three years alone is somehow
absolutely not pervasive, one of the most important factors simply goes unmentioned here — that it is really, really easy to get away with far more violence and abuse than crops up in
verified official reports, simply because guards tend to stick together against any allegations made by inmates, and because they can act with an incredible amount of impunity when officials will never trust a victim’s testimony, and will happily wave it off, whenever it’s convenient to do so, as the product–literally–of feeble-mindedness or insanity. No wonder that 5% (and dropping) of the 2,000 abuse allegations filed every year end up getting
verified by the officials.
And, to cap it all, no matter how bad and how widespread the abuse may get, the administrators can always count on the pro-establishment wing of their supposed critics to go to the public and to the legislature to beg for even more tax money and even more prison guards to be sent into the psychiatric prison system, so that the very people who created these maddening prison-ward hellholes can be rewarded for their institutionalized violence by being allowed to take even more money from taxpayers to go on doing the same old thing:
The state psychiatric hospitals, like other systems for vulnerable Texans, are chronically starved for cash, advocates of more state funding say, and services at the local level can’t keep up.
You get what you pay for,said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who has bipolar disorder.When you financially dumb something down, you make services cheap, something’s got to give. Unfortunately, it usually ends up being a mentally ill or disabled Texan.
Aaryce Hayes, a mental health policy specialist with Advocacy Inc., said the Department of State Health Services is working to improve the state hospital system, from incorporating trauma-informed treatment into care regimens to increasing employee empathy training. It is also trying to reduce reliance on restraint and seclusion to keep control of patients.
They get it,she said.They want to see a culture change.
But it’s hard to improve when the state hospital system is so overburdened, Ms. Hayes said. Right now, the state funds just 27 percent of mental health needs in the community – meaning everyone else rotates in and out of crisis care. There are more than 450,000 adult Texans with serious and persistent mental illness, everything from schizophrenia to major depression, Ms. Hayes said.
If we said we were serving just 27 percent of people who had cancer, or diabetes, nobody would be comfortable with that,Ms. Hayes said.
Money is a persistent problem. In 2003, lawmakers stripped $100 million from the state’s mental health budget, Mr. Coleman said – funding that has only partially been replaced.
The Legislature approved $82 million last year to improve community mental health crisis services, said Robin Peyson, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Texas chapter. But Texas ranks 48th in the country in per capita funding for people with mental illness, so that money only begins to address the shortfall.
There are not services at the community level and there are not enough beds in the system,she said.If you have inadequate funding, you’re just supporting this cycle, this revolving wheel.
The reality is that what is needed is not more money, or more guards, or better training, or even a
culture change. A culture change would be a step forward, but the real solution that is needed is something that goes far deeper: a solution that strikes at the root from which that culture and these conditions grow. What is really needed is a power change, so that psychiatric wards are no longer artificially packed by court order, so that patients can leave and seek help through other means if conditions become unbearable, and so that supposed patients are no longer
treated against their will and held down at the mercy of their helper-captors. If you make a hospital into a prison camp, then it should be no surprise when the hospital
caregivers start acting like prison camp guards. The only thing to do — the only thing you can do that will not just recreate the same problem in a superficially different form — is to respect the will of patients, to treat violence against them as a real crime worthy of punishment, to repeal the laws that privilege and protect their captors, and to break open the doors and tear off the straitjackets that hold them back from living their lives as human beings, rather than as objects of pity and coercion.
Free the Texas 2,500!
Free all psychiatric prisoners!
- GT 2008-01-06: Shiva on
- GT 2007-10-29: For her own good
- GT 2008-02-21: Mississippi Corrections
- GT 2007-11-09: You got served and protected.
- GT 2006-04-14: Over My Shoulder #19: Robert Whitaker (2002), Mad in America on metrazol
- GT 2006-03-18: Over My Shoulder #15: Robert Whitaker (2002), Mad in America