David Gonzalez is the recipient of the 1999 NYAPRS Brendan Nugent Leadership Award, the first person with a mental illness to receive the National AAPD Paul G. Hearne Award for People with Disabilities, and the recipient of the New York State Department of Mental Health’s Office of Consumer Affairs 2000 Consumer Advocacy Award. He writes at The American Mental Disability Clemency Organization:
Accurately identifying the various causes behind the criminalization of the mentally ill can only be accomplished by an impartial examination of our society’s preconceived notions of the mentally ill. This can be done by examining society’s treatment of the mentally ill throughout the course of history. Stigma clearly plays a major role in the criminalization of the mentally ill because of society’s inability to accept the dualistic and sometimes vile impulses of human nature inherent in all human beings. Therefore, society seeks to explain away unjustified acts of violence and aggression as symptoms of a mental illness, in effect scapegoating the mentally ill.
And whom better to scapegoat than those people who because of their psychiatric disabilities are the least capable of defending themselves! It’s a propaganda goldmine and a public relations coup. Not only do you have a ready-made population to scapegoat, but if it is ever discovered that you have twisted and manipulated the facts to hold the whole mental health community hostage because of violent acts of a small percentage, so what? There’ll be no repercussions and no one will care. While there are certainly occasional acts of violence committed by people who are mentally ill, no laws or medications can prevent these acts of violence, any more than they can prevent acts of violence committed by the general population (which has a far greater propensity for violence). Why aren’t unjustified acts of violence committed by police officers considered a mental illness? Ironically, police officers have the highest suicide rate in the nation, and suicide is recognized by the mental health community as the symptom of a mental illness.
Since the dawn of civilization, society has had its scapegoats. Human beings whose intentions are basically decent and who tend to be tolerant of other peoples have bought into the scapegoat mentality when confronted by media manipulators playing upon the fears of society. I believe that this was clearly illustrated in recent times by the Jewish Holocaust. This holocaust was committed by a highly cultured society of civilized people who gave birth to some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, people who were the foremost leaders and intellectuals in this era of enlightenment. Yes, even society’s most educated classes have needed scapegoats…
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