Bullets Are Safety Net as 64 Mentally Ill Die at Hands of Police
Hit squads from the Mexican mafia. Gangs of painkiller-thieving youths. The government. They were coming, always coming. From around the corner or down the street, he couldn’t know where.
Michael Mahoney, 36, had a hard life, spending months in juvenile detention centers and six years in prison before deciding to turn things around. He enrolled in welding courses and cared for his ailing father in their Oxnard, California, home. Then his schizophrenia took over. He lived his last months in fear and paranoia, once screaming out, “Kill me!”
Then someone did.
Mahoney died Aug. 14 of a gunshot wound to the chest after three officers, responding to a report of a man with a weapon, fired on him. He was one of 64 mentally-ill people who died after being shot with a gun or electroshock device by U.S. law enforcement this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s about three times the number police indicated in a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice survey, the last year for which statistics are available.
At least 16 of the 64 had schizophrenia, were prone to violence and avoided taking medications. Some had been released from hospitals after stays families thought were too brief to be therapeutic. Mahoney spent 45 hours in a psychiatric center where he’d been confined for his own safety, discharged nine days before he died with a flare gun in his hand.
“It is a shame that a bullet is what our mental health safety net has become,” said Louis Josephson, chief executive officer of Riverbend Community Mental Health Inc. in Concord, New Hampshire, which offers outpatient and residential programs.