Sunday, October 11, 2009

UCLA madness: It's Va. Tech all over again

Fortunately, the homicidal maniac at UCLA, Damon Thompson, who tried to murder a fellow student a few days ago in an organic chemistry lab, slashing her in the throat with a knife, was unsuccessful in killing his victim. And even more fortunately, Thompson did not have a cache of guns, like Seung-Hui Cho, the mass murderer at Virginia Tech had when he slaughtered 32 innocents and wounded many others in April, 2007.

But the essential facts of this case are the same: The killer was a mental case who had lost touch with reality. Many who knew him thought he was out of his mind. A professor had reported him to UCLA authorities 10 months ago, telling them he was off his rocker. And the authorities did absolutely nothing.

What was the result of their inaction? Here is the L.A. Times:
Nothing so far points to a direct motive for what appeared to be an unprovoked knife attack in an organic chemistry lab class on Thursday afternoon. The 20-year-old victim was reported to be recovering Friday. Thompson is being held on $1-million bail on suspicion of attempted murder and is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.

Most of the blame for this incident belongs with UCLA administrators, who failed to remove a student from their campus they should have known was mentally ill and dangerous:
The UCLA media relations office released a terse statement after reports that Thompson sometimes behaved erratically, including keeping odd hours and sometimes making disconnected-sounding outbursts. "While Thompson was known to our Student Affairs Office prior to the incident, privacy laws preclude us from discussing it," the statement said.

However, in a broader sense, the blame is with all the rest of us and our legal system for our irrational approach when it comes to dealing with mentally ill adults. As a society, we pretend they are responsible for their actions and they have the right to all of the freedoms sane people have. And that on both counts is nuts.

By definition, mentally ill people are not responsible. They can't differentiate reality from imagination. They hear voices inside their heads and think someone is talking to them. They think people are out to get them. They invent crazy conspiracy theories to explain why everyone is against them. Some of them act out violently -- with no obvious motive -- because they have paranoid delusions.

Instead of taking care of the mentally ill for their own good and for society's benefit, we give them their "liberty." Very often, that means life on the streets or life in prison. They cannot hold a job. They don't understand the benefits of anti-psychotic medications. They ultimately either kill themselves or kill someone else. What we call freedom is total hell for the mentally ill and for their families which love them.
A student who had some interaction with Thompson in a UCLA dorm last school year described him as "an eccentric guy" who would wake up at 3 a.m. and start tidying up other people's possessions. This student, who asked not to be identified because of the circumstances of the case, said Thompson sometimes made statements that seemed to have little bearing on reality.

What we need to do is address the mentally ill like they are children: We need to protect them. We should not give them the option of taking prescribed medications. They can't decide what is in their best interests. They ought never be allowed to have weapons, especially guns. They should not be able to decide where they want to live: We should provide shelter for them. And if the very best psychiatric care cannot stop them from acting crazy, we need to keep them in a locked up mental hospital where they will receive proper care.

People like Damon Thompson, as horrific as his crime at UCLA was, don't belong incarcerated. Prisons are for punishing people who can understand why the act they committed was wrong. He has no sense of that reality. Thompson is clearly dangerous. He might become manageable at some point if he were on meds and he were monitored. Yet he should never again be fully free, on his own. If he can't be managed, then he needs to be locked up in a psychiatric hospital. But ideally, some day he will be cared for by a guardian, who can force him to see psychiatrists and to take medications and to manage his affairs, just like responsible adults manage the affairs of children.

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