Sunday, January 31, 2010

What was not said on the local TV news was more important that what was

When I turned on the local news last night at 10 pm, I saw a reporter holding a microphone, stationed outside an upper-middle class home in Carmichael. On the screen was the word "live." I could see in the penumbra camera crews and reporters from other stations. Every news producer in Sacramento had decided an armed gunman in a stand-off with police was really big news.

However, the stand-off itself was long over. The reporters were on that street (LIVE!) to explain what had culminated five hours earlier. This is the AP summary of what happened:
A nearly six-hour standoff between an armed man and Sacramento County sheriff's deputies has ended safely.

Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran says the 52-year-old man pointed a gun at his mother after an argument with his parents at the suburban Sacramento home the three share. The man surrendered after deputies fired rounds of tear gas into the home in Carmichael, east of Sacramento.

A 52-year-old man living with his parents and pointing a gun at his mother?

What I knew immediately was that the "gunman" was seriously mentally ill and in all likelihood not being medicated. Yet the reporter on Channel 13 never mentioned that.

I suppose a responsible reporter is not supposed to speculate about an alleged criminal's psychiatric condition. But honestly, what else would explain such a crazy action?

The Associated Press story confirmed what I knew:
Curran says the man has a history of mental illness. Curran says it isn't immediately clear if the man will face criminal charges or will be referred for mental health treatment after Saturday's standoff.

Since TV reporters don't ever explain the reason we regularly have stories like this one is because we don't force people with serious mental illnesses to take their medications, the general public is left in the dark.

Many seem to think it's just a sign of the deteriorating morality in our society or the ubiquity of firearms. Most people naturally place blame on the man with the serious mental illness. Perhaps they think it's the fault of his parents for not raising him properly.

But he, of course, is not in control of his faculties and in all likelihood does not even understand that he is mentally ill. His parents don't have the legal right to force him to get treatment. They simply love their son and are suffering for it.

The blame lies with the rest of us who don't call for our laws to be changed so that men like the guy in Carmichael get treatment, voluntarily or otherwise. If he had been on anti-psychotic meds, the TV reporters and the SWAT team would have been off of that street.

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