The man who gunned down 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, the woman who tried to ram her car into a White House barricade, and the man who shot an Oregon state trooper during a routine traffic stop all shared tragic connections: They were all killed by police after erratic episodes; they all perhaps had some form of mental illness. They were all black.
And, strangely, they were all 34 years old.
Today, there is a deep curiosity about how three young black Americans, in the span of just a few weeks, became highly irrational in nationally-televised situations and were shot by police. And in another peculiar twist, two of the black people shot had their children in the car at the time of the shootings.
Are black Americans not getting the mental health treatment they need? Do friends and family sometimes overlook red flags about erratic behavior? What are the warning signs that black folks should know?
Only 61 percent of Americans think it appropriate to tell family members about a mental illness diagnosis, according to a recent study commissioned by the New York City Metro chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Just 43 percent approve of telling friends about a diagnosis, and just 13 percent of telling co-workers.
Here are the circumstances surrounding three African Americans who are dead because of their violent and erratic behavior.
Miriam Carey, 34, a dental hygienist from Stamford, Connecticut, was shot dead by police last after a high-speed chase that ended with the shutdown of the U.S. Capitol, may have been suffering from post-partum psychosis, according to one psychiatric expert.
Carey may have thought President Barack Obama was stalking her and she had a family history of schizophrenia. Her one-year-old daughter was in the car at the time police shot Carey to death. Carey’s boyfriend reported she was emotionally disturbed and that he suspected her of abuse and neglect of their daughter.
But Carey’s sisters, appearing on CNN Monday, said Miriam Carey “seemed fine” days before her death and they questioned the use of deadly force by police.
“The question is why was she killed in Washington, D.C.,” said Valerie Carey. “She was afraid, she was frightened, and she was trying to get out of there.”
“My sister did not have a gun, she was not shooting from her vehicle,” Carey said, adding that police were not justified in shooting Miriam Carey.
Amy Carey-Jones said her sister, Miriam, was not delusional. “There were no signs of delusion, no voices,” she said.
In another odd case, police released video last week of a highway shootout that started when John Van Allen, 34, pulled a gun during a routine traffic stop and shot Oregon State Trooper Matthew Zistel — while Allen’s kids waited in the car.
Allen, a trained military veteran who was on a road trip with his three children, was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest.
On the video, Allen gets pulled over for speeding and exits his vehicle. He stands still, staring at Zistel. The officer tells him repeatedly to get back in the car, but Allen resists, and eventually pulls a handgun.
Allen was found several miles down the road, dead in his car. Zistel had a bullet wound in his left side. Allen’s three children — ages 10, 13 and 15, were taken into the care of the Department of Human Services. It’s unclear why Allen shot Zistel and put his children’s safety at risk. Investigators may never know what Allen was thinking minutes before the shooting.
And then there was Aaron Alexis.
Alexis, 34, was under the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves before shot 12 people to death at the Washington Navy Yard last month.
Alexis’ mother told his bosses one month before the shootings that he had a history of paranoid episodes and most likely needed therapy.
But nobody took her mother seriously.
“Questions about why Alexis’s behavior wasn’t taken more seriously remain unanswered. However, misdiagnosing mental illness among black men has long been an acute problem — with consequences that extend beyond the Navy Yard killings to the daily gun violence throughout urban America,” Courtland Milloy wrote in The Washington Post.
So what do we take away from these three incidents involving black Americans? Are these incidents flukes or mental health issues that black Americans should take more seriously?
According to a new study by Health Services Research, blacks and Latinos receive less mental health care than whites.
“We found that Blacks and Latinos [remain] in care, including using outpatient services and filling psychotropic drugs, for a shorter time than whites,” said lead study author, Benjamin Le Cook, Ph.D. M.P.H., assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Furthermore, since blacks often wait longer to get help, they are more likely to end up in a psychiatric ER or psychiatric inpatient facility to treat their mental illness.”
What do you think?