What have we learned so far from Wisconsin’s police shootings law?

According to an article from Al Jazeera America, Wisconsin’s groundbreaking law on investigations of shooting deaths by police has not (so far) resulted in any cops facing consequences, but it has revealed a lot more information on cases that previously would have remained shrouded in mystery.

So far this year, law enforcement in the state has shot and killed 6 people. Not a big pool of data, but still worth examining. Of those 6 cases, 2 were suicidal (so, not a helpful response by police), 1 was allegedly attempting to burn down the house of his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend (a sheriff’s deputy), and 3 were schizophrenic (but not necessarily having an episode). At least 3 of the victims were already known to the specific law enforcement members involved in the shootings.

This is, of course, not really a revelation — mentally ill or developmentally challenged civilians in the United States have long been the victims of fatal incidents with the police — but it provides more information and case studies that should be used to advocate for increased training for how police can and should respond to people with serious mental health issues or other mental difficulties, to avoid chaotic responses that end in tragedy.

Combat, mental health, and uncomfortable questions

After the recent (latest) military base shooting, the V.A. urged the media and people generally not to jump to conclusions — suggesting that the shooter suffered from PTSD — that might further stigmatize mental health problems facing some veterans. In the abstract that might make sense, but in context it doesn’t quite. Because that request almost implies that there isn’t any connection — that it’s a myth. Which unfortunately is not the case…

In a Slate article headlined, “PTSD Contributes to Violence. Pretending It Doesn’t Is No Way to Support the Troops”, combat Marine officer-turned-journalist, David J. Morris, looks at historical links between war, PTSD, and home front violence and poses the uncomfortable question:

What if Dept. of Veterans Affairs isn’t trying to protect its veterans from being maligned/marginalized when they tell people not to link shooting sprees and veteran homicides with PTSD — and is really just trying to whitewash the fact that the country sent a bunch of people into very unusual moral situations (and then didn’t help them re-adjust when they got back)?

We absolutely need to do better, and certainly not everyone comes home messed up permanently. But refusing to acknowledge the lasting mental health toll of war for many veterans doesn’t mean it doesn’t last.

The simple fact is that war poisons some men’s souls, and we aren’t doing our veterans any favors by pretending that war is only about honor and service and sacrifice and by insisting that PTSD is completely unrelated to the problem of postwar violence. It’s not only morally irresponsible, it’s scientifically inaccurate.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t want this to be true. In fact, as a veteran who has struggled with post-traumatic stress, I hate that it’s true, but war is an evil thing. As a society we need to face the reality of it head-on so that we can avoid the next war. And despite its official protests to the contrary, the VA secretly agrees with me. Visit any VA hospital across the country and you’ll see what I mean. What’s the first thing you see when you walk in? A metal detector with an armed VA police officer standing nearby.”

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