Claudine Clark

Punished violence, ignored suffering: our failure to deal with mental illness

In memory of Louis Gaskin murdered by the state of Florida on April 12, 2023.

“Cruelty is one of the oldest forms of pleasure. From inflicting pain on others to experiencing pleasure in their own pain, the cruel find their own sense of fulfillment in causing harm to those around them.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The question here is who are the cruel ones? Those who commit murder under the influence of drugs or mental illness like the man the Florida government just murdered tonight with impunity? Or those who consciously and willingly plan the murder of a human being 30 days in advance? Any sane person is capable of answering this question. In 2018, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey in the United States to find out what the public’s views were on the death penalty, 35% of those surveyed said that the death penalty should be reserved for the most violent and dangerous murderers. How dangerous to society is a mentally ill man? And how much responsibility do we have in this?

A study conducted in the United States in 2011 showed that the management of mental illness was associated with a reduction in violence among people with these disorders. The results of this study showed that people with mental disorders who received treatment had a 50% reduction in violence compared to people with mental disorders who did not receive treatment. And therein lies the root of the problem. In the United States, mental illness is often considered a taboo and its treatment is often neglected. This situation has dramatic consequences on the crime rate and the number of people incarcerated.

Indeed, people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in American prisons, which shows that society does not sufficiently care for these vulnerable people.
According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, nearly half (45%) of inmates in U.S. federal prisons have a mental disorder. Moreover, the number of people with mental illness in state prisons is even higher, reaching 56%. The situation is even more concerning among young people. According to a study conducted by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, nearly half of children in detention have undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders. The lack of management of mental illness in children can lead them to delinquent behavior and put them at risk for incarceration.
According to a survey conducted by the Treatment Advocacy Center, more than 10 percent of people with mental illnesses are not receiving treatment and are left unsupervised. This can lead to dangerous behaviors and crisis situations, putting both the mentally ill and those around them at risk.

But instead of taking serious care of people with mental illnesses or emotional disorders, society too often leaves them alone and without resources, which exposes them to a high risk of committing criminal acts. And as if that wasn’t enough, our governments wait like vultures for them to commit the irreparable, to lock them up in penitentiaries where they have no chance of evolving favorably because of the poor psychological and psychiatric care.
They then work hand in hand with the Department of Corrections to give these men and women the image of a monster that will allow them to lynch them publicly without any guilt or accountability!

Copyright free – FDOC photo public records- Louis Gaskin

Yes, Louis Gaskin was a mentally ill man, who had a chaotic childhood, born to a drug addicted teenage mother, herself a victim of our society’s lack of interest in her cause, which led her to give birth to a child and sentence him to death in his first minute of life. This child had no chance of getting out of this situation and that is why it is dramatic, the cycle of violence and suffering is infinite, and it will remain so as long as we choose to treat evil with evil. “The death penalty does not right wrongs, it creates new ones” said Albert Camus.

Louis’ story is tragic, but unfortunately not unique. Too often we see troubled youth who do not have the resources or support to get out of trouble. They face a cycle of violence and suffering that can seem endless. Instead of helping them, our society tends to punish, ostracize and abandon them. But this only makes their situation worse. Young people who grow up in violent and unstable environments are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, behavioral disorders and substance abuse. If we don’t provide them with adequate support, these problems can escalate and lead them to commit criminal acts. We need to break this cycle by providing mental health and social support services to troubled youth, rather than leaving them to their own devices. We need to invest in prevention and rehabilitation programs that can help these young people break out of the spiral of violence and find their place in society.

“There is nothing more tragic than dying in vain,” said Martin Luther King Jr.

Louis Gaskin’s death must not be in vain. We must all stand up and take action to ensure that this barbarism never happens again. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that our justice system fails to address the mental health and addiction issues that often lead to violent acts. We can no longer accept that human beings are locked up for life or worse, executed, when they are victims of a failing society that has given them no chance. It is time that we, as a society, finally take our responsibilities. It is time to stop stigmatizing and marginalizing those who suffer from mental disorders or addictions. It is time to invest in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs to help these people recover and reintegrate into society. We cannot continue to tolerate the spread of violence and suffering in our society. We must act together to break this cycle. We need to pressure our leaders to take concrete steps to improve mental health and addiction care. We need to support organizations that work to help people in need. We must stand in solidarity with each other to build a more just and humane world.

Louis Gaskin’s death must be a catalyst for action. We can no longer remain passive. We must act now so that never again will a life be lost in vain. Are you ready to be the solution rather than the problem?

About the Author
Claudine Clark is president/founder of the French Coalition Against the Death Penalty. An abolitionist, paralegal and human rights consultant, her passion stems from her origins as the granddaughter of Warsaw ghetto survivors. She defends human values of forgiveness and tolerance through numerous actions.
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