The Treatment Advocacy Center is sometimes asked – or challenged about – why we talk about violence and untreated mental illness. The circumstances and aftermath of Kelly Thomas’s gruesome death illustrate a part of the answer.
Kelly Thomas was the 37-year-old homeless man with untreated schizophrenia who was brutally attacked by six Fullerton, California, police officers in July. He died five days later, after being taken off life support.
The unconscionable violence against Thomas was captured on video, which quickly hit the Internet, turned into headlines and broadcasts, and mobilized a horrified public. Since then, protestors have hit the streets by the hundreds. Two of the officers have been charged with crimes – murder and manslaughter – and investigations continue.
Meanwhile, thousands of Facebook users have "liked" or joined groups calling on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to implement Laura’s Law – California’s assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) statute. AOT is a means of providing treatment to people too ill to seek it themselves before violence or homelessness or arrest or other consequences of non-treatment occur. After failing to enact the law in the decade since it was passed by the California legislature, the supervisors have called for a report from county mental health officials about how to implement it now.
That’s why we talk about violence and untreated mental illness. Because it takes lives – through suicide, homicide and victimization – and leaves countless families and bystanders wounded or bereaved. Because it leads to stigma. Because, sometimes, when enough people object or enough lawmakers care, it leads to change.
Ultimately, thousands of followers aren't “liking” or joining Justice 4 Kelly Thomas or Advocates for Laura's Law or Saturday Protest!!! on Facebook because the Treatment Advocacy Center told them there's a link between violence and untreated mental illness. They are doing it because they see the link for themselves and are saying: "Enough!" Now Orange County supervisors – and, in an entirely unrelated episode, Mendocino County supervisors – at last may look at implementing the state law that itself was inspired when untreated mental illness led to the loss of three lives, including that of a teenager named Laura Wilcox.
Reducing untreated mental illness reduces violence. Because of what happened to Kelly Thomas, more people see the value of making assisted outpatient treatment available to others with untreated severe mental illness. It's time for their elected officials to see it, too – and to act.
Click here to read our joint statement with NAMI Orange County on the need for Laura's Law.