Editorial in response to: "Kendra's Law Fearmongers" by E. Fuller Torrey and Mary Zdanowicz,
New York Post, February 25, 2000
The New York Post and the Daily News reach millions of people every day. Even people who don't buy these papers can't help reading the headlines as they stand in line at the corner deli or pass the subway newsstand. Last November 19, the front page of the Daily News screamed in three-inch letters: GET THE VIOLENT CRAZIES OFF THE STREET! It's the first time in twenty years I've ever seen a "Special Editorial" on the front page of this paper, which then went on for two pages inside about how the "deranged" mentally ill, "pursued by personal demons and likely to strike out in viciousness", need to be reinstitutionalized. "It is certain," the paper said, "that more than 6,000 people need this institutionalization".
It's this kind of sensationalistic and high profile propaganda, spoon-fed to the media by Fuller Torrey, Mary Zdanowicz, and other leaders of the euphemistically named and NAMI-backed "Treatment Advocacy Center", that led directly to the passage of New York's recent "Kendra's Law", by which law-abiding persons with a history of psychiatric problems can be drugged or institutionalized against their will.
I reacted to that Daily News rant with horror. It seemed to me that hatred and fear of persons with psychiatric labels reached critical mass that day. These kinds of social upheavals have happened before. There was a day in history, after all, which was the first day no one dared say "nigger" in public; the first day a newspaper refused to print an anti-Semitic ad or editorial; the first day gays and lesbians could seek legal redress for discrimination, for beatings and killings. What happened to persons with psychiatric labels that day was the same kind of fundamental shift in public consciousness, only in reverse. Persons with psychiatric labels were set back farther from equal protection and equal rights than we have been in my lifetime.
Imagine the Daily News printing "Lock Up All the Niggers!" after a black person hit Nicole Barrett with a brick. Or "Death to the Jews!" because Kendra Webdale's assailant was Jewish.
Most chilling to me was the fact that Barrett's attacker was not known at the time of the editorial, but was simply assumed to have a psychiatric history. In fact, it later turned out he had no such history, but this did not make headlines.
Now Torrey and Zdanowicz ("Kendra's Law Fearmongers", February 25) crow that they were right all along, that Kendra's Law is a success. That is because twenty people---twenty people in the whole state of New York---have been forcibly treated under the bill.
To achieve the forced drugging of 20 people, the TAC ideologues and one of the nation's largest newspapers needed to demonize and vilify an entire class with hate speech?
Where are the other 5,980 people the News claimed would be rounded up?
In fact, Kendra's Law and the accompanying TAC-orchestrated media blitz have had their intended effect, not only on the unfortunate 20 who have been targeted, but on society as a whole. Zdanowicz, a lawyer, and Torrey, a psychiatrist, would not be able to tell you about this. You'd have to ask people with psychiatric labels (some of whom prefer to be called persons with psychiatric disabilities, but none of whom, to my knowledge, like to be called "the mentally ill"). You'd have to ask the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who live with prejudice and discrimination every day of our lives because of the false stereotypes exploited by TAC. You know them. Kendra's Law is based on them, presupposes them, makes no sense unless you buy into the stereotypes: persons with psychiatric histories or labels are irrational, unstable, liars; we cannot be trusted to know truth from falsehood, or reality from fantasy; we are violent and should be feared and locked up to protect the public.
When these false ideas come to be accepted, the consequences for all persons with psychiatric labels, even those living and working peacefully without any symptoms or any treatment, can be devastating.
The forced-treatment gurus can measure the "success" of their campaign in other ways besides numbers of persons forcibly treated. They can look at the number of persons who psychiatric labels who can't get treatment for serious physical illnesses such as heart disease, and who die, or live shorter lives, because they're thought be to just imagining their illnesses. (TAC actually states that the part of the brain responsible for "insight", especially "insight into illness", is impaired in persons with psychiatric labels. There is no such area of the brain.) They might look at the number of perfectly fine mothers who lose custody of their children because of an old or current psychiatric label. (Our families are also innocent victims of hate and prejudice.) They might look at people who die because of toxic doses of the "medicines" they want to force on us, or who become brain-damaged after years on these drugs. They can count the number of persons with psychiatric labels who are victims, not perpetrators, of crimes large and small, but who cannot get justice because no value will be placed in the word of a mental patient by the police or the courts.
These victims of the kind of hate and fear deliberately stirred up to pass a law of (dubious) "benefit" to 20 people are countless.
"Fear-monger," indeed, is a title that belongs to Torrey and Zdanowicz, but "hate-monger" is even more accurate. The hate has to stop. Persons with psychiatric disabilities and concerned citizens are working hard to see that "Kendra's Law" sunsets into oblivion. Then the kind of age-old hate-mongering exemplified by the "Treatment Advocacy Center" will take its place in society's shameful museum of no-longer-acceptable prejudice and discrimination.
Linda Andre is a long-time activist for the rights of persons who are currently in, or who have survived, psychiatric treatment. She is the Director of the New York City-based Committee for Truth in Psychiatry.
Telephone 212 665-6587