Archive for February, 2017

Disability Movement Tips About Supporting Each Other During Crisis (Like a Trump Presidency)  

February 19, 2017

by David Oaks, MindFreedom International co-founder

…The reality of the USA’s catastrophic election is starting to sink in. Tomorrow I will attend a protest march. However, even if you voted for Donald Trump, my intuition is that your disappointment may start soon.

But I notice a number of silver linings, recently:

A lot more people are starting to use the word “revolution.”

For another, as I have often hoped, the word “normality” is no longer being used much.

We must look, and keep looking, for silver linings. I draw here upon the wisdom of the disability movement, which I have been an activist in for more than four decades. I have especially been a community organizer for deep change in the mental health system.

I am a psychiatric survivor. That is, about 40 years ago, as a working class kid going to Harvard, I ended up in psychiatric institutions five times, where I experienced forced drug injections and solitary confinement. I graduated anyway, in 1977.

I helped start one of the key independent groups in the psychiatric survivor movement, MindFreedom International, and I was the Executive Director for about 25 years. The MindFreedom community, and their hard-working board, have won many campaigns for human rights in mental health care over the years. Four years ago, I fell and broke my neck, and because of complications, I had to retire from working for this superb group.

The past four years I have been doing about two dozen rehab activities, so I have been a bit isolated. But now is a good time to say “I am still alive,” and share what I have learned. My main goal in this note is to encourage everyone to give urgent support to MindFreedom International, which as we will see is going through a crisis of its own.

A Whole Lot of Falling Sure is Happening Now

Yes, Uncle Sam certainly fell down at the voting booth in November. The very same week as the election, the global climate crisis talks in Morocco fell apart. It feels as if the world is paralysed over the climate crisis.

As the author Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” With the world slowly coming to the realisation that we are all, 100%, collectively “disabled,” both physically and mentally, let’s turn to the social change movement led by people with disabilities for some tips about how to get through these trying times, and even to thrive.

Here is something you can tangibly do: Support the crucial nonprofit MindFreedom International, which has worked independently for decades to radically change the mental health system.

We wonder why the world seems to be stuck right now, well one of the reasons is that centuries of psychiatric oppression of new thinking has taken a toll. The population gets these messages: Avoid any reality that is uncomfortable, and thinking outside of the box is often punished.

Because people in the mental health system tend to be so poor, the vast majority of activities in the mental health consumer field have been government-funded: The conferences, the offices, the research.

MindFreedom has maintained its independence, and it is one of the few groups in the mental health advocacy field that receives its funding from everyday people and a few foundations who care about human rights.

While I am proud that MindFreedom International has avoided mental health system funding, I have always tried to maintain a supportive relationship with my many colleagues who work for groups that are funded by the government. But now, especially now, we need groups that are free from mental health system strings. We need groups to be activist.

MindFreedom is a positive way to challenge this oppression. And now we must all come through for MindFreedom.

We Can All Learn From The Disability Movement

The disability movement is one of the biggest in the world, though we usually think of “disability” as being only about part of the population. Perhaps now we can realize that the disability movement encompasses every single person and their whole life, all the time. Let me explain.

It has been about four years since I fell off a ladder and broke my neck, becoming a quad in a powerchair with some additional challenges: An impaired voice. My fingers that used to type more than a hundred words a minute, and played improvisational piano music for 50 years, now cannot move independently.

For the past few years, I have been doing physical therapy, vocal exercises, and even had a surgical implant in my vocal fold. And now I am coming out of my rehab closet to encourage you to free your minds, and support MindFreedom International with your time and money.

A few days ago, I talked with my friend, the brilliant retired psychologist, Al Galves, of New Mexico. Al isMindFreedom Treasurer, and he reports: “From 2004 when I joined the Board to 2012 when David got hurt, MindFreedom received at least $65,000 a year in membership dues, donations and grants. Since David’s accident we have been limping along on less than $10,000 a year.” I guess that is a kind of compliment for me, but the bottom line is that my accident took quite a toll on MindFreedom.

“This is understandable,” said Al. He went on to say this about the difference between when I worked for MindFreedom and when I retired: “David was spending a lot of his time on membership relations and fundraising. Without a full-time, paid Executive Director we were unable to sustain that kind of income.”

I asked the MindFreedom board how we can all be supportive. Al said: “We are hoping that this appeal to our long-time members, friends and supporters will gain us enough money to rebuild our membership relations and fundraising capacity and return to our previous level of activity.”

Each one of us is called to support MindFreedom with both donations and also your time. Please help MindFreedom immediately. If you need more motivation, here are my top seven reasons why it is time to volunteer and/or donate to MFI now:

  1. Resist Forced Outpatient Psych Drugs! At about the same time as the election, less noticed was this tragedy: The US Congress fell down, too, when it voted overwhelmingly in favor of the multi-billion dollar 21st Century Cures Act. This was a huge bill, but deep down inside it included millions of federal dollars in support of outpatient coercive psychiatric drugging, from what was once called “the Murphy bill.” That’s right, the federal government will now support, with taxpayer dollars, getting a court order and forcing many Americans to take powerful psychiatric drugs against their will, while living at home out in the community. Note that this awful idea came from a “small government” politician, Tim Murphy (R-PA). We need independent, activist groups such as MindFreedom to challenge what amounts to chemical warfare. Studies show that this outpatient forced psychiatric drugging is disproportionately done to people of color. #BlackLivesMatter!
  2. Yes, USA Psychiatrists Still Do Involuntary Electroshock! By far my favorite campaigns at MindFreedom were stopping occasional instances of forced electroshock, which is electricity to the brain. Here in the USA, electroshock is usually signed for by the patient, but there is still the use of involuntary electroshock, now and again. Incredibly, sometimes forced shock is done even with a court order on an outpatient basis. For example, direct your search engine to: Ray Sandford. Every Wednesday morning, a van picked him in his group home in Minnesota for another court-ordered involuntary electroshock at a nearby hospital. Ray phoned us for help and we activated thousands and of course won. Want to unite good Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Libertarians? Fight forced shock, and all good Americans of all political persuasions are outraged. All you have to do is prove that forced shock is a reality, such as producing court papers. MindFreedom is the main group to expose and fight this atrocity, which is actually pretty common in poorer countries.
  3. Let’s Support People Who Are Resisting and Escaping Their Forced Outpatient Psych Drugs. Here is a “creative maladjustment” to the absurdity of the USA Congress approving millions for involuntary outpatient psychiatric care: Almost all USA States have these outpatient commitment laws. MindFreedom has over the years supported about a half-dozen American citizens who have pursued their own underground railroad to evade forced outpatient drugging. A weak spot in forced outpatient treatment, is that people can simply leave their region or State to escape. You may read about one of these successful escapes by directing your search engine to this phrase: gabriel hadd mindfreedom. One proponent of forced outpatient drugging knows about this vulnerability, and has even discussed his need for a federal extradition law. But at this time, there is no such law. Yet. Today, there is no known underground railroad for psychiatric survivors. The MindFreedom family supports human rights and can applaud people who create such an underground railroad for themselves, so if anyone could support such a sanctuary movement, it would be MindFreedom. There is even a great name for such a campaign: C/S/X Railroad. Let’s make this support real, by proposing this idea! (Note that I am not on the MFI board, and this is a proposal.)
  4. During a Crisis, Let’s Use Alternative Supports. MindFreedom has pointed the way to common sense, humane options other than corporate mental health. Create your small group for mutual support. At any moment we all can use creative thinking right now, the mind is free! Al Galves said this: “In 2014, 2015 and 2016 MindFreedom held ‘Creative Revolution in Mental Health’ conferences in which we advocated, promoted and supported alternatives to the medical model in mental health. These were well-attended, full of energy and inspiring to those great people who have created these alternatives.”
  5. MindFreedom is for Revolution! For many years, the MindFreedom mission statement has included a call for a “nonviolent revolution.” In fact, the Wikipedia page about “nonviolent revolution” has long included MindFreedom International as a model of a group with that goal. For example, Martin Luther King would say that the salvation of the world may lay in the hands of the “creatively maladjusted.” He repeatedly brought up this theme for more than a decade. MLK said the world was in dire need of an International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. This IAACM was a dream of MLK that never became realized. But MindFreedom has made the IAACM real, and the physician psychiatric survivor Patch Adams is the honorary chair. The IAACM will soon launch a new project, for a preview see: http://www.LoveEarthRevolution.org Celia Brown, an African American psychiatric survivor activist, leads the hard-working board of MindFreedom. She said: “We need independent, activist and civil rights groups to challenge mass incarceration, oppressive psychiatric laws and racism that threaten the wellbeing of our people. MindFreedom encourages your voice to liberate mind, body and spirit, create non-violent alternatives and human rights for all. I’m proud to be creatively maladjusted.”
  6. This Grassroots Group Uses Every Donation Effectively! MindFreedom has a very specific and effective goal that can be reached with your donation: A new website. However, MindFreedom has many great ways to use every dollar that is donated to them. Janet Foner, long-time board member and co-founder of MFI, said “Donate to MFI to help us run our campaigns, to help us do another MFI Creative Revolution Conference, and to help us spread the word to new affiliates, etc.” Please help them today. You can support MFI by donating and/or volunteering, especially with the Shield and support calls.
  7. MindFreedom is a Powerful Way to Unite! Even after retiring from MFI’s staff, and now as “just” a member, I find being in touch with MFI is a way to be a part of a great community. One of the biggest challenges for me as an organizer during my time at MindFreedom, is that many of us psychiatric survivors prefer to pursue our own individual paths, like lone wolves. But even lone wolves might benefit now and again by travelling in a pack! I have met so many people who are grateful for MindFreedom putting them in touch with our social change movement. Sue Barnhart, a social worker with more than 30 years experience said, “MindFreedom may be the first organization that people find that offers alternatives to medication, such as education and support.”

To get involved with MindFreedom, see MFI’s website at: http://www.mindfreedom.org

To go directly to the DONATE button on the right side of the home page, click here: http://www.mindfreedom.org/join-donate

To see MFI’s Facebook page, search for MindFreedom International, or go directly here: https://www.facebook.com/MindFreedom-International-33579368821/?fref=ts

Those interested may stay in touch with me: davidwoaks@gmail.com. My blog is at www.davidwoaks.com

Elias Guadarrama Murder Cover-Up By Police; Local Police Involved with Elias Guadaramma’s Death Investigated By the Department of Justice

February 12, 2017

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“Your son has committed suicide,” is a statement no mother of a promising young man expects to hear, but that is what Omega Velez heard at 3 am on the night of January 27th, 2014 about her son, Elias Guadaramma. Neither she nor her family–nor any of 22-year old Elias’ many friends–believed that he had committed suicide. Many believed that he had actually died of a police shot(s) to the head after the documented 30 minute Bradenton police chase through a neighborhood near his home, during which the police had not only shot at him, without shots returned, but during which Elias surrendered on his knees twice. (Hence it is highly unlikely he was armed, as they claimed, and so also would have been unable to commit suicide as they allege.) Their apparent motive for stopping him initially: they had seen a woman get into his truck and suspected a drug deal was occurring. Three years later—after four lawyers and an aborted wrongful death suit—Omega Velez has been able to get only an initial investigation into the death of her son and is hoping that it will become a full DOJ investigation so that justice will be served.

From the beginning, Ms. Velez did not believe her son had committed suicide and immediately had her son’s body transported to a forensic pathologist who determined that Elias Guadaramma had not committed suicide. One bit of the vast evidence that stands out: the gunshot wound that killed him had been to the left side of the head and Elias was right-handed, and Elias had no tell-tale blood or gun residue on his hands. However, one of the officers DID have gun residue on his hands, as evidenced by a police photo taken at the time, proving they had been shooting (despite their false claim that Elias’ had been the only one to do any shooting).

Also, despite the gun allegedly-used supposedly having been found on his chest, the police reported that he shot himself while lying down. Then, it became apparent from the autopsy photos that there were gun-trace marks on both of his arms indicating that his arms had been behind his head when the shot was fired.  Also multiple indications existed that he had been on his knees when he was killed, including blood on the bottom of his shoes and a witness’ report.  However, despite this and other evidence, no thorough investigation by the Bradenton police internal affairs board was ever done, as they said it was an “open and shut case” like they do in all deaths where police claim the death was suicide.

“I am Catholic and so my son and I both believed it is a sin to commit suicide. I cried for a year straight after his death and asked in vain for a thorough investigation by local police oversight board. They told me that they never investigate cases which the police say are suicides.” Ms. Velez lamented. They also told her that they would not give her copies of the police photos, which contained evidence of the police shooting of Elias, until she closed the case. “Police should not be trusted to investigate themselves,” concluded Ms. Velez.

While she began the arduous process—on her own—of assembling much of the evidence, she went to the most reputable lawyers she could find in the area, and used all of her credit savings (from having a housekeeping business) seeking justice. However, in an apparent travesty of justice, despite hiring multiple attorneys to work on opening a complaint against the Bradenton police officers involved and organizing multiple public protests, and a formal complaint lodged against the four officers involved, the officers involved were not charged with any crimes. The officers’ involved with the chase and killing of Elias were Officer Joseph Palmeri (who ordered Elias out of his car), Officer Daniel Kane, Officer Charles Wolfinger, and Sargeant Cary Chapman, all of whom told different versions of Elias’ “suicide”.

One of the many lawyers Ms. Velez consulted during the next two years filed a wrongful death claim, but then quit unexpectedly. Another said that such cases against police officers were too hard to win and that lawyers were afraid to take on such cases. Multiple public protests in conjunction with the concurrent Black Lives Matter protests were organized for her by the ANSWER coalition during this time as well.

Nothing was happening after a year, and Ms.Velez’ mental health began to deteriorate. She would understandably occasionally become angered with the stalemate in justice for her son and lash out in frustration at her family and those who sought to help her. She sometimes stood on public streets holding signs reading “Justice for Elias” by herself. Luckily, a Black Lives Matter supporter took up her cause, and Ms. Velez began to have hope that justice might occur for her son.

Last January, 2016,  two years after the death of her son, she was able to travel with mothers of other local victims of police brutality to Washington, D.C.. There they met with Florida Representative Alan Grayson, where they received some sympathy. A few months later, Ms. Velez filed and re-filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, with the help of her advocate. In August, Ms. Velez finally received word that the case had been assigned to an agent in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, but a back-log of cases would most likely impede any speedy investigation and that Ms. Velez would not even know if any charges would be filed until February of 2017.

According to the advocate: “Whether or not the case will be properly investigated and justice served remains to be seen. Some lawyers here do not believe that the DOJ will do anything at all. We are hopeful that they will, especially since President Obama held a national press conference last summer with law enforcement and civil rights leaders calling for more thorough investigations into the police killings of minority members, whom Obama said are being inordinately and lethally targeted at an epidemic rate by a certain strain of police officers. It’s just a bit discouraging that Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, as he ran on the promise of being the “Law and Order” president.  He seems not to be interested in investigating police brutality and his attorney general pick, Sessions, was disqualified from a federal judgeship a few years ago because of his history of racism.”

“I was really glad when I heard that President Obama wants to see these kinds of cases thoroughly investigated by the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice,” says Ms. Velez. “Police are covering up their murders with the story of suicide. Obviously, police cannot investigate themselves and could easily call their murder of someone a “suicide”, especially with the cooperation of the police autopsy pathologist. So the FBI should be required by law to investigate cases of “suicide” in police custody. What scares me is that I know that these local police killed my son, and that they haven’t been investigated or caught yet—so they could easily strike again. I have talked to too many other local victims of police brutality—it’s like these cops are serial killers on the loose.”

When asked what reforms she believes may stop this kind of police brutality, she says, “ I think one of the demands that Black Lives Matter and the public should make to help curb police brutality is that police should be drug tested and receive mental health evaluations every quarter, and that they are not allowed to investigate themselves when a death has happened to someone in the hands of police. Another thing that we must demand is that police actions be regulariy reviewed for any indication that they have become corrupt or are working with organized crime. I pray for justice for my son every day and that the laws will change so every case of police brutality will be properly investigated.”

Ms. Velez and the Justice for Eli Committee are asking those who care to call the Department of Justice and request that the investigation of Elias Guadaramma’s death be expedited. The number to call is 202-514-3204. Also, call Senator Bill Nelson’s office at 202-224-5274.