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Kam Brock: Focus on racism disguises incompetence

March 26, 2015

The latest case in American absurdity to fascinate a worldwide audience is that business with the young professional, Kam Brock, a black woman who was held in a mental hospital for strange and contrived-sounding reasons. Of course, the more leftist media went towards: “Blatant racism! Death! Punishment to all police officers!” which is the expected reaction in the current climate.

I’m sure there’s a small gathering of people out there convinced that it is all an extensive conspiracy to punish black people / women for being successful While the world is just crazy enough that I won’t rule it out entirely, I think it more likely that a number of other interwoven, less extreme problems are to blame, as is usually the case when something utterly bizarre and obviously unjust happens in supposedly free societies. To start with, the core of the problem may not even be racism.

While there is no doubt that the American police have a race problem – there are only so many times one group of people can kill another group of people without someone noticing a pattern – it is a mistake to interpret every social problem in America as being primarily racial. It was the case also during the shootings of young black men by law enforcers; while talks around the race issue was ubiquitous, many American commentators went three sides around a square to avoid talking about gun control and America’s troubled relationship with authority and perceived heroism.

It stands to reason that when someone is killed, there ought to be a lengthily inquest. Inquests over a British man killed by a British law enforcer (a specialist, moreover) are still going on after a period of several years, largely because it is so rare. In America, police officers have guns, they have to stop crime, guns kill, criminals commit crimes, so criminals get shot, so criminals get killed. It follows its own logic, quite divorced from morality.

Whether regular police officers are qualified to carry weapons of any kind is long overdue a real debate, but the country seems instead to have reached the peculiar conclusion that it’s OK to kill people in cold blood for possibly having committed some piddling crime, as long as one hasn’t done it racistly. Indeed, I found it endlessly amusing that some dope on Fox News a while back thought that Birmingham, England was likely to have its own independent police state, since the way the police behave in America is far more authoritarian and threatening than any force in Britain.

In the case of the woman in the psychiatric unit, the more interesting point to my eyes is how the hospital dealt with it. Apparently, the objective of their treatment was: “Patient will verbalize to the importance of education for employment, and will state that Obama is not following her on Twitter.”

Passing over the odd tone of the report, as if there a federal law against claiming the President is following you on Twitter, deciding that someone’s view of their own Twitter account is indicative of their psychiatric stability is quite a stretch. We might have to consider that even in the Information Age, the content of your Twitter and your thoughts about it are generally trivial.

For a country obsessed with freedom of speech, the whole farce is decidedly weird. Presumably, Brock had at some point expressed the view that one does not have to be educated in order to succeed in the business world, or something of that nature. It’s a view I’m plenty familiar with; it is the view of Lord Sugar and similar entrepreneurs who speak from their own experience. In what universe is it the business of hospitals to try and discourage it?

This is the behaviour of a Big Brother state. It is ironic that the country that hates socialism for its connection with communism has displayed, within the same event, two characteristics of a communist state – authoritarian law enforcement and the policing of thought – two characteristics that are not as evident in more socialist Western European countries. You can just imagine it: “The subject believes that the school system is inessential. The subject must be disciplined.”

As for the latter half of the “objective”, surely thinking that Obama is following you on Twitter is no cause for incarceration in a mental institution. I frequently hear similar things in a London pub on a Saturday night. I think this could easily (and more logically) be interpreted as boast, a joke or a mistake, if the speaker is particularly naïve. Even if it’s a genuine delusion, it is one that hardly poses a threat to society. By the sounds of the heavy handed way in which Brock was treated, an overuse of force was employed to restrain a person who, if media reports are to be trusted, displayed no characteristics of insanity.

I am more concerned by the behaviour of the medical professionals than the police, here. On the one hand, either they are quite as racist as the police (who picked her out initially because they suspected she was holding weed, for which no proof was found), or they are just generally unprofessional. It seems to me there is another potential can of worms to open, namely; how many people are taken into mental hospitals each year under similar circumstances?

Focussing on the race issue may obfuscate the possibility that this is happening to many people in many places, for other equally invalid reasons. The police are no experts in mental illness, but those working in mental hospitals certainly should be. The idea that someone can be drugged, stripped, questioned and held against their will for anything so small, should be deeply worrisome to everyone, regardless of the colour of their skin.

It is too easy to say: “We’ll beat racism, and then all these other problems will go away.” They will not. Unfortunately, racism won’t ever be beaten because racism and other prejudices are individual before they are systemic. There are currently deep-seated issues with systems and the way those in power treat citizens. If incidences of malpractice are not racially motivated, some other equally prejudiced motivation will rear its head.

Better by far to examine the systems, their operations and their regulation. We cannot protect against prejudice of individuals working within systems, but we can make sure the systems themselves are designed in such a way as to keep these individuals in check. To do that, we must make sure that systems are uniform and regulated, i.e., that hospital diagnosis of mental illness fits recognised categories, not merely: “The subject believes something unacceptable (In The Eyes of the Overseer). Seize her!”


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