George Floyd, race, and psychiatry: How to talk to patients


I’m going to tell you, I like this statement. I do like this. Obviously these are broad points, but I do like the idea of training law enforcement officers about “civic mental health.” For example, Dr. Michael Compton, who has done a lot of great work in the area of mental health and prevention, has worked with police officers to help them interact with those with mental health conditions by modulating their own emotional response. I’m very interested in these types of recommendations that particularly target law enforcement officers, and helping with that ”emotional quotient.” I’m interested in seeing how far that can spread in the country. What do you think, Dr. Newsome?

Dr. Newsome: Educating police officers about how to interact would be quite important. I believe the National Alliance on Mental Illness does some of that work, partnering with law enforcement agencies, talking about mental health and cues to look at. There also are some programs where people ride along with mental health clinicians and police officers, which I find to be really helpful. But clearly, what’s going on right now isn’t working. So I would be open to any reasonable idea.

Dr. Norris: Here’s one last action point: “Establish police community review boards with power to take action in areas of police misconduct pending formal review by the appropriate authorities. This will offer a level of empowerment when communities feel they have a voice that can be heard.”

This is where I want my focus to be, as I move forward to try to do something sustainable. To deal with police brutality and abuse of power in general, but specifically as it relates to African American men and the lethal use of force. We need to work on policies that will enable African American men to make it to court, so that every encounter with a police officer is not literally viewed as a potentially lethal encounter.

A lot of people aren’t going to like me saying that, but it’s the absolute truth. You have to think like that, as an African American male, regardless of your station, regardless of where you live, this is the reality. There are many, many good police officers out there. I have a few friends who are law enforcement officers. I work with security at the George Washington Hospital constantly. But that still does not change the fact that if I get pulled over at a traffic stop, I know precisely certain things I need to do and not do, or the encounter could end badly. By that I mean loss of life.

So I encourage anything where we can start to take a systematic look at law enforcement and empower communities to look at who is doing it right and who is doing it wrong. Information is coming out now about the man who murdered Mr. Floyd, and this was not the first time he was involved in misconduct. There were red flags; we have to start to confront this. We have to learn from every single one of these situations and grow because another one is going to happen next week, it’s just whether or not you hear about it. That’s the reality of the state of America. You may not like to hear it, but that’s just a fact.

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