Wayne Action for Racial Equality

Our Children, Our Responsibility

The recent handcuffing and pepper spraying of a nine-year-old in Rochester is horrific. It will, undoubtably, make her future more challenging and do nothing to advance her well-being. We cry out in compassion and empathy for this young victim of our societal shortcomings. Her misfortune belongs to all of us. The unfortunate reality is that we haven’t just failed her. We have failed and will continue to fail young people in distress until we recognize the problem in its entirety. We must invest the full force of our nation’s medical and scientific research and development capacity to support childhood mental health.

Increasingly, we are recognizing the terrible results of expecting the police to respond to our neighbors in mental health crisis, but we are only slowly building alternative systems for rapid response. The governor’s Police Reform and Reinvention has resulted in many community’s exploring alternative responses. We hope this results in a shift to more mental health crisis intervention team investment. However, the challenge is much deeper than crisis response. The problem demands a comprehensive review of mental health recognition and treatment in American society. We all need to be involved. First steps for lay people are training programs like Mental Health First Aid with its programs to learn more about how to recognize when youths, adults and seniors are struggling to maintain their mental health and how best to support them. We must eliminate mental health stigma so that we all seek intervention just as we would any medical need as soon as it surfaces. We must join together to acknowledge that our jails fill, our streets become homes, and our schools struggle because we have not directed adequate resources to ameliorate the crisis.

It is time to respond to the health emergency as a pandemic. It is a systemic problem and must be addressed with increased public and private sector attention to study, develop and deliver improvements to the mental health sector of our health system. Such an approach begins by admitting America has a problem. Other countries may have something to teach us. Mental health crises and our methods of intervention, widespread homelessness, over-incarceration, school failure, increased youth suicides and rates of depression may be linked.

The cuffing and pepper spraying of our youth is a stark reminder of a much deeper crisis. We can choose to treat it only as a police response problem or we can see it as a symptom of deep problem in our health system that impacts all corners of our society. We must seriously tackle the challenge if we are to interrupt the far too frequent disastrous results for our children. Make no mistake, these are our children and we must all take responsibility.