Like the citizens of our community, I was devastated by the senseless shootings at the Emanuel AME Church. We are all left wondering why this happens. We have heard the media’s explanation that it was racism and lack of gun control, and no doubt those were factors, but there is another reason for this violence.
It’s the same reason for the violence in the Colorado theater shooting, the Sandy Hook school shootings and unfortunately many others.
The real problem is severe mental illness and our failure to properly treat these individuals.
Why the failure?
Ask any mental health worker and you will get the same answer. In the ’70s we closed most mental hospitals and sent those patients to be treated at local mental health facilities.
The problem was, and still is, that in some cases there were no local facilities, and those that did exist were not capable of handling the influx of patients, particularly those patients with severe mental disorders.
A friend of mine from New England, and a mental health worker, tells me about having to drive those patients, from a hospital that was closing, home to their families who were not even aware that they were being discharged.
The effect of this poor policy decision was to make mental illness a civil right. They were free to stay mentally ill as long as they didn’t bother anyone, and should they cause a problem then they are turned over to law enforcement and the legal system. That is why our jails are full of these individuals and our street corners are as well.
So who can fix this problem? That answer is clear, it’s the state Legislature. Let’s pray that our state Legislature in Columbia won’t act like the Connecticut lawmakers who failed to pass legislation to correct their similar problem after the Sandy Hook shootings.
Fix the law. There is no civil right to be insane; there is a human right to sanity and mental health.
Rev. Msgr. Edward D. Lofton
St. Theresa Catholic Church