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As reported in Th0rn's diary, a science-fiction author was suspended from his teaching job and involuntarily committed for the "thought crime" of writing about a school-shooting 888 years in the future.

I work on psychiatric disability and police violence issues and have some broader thoughts on the future of involuntary commitment and the complexities and threats it poses.

I wrote about it in my daily blog post over at my site, but thought I'd share it here as well after the jump.

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I am a columnist, blogger, long-time member of this site, and history professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This is a modified version of today's post.

To read more, you could 'like' my public Facebook page.

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Today's stories about compliance take a different spin. Thankfully, no one is being shot or tasered by the police in these. Instead, two men have been involuntarily committed for what they might do in the future.

One is an English professor. His case has not made the news but he was involuntarily committed and tweeted about it. I understand there has been some misinformation and definitely misinformed speculation (I was responsible for some of it). It's put the issues of involuntary commitment front and center, especially given the next case.

The other wrote science fiction set centuries in the future. He worked at a school. His story was set at a future school, beset by violence. And then he was taken for a mandatory emergency psych eval, his home and school were searched for weapons and drugs, and as far as I know he remains un-free. More details below.

When police justify violence, they often speak as follows: I told the person to comply, they didn't comply, so I felt there was an imminent danger to me, I felt at risk or threatened, so I had no choice but to shoot/taser/beat the individual. I'm sure I have hundreds of those justifications in my file by now.

In my work on the cult of compliance (click here for the overview), though, I am arguing that such incidents reflect a broader cultural veneration of compliance, a decreasing tolerance for risk, and the rise of authoritarian strains more generally in our society. As people with disabilities often behave in unpredictable ways, a compliance-driven society will tolerate such unpredictability less and less, which is my point of entry into the broader issue.

Involuntary commitment is predicated on incarcerating someone for actions that they have not taken yet. It's based on predicting imminent danger. As such, it's subjective (though there are medical requirements), it's been historically subject to immense abuse, and it's one of the topics on which my research is going to focus over the next few months.

Involuntary commitment is an important tool for law enforcement and mental health treatment. The problem is that it has frequently been abused as a way of enforcing social norms or even for eugenic purposes. Deviancy often gets classified as a mental illness, mental illness gets classified as a danger to society, a danger to society requires incarceration, and into institutions the deviant is forced.

Here's an excellent overview of the history of involuntary commitment. People familiar with Queer history are very much aware of the dangers here, because homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder subject to psychiatric treatment and commitment and such things as shock therapy (i.e. torture to remove homosexuality). Here's an upbeat piece on "danger" redefined, saying things are pretty good now (and they are much better). Here's a consumer factsheet on your involuntary commitment rights from HHS (that word consumer baffled me).

Alicia Curtis, the author of the overview, notes some of the complexities of the situation. She writes:

Dr. Paul Chodoff, who has written several articles on the topic, points out that the focus of the involuntary commitment law on "imminent harm" as the main criterion for commitment, leads psychiatrists to feel frustrated that their work is aimed more at serving the police state in keeping dangerous people off the streets than in carrying out the aims of psychiatry. He argues that the involuntary commitment law should be broadened to allow commitment of those with a mental illness who need hospitalization due to the severe state of their illness, whether they are dangerous or not.
Chodoff is right to some extent. For a long time, people with psychiatric disabilities (for illness vs disability, see here. When I use "illness" I am intentionally mimicking common use, not endorsing it) were routinely committed. Then we as a society moved away from that model, leading in some cases to better inclusion in communities. In too many cases, though, it's led to homelessness and the rise of prisons as the de-facto institution for the mentally ill.

Moreover, every time there is a mass shooting in which "mental illness" is involved, politicians and law enforcement call for looser involuntary commitment laws (see Sandy Hook). In fact, right after that event, a teacher was committed for buying a gun and claiming that the government was behind the massacre. Maybe he was a danger; I don't know. He denies it. And I don't agree with his conspiracy theory, of course. Still, I see involuntary commitment function, in many cases, as a tool of social control. And that worries me.

So these are the debates. What is the best way to manage situations when we perceive a risk of harm to self or other by someone who cannot, by themselves, seek help? How can we avoid the abuses of the past?

Here's the recent story.

Patrick McLaw writes science fiction. He teaches, well, taught, language arts at a school in Cambridge, MD. One book, The Insurrectionist, tells the story a huge school shooting in the 29th century (i.e. 900 years from now). McLaw is black. He is 23. He writes under an alias.

As near as I can tell, based on reports, he was suspended from his job, banned from school property, and involuntarily committed. Law enforcement swept the school and his home, finding no weapons or explosives. And then there's this:

With school starting Tuesday, some parents tell WBOC they are concerned about safety, but both Wagner and Phillips said there is nothing to worry about.
"There will be a Cambridge Police Department presence at Mace's Lane middle school for as long as we deem it necessary," Wagner said.
"I think that the various police agencies that we have, working in conjunction with the board have a handle on the situation and I think we're going to have a safe and happy opening day of school tomorrow," Phillips said in an interview Monday with WBOC.
As well as the DailyKOS diary linked to up top, there's been reaction from places like  Reason and The Atlantic. There's been lots of links made to Soviet practice of incarcerating dissident artists, but I think that's not what's going on here.

Rather, this is about a demand for thought-compliance. To think about a school massacre is to create the possibility that one might do it. Any evidence of violence must be met with overwhelming response - loss of freedom, loss of job, public exposure.

And then the kids can have a "safe and happy opening day of school" in our zero tolerance, and highly compliant, world.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I guess it was only a matter of time, (9+ / 0-)

    no pun intended, before "Future Crimes" would be a real thing. We are living in a fledgling police state and it needs to be disarmed and strangled before it becomes permanent.

    “Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.” :: Buddha's Wisdom-The Dhammapada ::

    by Sam Sara on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 07:31:30 AM PDT

    •  Future crime has been a real thing since (3+ / 0-)

      the beginnings of censorship, at least. Police states are well-documented in history going back to Sparta and to the Qin dynasty in China. We actually have less of it in the US than we used to.

      The big deal today is not that abuses still happen, but that they make some parts of the national news, and spark national protests and effective court cases that can in time end many of them.

      Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBusters™

      by Mokurai on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 09:01:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Now I would think a "consumer" of abuse would (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FloridaSNMOM, anon004

    be more widely be known as a "john".

    “Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.” :: Buddha's Wisdom-The Dhammapada ::

    by Sam Sara on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 07:36:15 AM PDT

  •  given where our nation has gone since 9/11 (9+ / 0-)

    and it is a very dark place, everyone appears to be at some risk of running afoul of Official Presence at some point in his life.  The outcome of that encounter seems to rely heavily upon one's social class and race.  I note the following stories which caught my eye after reading of McLaw's woes (and his apparent disappearance) and the lack of explanation, such as who outed him for a 3 year old novel?

    At any rate, as companion pieces, I offer the following:
    http://www.rawstory.com/...  Not only does the police appear to criminalize a miscarriage but then we have another random guy chiming in:  
    "Alan Elliott of Baby Moses Dallas explained to KDFW that the mother could have avoided any criminal charges if she had taken advantage of Baby Moses laws by carrying the child to term, and then dropping it off at a safe baby site like a fire station."  What part of miscarriage does he not understand or does he think women can simply end a pregnancy by thinking it away?

    At any rate, then we have this where a father is questioned by a random "official" for taking family pics of his daughters:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/...
    Most depressing to me were the comments on the article defending that anonymous official.  It shows how we are becoming a nation of the obedient.

    Then finally, we have the case of the guy who was raped by his Baptist teacher in a boarding school so as to make the guy "lose his gayness".  The teacher defended it as "anti-gay therapy" and evidently remains a big wig in the hierarchy to this day:
    http://www.rawstory.com/...

    Schools may be a canary in the coalmine where rights are already truncated by society and frequently violated by misunderstanding administration and officials.    

    •  I'm in the Dallas area (0+ / 0-)

      They are hedging their bets with the term fetus. They don't know if it was a miscarriage,  a self induced abortion, or a live birth with the infant abandoned to die. All coverage suggests they are leaning to the latter, but don't want to say so without proof.

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 10:02:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  "What part of miscarriage does (0+ / 0-)

      he not understand or does he think women can simply end a pregnancy by thinking it away?"

      I didn't read the story, but I'm guessing she wasn't pregnant as the result of a rape, so her body wouldn't "shut that whole thing down."   The Todd Akin School of Human Reproduction.

      •  at first they were not even sure if it were a (0+ / 0-)

        fetus.  It appears the people who discovered it at first thought it might be some sort of hoax or maybe afterbirth and it was after police were called that reports began characterizing it as a fetus.

        •  No, you don't do this over "afterbirth" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OldDragon

          You do this when you have reason to believe a live baby was delivered, and subsequently died.

          Dallas ISD is deeply saddened by the situation that occurred today at Woodrow Wilson High School. This afternoon, responding medical authorities determined that a human fetus had been found in a girls restroom at the school. The Dallas Police Department, assisted by Dallas ISD Police, is handling the investigation.
          Dallas ISD immediately dispatched staff from the district’s Psychological Services Department to the school to provide professional support for students and staff members. Additional counseling support will continue to be available next week. The district encourages any member of the Woodrow Wilson community to utilize these services.
          http://www.nbcdfw.com/...

          “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

          by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 11:43:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  When I was a prosecutor in rural New Mexico (8+ / 0-)

    involuntary commitment was part of my bailiwick.  I had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a person was a danger to himself or others.  I believe in 18 months, I prosecuted two involuntary commitments.  We would never have committed someone for publishing a novel; the evidence we relied on was more often severe self-harm.

    The Stars and Bars and the red swastika banner are both offerings to the same barbaric god.

    by amyzex on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 08:26:07 AM PDT

  •  While I suspect his race is a big factor (5+ / 0-)

    I wonder if his subject matter was a revolutionary slaughtering "jack-booted Federal thugs" if there would even be a murmur of worry about his fiction.

    On the face of this it looks like a serious breach of civil liberties.  If this is all there is to the story I hope this man gets the chance to sue the school district and Sheriff into oblivion.

  •  Does all this mean (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anon004, OldDragon

    people at the Pentagon who are meticulously planning possible future military actions against other countries can now be involuntarily committed for facilitating potential war crimes?

    ;p or :(, you decide.

    "[T]he preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country." - John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law. (1765)

    by AnacharsisClootz on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 09:38:54 AM PDT

  •  This is a very important discussion to have (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LinSea, FloridaSNMOM, coyote66

    Collectively, we seem to want to have it both ways. Not only when a shooting happens at the hands of someone mentally disturbed, but often when there are issues of someone homeless or suffering needs because they aren't mentally capable of caring for themselves, there are numerous demands here for the system to get them the help they need. But nobody quite wants to delve into what that means, if the person in need of help does not want to accept that help. At what point, and in what circumstances, do we coerce someone to accept help - up to and including medicating them? And I have found in many discussions here that there is limited understanding of just how difficult it can be to involuntarily commit someone, especially for any duration beyond a few days for evaluation.

    On the McLaw case, I would note that the early coverage has not in fact made it clear in what order things happened.  As the facts are presented I believe it is possible that he had some sort of mental breakdown, and it could have been that the information about the books emerged in the process of addressing the mental break, not the other way around. HIPAA is certainly going to limit what more information we might expect, but I'm pretty sure there will be more info once the local authorities begin to deal with the national attention the situation has gotten.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 09:54:01 AM PDT

    •  Indeed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe
      But nobody quite wants to delve into what that means, if the person in need of help does not want to accept that help. At what point, and in what circumstances, do we coerce someone to accept help - up to and including medicating them?
      We don't want to go back to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", but we also know it isn't right that so many who need help are living out on the streets or in jails. Where's the fine line were we respect someone's right to live their life as they see fit and society's need to remove persons who are a danger to themselves and/or others?

      On the McLaw case: on it's face, it's a very scary tale. But given the utter lack of information (given some speculation on his mental state rightly so, right to privacy) it's hard to know if this is an overreach or simply acting before the situation turns ugly. If it's the latter, then the color of his skin had nothing to do with the reaction of both the police and the public. If the latter; well, obviously the color of his skin made him even scarier. NVM that all the school massacres I've heard about involve young white males. Which I admit is likely only a fraction of those that have actually occurred.

      The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair. Douglas Adams

      by coyote66 on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 10:40:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  More info just out (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shadowmage36

        “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

        by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 10:58:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Catte Nappe, Cassandra Waites

          So it seems there was a letter sent that caused concern. If that's the case, then this seems a lot less nefarious than it did at first. If they'd made that known sooner it would have likely kept this from going as nuts as it did. I'm still going to be following this for awhile, because clearly there's still a lot we don't know.

          Carry the battle to them. Don't let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don't ever apologize for anything. -Harry S. Truman / -8.00, -6.77

          by Shadowmage36 on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 11:43:00 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not just the letter (0+ / 0-)
            McLaw's letter was of primary concern to healthcare officials, Maciarello says. It, combined with complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime from various jurisdictions led to his suspension.
            As to not saying more sooner, HIPAA puts constraints on what can be said about health issues, and this story started boiling up over a long holiday week-end when the people in a position to decide to say more (and their lawyers) were probably not available.

            “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

            by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 11:59:37 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm pretty sure allegations (0+ / 0-)

              of harassment and potential criminal charges for offenses outside of a clinical setting are NOT covered by HIPAA.

              •  Conjunction - and (0+ / 0-)

                HIPAA puts constraints on what can be said about health issues
                AND
                this story started boiling up over a long holiday week-end

                Are people really bitching because some small town with a handful of schools an law enforcement officers doesn't have a slick and responsive media machine to meet all our demands for transparency 24/7?

                “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

                by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 01:08:40 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  If there are legitimate mental health issues (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    That would justify an emergency psych evaluation, are the police and school allowed to describe the reasons?  Should they be allowed to?  To what degree of detail?

  •  Breaking updates on McLaw (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shadowmage36, Cassandra Waites

    I new they'd start providing more info in response to the uproar over it

    "It didn't start with the books and it didn't end with the books," State's Attorney for Wicomico County Matt Maciarello told The Times. "It's not even a factor in what law enforcement is doing now."
    Concerns about McLaw were raised after he sent a four-page letter to officials in Dorchester County. Those concerns brought together authorities from multiple jurisdictions, including health authorities.

    McLaw's attorney, David Moore, tells The Times that his client was taken in for a mental health evaluation. "He is receiving treatment," Moore said.

    McLaw's letter was of primary concern to healthcare officials, Maciarello says. It, combined with complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime from various jurisdictions led to his suspension. Maciarello cautions that these allegations are still being investigated; authorities, he says, "proceeded with great restraint."
    http://www.latimes.com/...

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 10:56:43 AM PDT

  •  But on the other hand (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe

    when my son, who is an Iraq vet (twice) with PTSD was suicidal and was found in the basement with a gun to his head, we couldn't get any kind of involuntary commitment….no way, nohow. This is bullshit.

    Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

    by Jilly W on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 11:20:48 AM PDT

    •  We don't know for sure if it was involuntary (0+ / 0-)

      His family, or his lawyer, may have talked him into voluntarily seeking treatment. Involuntary commitment is very, very difficult to get done. I am so sorry you, your son, and your family have had to deal with that. Oddly enough, shortly after this diary went up someone else also posted on the issue of mental health commitments and the legal and moral issues in general. If you haven't seen it you might be interested in checking it out.
      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Tue Sep 02, 2014 at 12:07:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh Oh, we Irish are in trouble then, because (0+ / 0-)

    we are genetically predisposed to ...

    NON-COMPLIANCE

    So trouble will ensue. Oh wait, did I say that out loud, oh no!

    What the pigs and politicians don't seem to get is, inside every American is an officer GOFUCKYOURSELF trying to get out. ;)

    Excellent discussion, I find the whole matter extremely disturbing and want to know WHERE is the ACLU, DoJ, and a lawyer with a warrant for Hapeas.

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