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Shell-Shocked Soldiers and PTSD Police

For almost two weeks, I’ve been haunted by the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri. I wrote two abortive posts about the belligerence that oozes in the St. Louis suburb’s streets, only to realize I too feel the indignation of the antagonists and feel belligerence’s slime all over me. But I’ve had an innovative idea since 9 August 2014, and the community around Ferguson has already proved its worth:

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Rebecca McCloud with Sonlight Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis was at the burned-out QuikTrip store Friday.

These people are saving lives:

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Peace Keepers guy helped calm the other guy and prevented a fight. Lots of folks trying to keep the calm #Ferguson

Oddly enough, the Peace Keepers are outside agitators from the other side of the Mississippi River (East Saint Louis); only they agitate to prevent violence. The Peace Keepers or their emulators can be heard in the background screaming “Don’t throw anything!” before encountering Lt. Ray Albers:

Albers’ name is well-known now only because St. Ann Police Chief Aaron Jimenez has become aware of the incident and suspended his subordinate indefinitely. More curious is Albers’ service record:

Albers, 46, a 20-year police veteran who served four years in the Army, is the man caught on video screaming at protesters.

He was a soldier, which is understandable as American police forces prefer to recruit U.S. Army and Marine Corps infantry veterans. Could Albers be suffering from the effects from a certain Middle Eastern war fought in 1991?

Euphemistic Warfare

Two, four or eight syllables?

Regardless if you call it shell shock, battle fatigue, operational exhaustion, or post-traumatic stress disorder, it is also important to remember combat conditions soldiers and marines. Specifically, I would wager veterans of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have an ingrained desire to fire at any strange-acting person that comes close:

Teenagers armed with grenades and suicide vests are the latest recruits for Sunni insurgents trying to find new ways to outwit heightened security measures and attack American and Iraqi forces, the U.S. military said Saturday.

The use of boys also serves a propaganda purpose — the soldiers face criticism for harming children if they fire back.

Insurgents first turned to women to carry out suicide bombings, causing U.S. and Iraqi troops to step up recruiting and training of female searchers at checkpoints to seek explosives easily hidden under women’s billowing black robes.

This developed into a tendency for American soldiers to kill unarmed Iraqis, some of which were quite young…

On May 9, U.S. soldiers killed a 12-year-old boy who the military said was believed to be involved in a grenade attack in the northern city of Mosul. Local residents said he was an innocent civilian. But the military said the boy was found with 10,000 dinars, or about $9, in his hand, which they said suggested he had been paid by insurgents.

…with predictable results—infuriated parents and their neighbors believing the U.S. will kill anything that moves. Question: does the behavior of American police officers, which Police Magazine describes as kindred spirits with military veterans, reflect military tendencies?

Eleven rounds fired into each man, both deceased also shot repeatedly after falling to the ground. I’d have to say both police officers seem to act like they are in combat rather than on a suburban street or in a hallway. Oh, and what about St. Louis?

Here two police officers fire a total of nine rounds into the suicidal man’s body, including two after he collapses at the feet of the passenger-side officer. He even screams “Shoot me!” Don’t get me wrong, I am profoundly disturbed by both the volume of fire and that two of the deceased were suicidal prior to being shot dead, but I also feel compelled to ask: was there any other option than to end these three men’s lives?

Become the Guardians

Maybe, maybe not, but the frequency that police officers kill suicidal individuals indicates there is a serious problem. Americans commit suicide at more than twice the rate that they kill other Americans, and bullet-induced suicides are 50% more prevalent than firearm homicides. Are American police officers in the business of reducing this disparity by shooting and killing suicidal citizens?

I’m wagering no (I hope it is simply lack of proper training—the implications are chilling otherwise). The solution comes from one of American law enforcement’s finest heroes—the Guardian of the Golden Gate:

California Highway Patrol Officer Stops Suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge

More than twice a month, on average, those who’ve lost all hope come to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, climb over the railing and, tragically, plunge 220 feet into the Pacific Ocean to end their pain.

That number would be higher, if not for California Highway Patrol Sgt. Kevin Briggs, nicknamed the “Guardian of the Golden Gate.” Since 1994, through sheer compassion and expert listening skills, Sgt. Briggs has helped convince more than 200 people on the precipice of death not to take their lives (so far, he’s only lost one).

“People who come to jump don’t necessarily want to die,” explains Briggs, 50, who calmly introduces himself just a few feet away to the despondent person, often standing for hours in bone-chilling wind or heavy fog.

Sergeant Briggs stands beside Kevin Berthia, a man that Briggs talked off of the bridge rather than shooting him:

In March 2005, Kevin Berthia, then 22, a former postal worker who’d battled lifelong depression and was overwhelmed as a new father, was about to jump when Briggs, who happened to be passing by, spotted him.

 Sgt. Kevin Briggs Stops Suicides on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge| Heroes Among Us, Good Deeds, Real People Stories, Real Heroes

“I know you must be in tremendous pain,” Briggs told him. “If you want to talk, I’m here to listen.”

It was a life-changing moment for Berthia.

“Sgt. Briggs got me to open up about stuff I’d never dealt with before, like not knowing my real parents,” says Berthia, an adoptee, who now takes medication for depression. “He made me realize we’re all here for a purpose, and life is about finding just what that purpose is. I owe every bit of my second chance to him.”

Suicide prevention training should be mandatory for every police officer in America (maybe the world). Before entering a police academy, a recruit should be mandated to undergo intensive training on suicide prevention techniques and be required to answer calls to a suicide hotline for two weeks. Make it a quota: all police officers would be sent through initial or recurrent suicide prevention training annually and be required to answer a minimum of 10 calls per month.

Police officers in the United States are long on belligerence and short on empathy. In Fort Bend and St. Louis putting the pistols and tasers away and instead talking would have been the far better play. Yes, the call would take quite a long time, but it would count toward every present police officer’s suicide prevention quota—scores of cops would show up just to plug their numbers. A system like this would have an immense side benefit—it would form the foundation of community policing, as listening and empathy skills would be valued above all with a corresponding drop in aggression and belligerence. What’s not to like about suicide-prevention-centered policing?

Well, there would be the psychological baggage put on police officers. Except this would be a transfer from belligerence baggage to empathy baggage. Sorry, it’s unavoidable. Make psychologists available to police that want help (military vets probably could use the service anyway, especially if they have leftover shell shock). Of course, some police officers might not be able to hack a far less violent form of policing. To this, I would have to respond: what good is a cop if he or she cannot defuse conflict without violence?

The Guardian of the Golden Gate is retiring to focus on suicide prevention this year—let Briggs set a law enforcement suicide prevention program up and deploy it nationally–immediately. You can thank me later (yeah right, no one will ever read this post).

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2 thoughts on “Shell-Shocked Soldiers and PTSD Police

  1. I found your blog quite by accident, I love it, this piece that you wrote, is very compelling, far more people need to read this.

  2. Pingback: Once Again, It’s Too Late | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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