Are We Becoming An Uncivil Society?

January 14, 2011

We are not an uncivilized society as evidenced by multiple acts of heroism during the shooting. We have become a non-judgmental society as evidenced by multiple signs of mental derangement that went unaddressed by the people and institutions that encountered Jared Lee Loughner.


Cloaked with the aura of enlightenment in the 1960s, lawyers successfully brought suit after suit to release the mentally ill from institutions and to raise the barrier for future admissions. In the main, those released and those who should have been admitted became the homeless. Some who should have been institutionalized became dangerous. Worse, the national psyche became "live and let live."


Unlike most states, Arizona has a process whereby any person can petition for a psychiatric evaluation based on a person's appearance of mental illness. "Anyone concerned about his behavior could have called at any time," said Neal Cash, president of the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona. But no one did. Not Pima Community College, which was well aware of Loughner's bizarre behavior because it resulted in his expulsion but not in a referral to the legal system. Not his parents, who could not possibly have missed his backyard altar to a skull or his drugs. Not any of his classmates, one so concerned she sat by the door to escape in case he arrived packing a gun.


Rather than blaming society or political rhetoric for Loughner, state legislatures need to formulate a fair process for evaluating and admitting the mentally ill who are dangerous. And society needs to adopt the mantra of those fighting terrorism: "If you see something, say something."

— Victoria Toensing is a partner in the Washington law firm diGenova and Toensing, and a board member of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.





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