Tragic death of Mario Clark

The tragic death of 31-year-old schizophrenic Mario Clark after being subdued by Jackson police highlights the desperate need for training police on handling the mentally ill. Last week, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba fired three police involved in the incident for violation of “general orders.” The names of the police were not revealed nor any other details of the incident.

Clark's mother, Shelia Ragland, told the Clarion Ledger  that more needs to be done. "I am glad they're fired but I'm not satisfied until they're locked up," Ragland said. "That was my child and I loved him and he loved me. And he knows his mama isn't going to stop fighting for him." Ragland called 911 for help when her son, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, started having a psychotic episode on February 14.

Ironically just a month earlier, nine local law enforcement officers completed a course in Crisis Intervention Training, an intensive program in which officers learn from professionals about mental-health disorders and de-escalation techniques to use when confronting a person having a mental-health crisis. With calmer and more patient techniques, a psychotic person can often be taken to a participating hospital and be treated. St. Dominic’s Hospital has excellent mental health facilities and is participating in this program with police. The worst place for a psychotic person is jail.

Obviously this didn’t happen in the case of Mario Clark.

Serious mental illness afflicts one in 10 people at some point in their lives. It is a component in a large number of police incidents. Indeed, estimates are that a third of the prison population suffers from some form of mental illness. Without the proper training, officers can misinterpret a psychotic episode as willful insubordination and apply inappropriate force, often resulting in death. Mental health training for police is one of the key initiatives of the National Alliance for Mental Health, which has an office in Jackson on Lakeland Drive. The Jackson Police Department, and all other law enforcement agencies, should view the tragic death of Mario Clark as a wake up call to move rapidly and comprehensively to train police on how to non-violently de-escalate psychotic episodes. Such training would save many innocent lives.



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