“This Woman Went to Jail After Walking Dog Without Leash”
“He who acts as his own lawyer, represents a fool.” It’s an adage as old as the Pyramids: never be your own lawyer. Our Founders agreed, and they were mainly lawyers. James Madison enshrined the right to legal representation in the US Bill of Rights as the Sixth Amendment to our Constitution. But, I’m finding that is not necessarily the case across the US. And — surprise — it’s mainly the poor who suffer as a result.
The body-cam video above shows a 34 yr old woman with mental health issues, being restrained in a chair, tied, hooded, and repeatedly tased by police officers for having her service dog off leash.
When I first saw this video, I saw myself being tased in that chair. One look at me is enough to confirm that I’m poor. I try my best, but home haircuts, cheap tees, and the worn out knees in my thrift store jeans tell the tale. I am also disabled due to mental health issues.
I have learned to fear nothing more than the human race. After living with abuse, experiences of sexual violence, and more than twenty years of sustained loss, my personal safety causes me constant anxiety. And then came Covid.
What do you do when you can’t go out in public but need some form of recreation and chill? Me? I fish. I’m not concerned about “catching.” It’s called “fishing,” and by sticking a pole in the water you can sit in nature, enjoy the the day, still social distance, and feel good. In fact, my governor made a point of leaving fishing and hunting among our allowed activities during our lockdown.
But, as it seems with every single thing or place I enjoy, there’s always that person. You know the one. Maybe it’s the person at the grocery store who raves about masking while you wait to check out. Maybe it’s the jerk who throws something during your peaceful protest. One thing that person is, often as not, is an officer of the law.
Quick rewind: I left therapy late last year after a traumatic experience at my mental health clinic. I determined to take a short break and find a new therapist after the winter. Like in March. Ha. Ha. Recently, however, my benefits were expanded to include tele-medicine, including psych and therapy.
So, I was already destabilized when Covid hit the Northeast. My friends’ suggestion: socially distanced fishing! One member of my four person party brought 4 cans of Sierra Nevada. One for each member. He was caught by a Park Ranger, and issued a ticket for consumption on county property. His fine, an educational $398. And the officer made off with the unopened beer.
Taking responsibility for bringing the beers, the beer-bringer paid his fine. Then, three weeks later, I recieved my citation certified mail. This wasn’t my first encounter with a shake down artist in that park either. The previous year a woman claimed my dog bit her son, and asked for cash to take him to urgent care. She didn’t want to call the cops or make a report. So I left.
Needless to say, I will NEVER return to that park. I began having panic attacks just thinking of leaving the house for anywhere or anything. I felt marked and terrified. I have CPTSD. That’s how the traumatized brain works. But, as the anti-shutdown protests began to include assault weapons, and scary stories and videos of anti-maskers circulated, I grew more terrified.
I feel robbed. I was robbed of any sense of security in that park. Eventually, I went to a privately owned pond by permission. And then again to a spot belonging to family.
But the saga of the ticket is ongoing. I have no transportation due to my disability. Eventually I was able to arrange to plead not guilty, without paying a bond, and have a Zoom trial (per the ADA). But I can’t find legal representation.
And that’s what’s tearing me apart now. I have no income. It is possible that I may face contempt of court and imprisonment if the judge finds me guilty. That would mean I’d lose every benefit I do have, including the insurance that pays for my medication that keeps me stable and Zoom therapy, which I recently began.
I’ve appeared before municipal courts before, and I had a public defender. Easy peasy. No problem. Ticket tossed. I’ve appeared in Camden County New Jersey’s traffic court to challenge tickets. I was represented by a public defender. Mind you, Camden, NJ has a high poverty rate, and used to be the leader in murders in US cities. I got off without a point on my license. But I can’t get anything here in my semi-rural area.
Catch-22 true: I can get a lawyer if I do end up in jail for my inability to pay a fine. But, as we all confront Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, and economic devastation, Americans are all suffering. And it’s all about the $$$.
Mental health issues, including substance abuse, have spiked from the beginning of the year. Leading to even more deaths of despair in a nation that lost an entire year of life-expectancy to mental health/addiction before Covid touched our shores.
And, of course, there’s the police. Whatever your opinion of the protests, let’s be real. Most folks don’t like cops or law enforcement.
My greatest fear is that I will end up like the woman in this video. Because folks with mental illness BEHAVE like they have a mental illness. If you push the right buttons, anyone can “go crazy.” But if you start at “crazy,” it’s a short step, not a drive, to out of control.
I appreciate that the Americans with Disabilities Act compels all government agencies to make accommodations for the disabled. In my case, it’s a Zoom trial. And I appreciate the kindness of the officer who came to check on me when I was reaching crisis levels.
I’m still clinging on by my finger tips, but without legal representation, and in light of all that is convulsing this nation at this moment, I guess I’m OK. I have shelter, and SNAP, unless a criminal charge or prison stay ends that. But I have been living in a state of quasi-crisis for months.
I want this over. I want a lawyer. I want to not feel afraid for my person everywhere I go. I want the world to see in the woman in that video the truth about the treatment of the mentally ill in America. I don’t want for one instant to co-opt the significance of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor’s, or the countless other black Americans’ lives lost.
But in a nation where the President doesn’t have to respond to a Congressional subpoena. Where the wealthy throw money at problems, and blame poverty on the poor. Who see our suffering as our just punishment. I’ll simply quote a statement made in complete sincerity to me today by an attorney, “All individuals are treated equally under the US legal system.” I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. And I don’t believe the American people are either. We all know the score. The legal system is rigged, and not for We the People.
– JL ✌🏼💚🖖🏼
While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.
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September 1st, 2020 at 4:34 pm
Well written and to the point. Most agencies now have their funding tied to “outcome based” programs. They only want to deal with instant success stories which are few and far between when it comes to mental health diagnosis. Where do you turn to for help when there is no help to be had. It is the same old story of the stigma of mental health issues. No one wants to deal with the diverse issues that some people have to deal with so they go with the pull yourself up by your bootstrings advise and if that doesn’t work, then hang yourself with them.
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September 1st, 2020 at 4:48 pm
Wow. You should write the next piece condemning the current system. I could add you as a featured contributor. You certainly have the knowledge and experience. And, above all else, you were, even with Special Offenders, a social worker. We need them more now than ever. And there are so few.