Black Children and Mental Illness: An under-examined Hell Within a Hell

The ravages of mental illness continue to flood every corner of society. Coverage of this atrocity has improved in quantity and sophistication in the last quarter-century–but to what end? Policy-makers, law enforcement and public opinion remain largely indifferent to meaningful education and reform. Mis-diagnoses, non-diagnoses, incarceration, hospital indifference, and violent deaths of people in psychosis surge on, gathering speed. And no one is at the wheel.

This strongly observed and written story by Hannah Dreier of The Washington Post throws light into an especially neglected precinct: Poor black families, and the mentally afflicted children within those families. It provides a glimpse of the day-to-day crises of a divorced Black mother, Kelli, and her two sons–one of whom, the 11-year-old Ahav, is diagnosed with schizophrenia.

You may read Dreier’s piece as simply a searing journey into the wilderness of one family’s mental-illness misery, and of the heroic efforts of Kelli to keep Ahav safe. A closer reading reveals a miasma of bureaucratic obstacles, therapeutic failure, option-choking poverty, and the constant dread of trigger-happy law enforcement that imprison tens of thousands of families such as Kelli’s in the rusted chains of our failed mental healthcare system.

It Could Be Months. . .

. . . And perhaps more than a year before reviews of the Linden Cameron shooting by Salt Lake City police are completed. (Linden, a 13-year-old victim of Asperger’s syndrome, absorbed eleven bullets from a policeman’s service pistol on the night of Sept. 4, yet survived and remains in serious condition.)

Linden Cameron

The link below, to the latest update on Linden’s story, discusses this likelihood. The story was reported and written by Heidi Hatch and Mackenzie Ryan of KJZZ television in Salt Lake City.

https://kjzz.com/news/officer-involved-accountability

Months. Perhaps more than a year.

Months? Why months?!

Mundane reasons. Case backlogs. Scant resources to investigate them. That sort of thing. Since January of 2011, the Salt Lake City area has seen one hundred four shootings by police. Of these, only eight have been ruled “unjustified”–a fair microcosm of the national picture. Charges were filed in just three of the eight “unjustified” shootings, Hatch and Ryan report.

All three of those cases were dismissed.

Nine other unreviewed cases are piled on top of Linden Cameron’s.

And so Linden and his mother Golda Barton will wait. And wait. And wait. The state of waiting and its attendant stress, for one bureaucratic reason or another, is familiar to thousands of families trying to safeguard a mentally ill loved one, or to seek justice for that victim.

Below my September 22 blog on Linden’s case, a reader posted: “I will wait to see all the evidence.” I respect this reader’s sense of fairness. Yet we may never “see all the evidence.” That blog included a murky 36-second excerpt of body-cam recording released by the Salt Lake City police department. It shows a wandering pool of harsh light (presumably the camera light) surrounded by darkness. Linden can be glimpsed walking away from the camera before he disappears into the dark. We hear gunshots when the pool of light finds him again, he is writhing on the sidewalk. Then he turns over onto his left side and stops moving. We can hear him say,

“I don’t feel good. Tell Mom I love her.”

The body-cam footage below apparently covers the full length of the police video. It lasts 1 minute 40 seconds, some of the extra length showing police leaving their patrol car and yelling at Linden before the gunfire. It was posted on YouTube by the website RAW. 

This footage also shows that Linden broke into a run after walking a few paces. The police pursue him in a 45-second footrace, yelling for him to “Get on the ground.” Then the shots and the boy’s moaning voice as he lies wounded on the sidewalk.

And that’s about it.

So: Linden Cameron and his mother, not to mention the police officers involved, probably will have to wait for up to a year, and maybe longer, before the investigative bureaucracy gets around to this case.

The great 19th-century British prime minister William Gladstone is credited with the maxim, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Gladstone should have stuck around.

In a year’s time, pending investigations often lose their initial urgency. Public opinion and news coverage dissipate. The indignation of civic leaders cools. The cop shooting of a mentally ill boy, which initially drew international attention, grows stale in the files. The investigative bodies–in this case, they include an outside police department and the Salt Lake City department as well–tend to lose whatever incentive they may have had to render judgment against their own. The Linden Cameron case becomes something of an abstraction. Besides, it was dark. The camera dances around. Who, really, can say what happened? (Who, really, by this time, cares?)

“I will wait to see all the evidence.” A reasonable and honorable suspension of judgment.

Bring a book of crossword puzzles or something.

http://www.noonecaresaboutcrazypeople.com/?s=linden+cameron

“I DON’T FEEL GOOD. TELL MOM I LOVE HER.”

Below is a link to a body-cam video of the Salt Lake City police shooting of the autistic 13-year-old Linden Cameron on the night of September 4. The footage was released on Monday, Sept. 21.

Linden’s mother, Golda Barton, had made the mistake of calling the police to get the boy, who was in a psychotic state, to a hospital. Linden survived the tender attentions of the police and remains in serious condition.

The video contains graphic content that viewers may find disturbing. (Actually, viewers SHOULD find it disturbing!)


I counted eleven shots–eleven!–from the policeman’s service revolver, a count also reported in local news coverage.

It is dark, and so you cannot see Linden being shot. But as the clip ends, you can hear him say: “I don’t feel good. Tell Mom I love her.”


This could have been either of my sons. https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/09/21/bodycam-shows-salt-lake/

http://www.noonecaresaboutcrazypeople.com/?s=linden+cameron