Why The CAN DO Act Promotes Psychiatric Racism and Why It Must Be Stopped
Since at least the days of physician Samuel A. Cartwright, who in 1851 claimed that slaves suffered from a mental disease called “drapetomania,” an uncontrollable urge to run away from their masters, Black people have been labeled as crazy for fighting oppression. The treatment for the “illness,” which he purportedly documented in 1851 in the “New Orleans and Surgical Journal,” was literally “whipping the devil out of them.”
Now a misguided attempt to reduce inner city violence has been launched, House Resolution (H.R.) 1303, the CAN DO Act (Communities in Action Neighborhood Defense and Opportunity Act of 2009). The argument for this bill is that our young people are so traumatized by the violence in the streets that they are mentally ill and in need of psychiatric treatment.
The problem here is three-fold: the racist roots of the mental health industry remain hidden, psychiatry actually causes violence and funds that could be used to address the actual situations young people are facing would be diverted to an unworkable program.
Steeped in the eugenics movement—eugenics meaning “good in stock” and being a movement to stop “defective” people from procreating—the mental health system has justified slavery, genocide and other racist atrocities. It gave us psychologist Hendrik Vorwoerd, the architect of apartheid in South Africa and first apartheid prime minister, who put into place the Nazi Hygiene laws that nearly tore that country apart. It gave us Margaret Sanger, a eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood, who promoted sterilization for Blacks and other “inferiors.”
More chillingly it has brought us a racist National Institute of Mental Health program called the Violence Initiative, which continues to rear its ugly head. Coming in the wake of the riots during the civil rights movement, the idea was to identify Black and Brown youth as violence prone and do early intervention, including psychosurgery and castration. In 1992, psychiatrist Frederick Goodwin, a major proponent of the Violence Initiative, likened Black youth in the inner city to hyperaggressive and hypersexual monkeys in the jungle. The movement continues to be quashed due to public outcry, but appears to resonate in this bill.
Since 1963 when a bill was passed to establish community mental health centers in our communities, we have seen a spike in violence and crime. We know that 55 percent of those who go to these centers come out on powerful drugs, and that after admission to a community mental health center the arrest rates doubles. Not far behind that is the prison industrial complex and a cycle that must be broken. A Fox News report showed that a large proportion of the school shooters were on antidepressants.
Just as slaves tried to escape, there are actual conditions that our young people are decrying. We must address the real-life obstacles in the way of the success of our young people, not label them mentally ill—especially since the mental health industry causes violence.
The curtain on mental health racism has been lifted by a new exhibit traveling the world called “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR). CCHR is a human rights group founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at Syracuse University. The exhibit’s 14 video panels document the racist roots of psychiatry, the labeling and drugging of school children, the continued administration of electroshock in America, and rampant fraud in psychiatric diagnosis and “treatment.”
If you’re in Los Angeles, visit the Psychiatry: An Industry of Death Museum at 6616 Sunset Boulevard. Should you be in the New York metropolitan area, visit the traveling exhibit—free and open to the public—from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday until the end of June at 230 Fifth Avenue (at 27th Street), in Suite 300. To find out more go to www.cchr.org or call 1-800-869-CCHR(2247).
Cheryl L. Duncan is a New Jersey-based veteran public relations counselor and member of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights.