Op-Ed: Oh No We Can’t

Why The CAN DO Act Promotes Psychiatric Racism and Why It Must Be Stopped


A shocked visitor reacts to the exhibit 'Psychiatry: An Industry of Death'

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.


14 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Oh No We Can’t

  1. Why do we bother trying to reason with these people.
    They cut half your foot off and then criticize you because you can’t run as fast as they do (yet).
    Why bother?

  2. Your remarks are foul and racist not just because of your ranting about the things which are wrong with Harlem, but because you and the other advocates of the “mental health” solution to social problems are MEDICAL problems. Such people want to claim now, just as Duncan points out that the engineers of Apartheid claimed in the past, that African Americans have SICK BRAINS. Then you can treat their “mental disease” with drugs, with surgery, with chemical. But this is entirely bogus: there is no proof of this nonsense because it is ideological, not scientific. The problems of Harlem are not medical, they are social problems, financial problems, maybe spiritual problems. And they need to be solved as such.
    And if you want “authorities,” you don’t have to see Duncan’s exhibit to see the racist and anti-human nature of the medical “treatment” of social ills. There are human rights activists, legal authorities, medical doctors and my others, who have published critiques on this.
    See for example http://www.szasz.com, by psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz, or http://www.stopshrinks.org, by psychologist Dr. Seth Farber, or check out the website of the Committee for Truth in Psychiatry, or the Network Against Psychiatric Assault, etc.
    Or otherwise, read up on this subject, rather than trying to censor Uptown Flavor because they have published a viewpoint you want to squash in favor of your own. Uptown Flavor publishes a variety of life-affirming articles which are in their essence anti-racist.
    Please keep on doing so!

  3. Thanks for posting this. We need to hear all sides of the story, especially those that make people think about what’s really going on.

  4. The Op Ed is right. There is no mental illness in Harlem with Black youth. Riding dirt motorbikes & ATV vehicles on Lenox Avenue while popping wheelies and sometimes going the wrong way is healthy.

    Just walk by the many news stands on 125th, featured and profiled are magazines that glorify criminal life, one example is the magazine F.E.D.S (with the byline “Convicted Criminals, Street Thugs, Music, Fashion, Film, etc.”). This is but one example, there are numerous competing magazines whose single mission is to profile criminals and criminal life, they’re hanging, featured, and profiled in the news stands of Harlem. This is a fact and speaks to how healthy the youth of Harlem indeed are. These magazines focused on selling to the youth, adjacent to the magazines with the naked women and rap stars? All healthy esteem building periodicals for young men and women.

    I never see youth roaming the streets in large clusters at late hours on school nights. I’ve never seen undercover cops arresting youth for drug dealing on Harlem streets. I’ve never heard the youth using inappropriate language, cursing or swearing, and on the subways, the youth are always perfect gentlemen and gentlewomen.

    The Youth of Harlem are angels, not a bad seed among them, and certainly there is no hint, not a single indicator of wide spread depression or esteem issues or any mental health disorder of any kind. In Harlem kids are never absent from class, obey law, never litter, they eat their vegetables, and all of them wear pants with belts firmly buckled at their waist line, and they all abstain from sex until they are married, I’ve never seen an unwed pregnant young teen mother in Harlem.

    Signs of positive and healthy esteem with the youth are all over the place in Harlem. How dare any bill be introduced designed to destroy the Black Shangri-la we enjoy with our youth!

  5. Still, that is your opinion. We are all intelligent enough to have our own. One thing this blog doesn’t want to do is think for our readers. If an Op-Ed piece is going to make you think and open up the topic for discussion then we have done our job.

  6. D. Bell-of course it’s your site and you can post whatever you want on it, but if you’re going to post something THIS controversial (and it’s VERY controversial, have no doubt) you have to expect some blowback. im sure the Times and Daily News get exactly the same when they post an editorial this out there.

  7. It’s called op-ed for a reason. Does the Times or Daily News agree with every op-ed post? Enough with the UF is becoming this or that. We are a source of information. Sometimes you might like the information we provide and sometimes you won’t. Readers are welcome to submit their own rebuttals as long as they are well written and on topic. Ms. Duncan asked if I would share her piece with readers. Whether UF the blog agrees with it or not is neither here nor there just as CBS and ABC feature controversial topics on their news source.

  8. >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.

    UF has adopted the classic African American tone and posture that mental illness is not a reality that can be considered, probed or accepted. In America, Blacks attach a stigma to mental illness, hence generally go untreated, a sad fact that speaks more to the misguided general disposition of the culture, Black culture in America.

    >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.

    Wow UF, that’s an incredibly broad statement, very much in line with Scientology. Furthermore is it not the definition of ignorance to declare this an “unworkable” program?

    > not label them mentally ill—especially since the mental health industry causes violence.

    Wow, you really have an axe to grind don’t you? Here’s the failure in your discourse:

    (1) Past misdeeds do not negate or discredit a body of science – plain and simple. Nor do past misdeeds necessarily equate to a continuation of those misdeeds today.

    (2) Your entire discourse hinges on highlighted past misdeeds. Your argument is like saying since the Tuskegee Experiment happened, Government Public Health Studies today have no credence, no credibility, & no purpose. You can’t cherry pick exploitive incidents and then with a broad brush paint the entire body as “bad”.

    (3) What’s most troubling though about your discourse is….”what’s so unreasonable about exploring the possibility that depression or some other mental illness is pervasive if not an epidemic with Black urban youth, especially males, in Compton, Harlem, Detroit, inner Chicago, East St. Louis, New Orleans, D.C., etc.? ” that’s my question to you.

    (4) (a.) Go to the Gulf Coast and you’ll learn thousands of people, Black, White, etc. that lost their homes and lives are suffering all sorts of different types of mental illness from Hurricane Katrina, displacement, joblessness, etc. Divorce, suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse are all on the uptick. (b.) The pervasive mental illness suffered by Native Americans is well documented, due to all their culture as been through – and therapies and treatments (programs) are in place. (c.) I know lots of people today still suffering, mentally, due to how they were connected or linked to 9/11, I am sure there are hundreds, no, thousands of people that have succomb to mental illness from the trauma of 9/11 and their connectio to it, somehow, some way.

    (5) UF, Public Schools and books used in public schools have done some serious misdeeds, distributed inaccurate, flawed, and misguided information, public schools have inflicted damage in many ways to all sorts of groups and people. However past misdeeds of public schools don’t discredit the value & benefit of public schools today. Why can’t you apply this reasonable and basic template to psychiatry?

    In general Harlem kids are de-sensitized to violence, including gun violence. I never heard a gun shot in my life, until I moved to Harlem, and now here on 5th Ave between 135th – 125th, hearing gun shots is a weekly standard part of the night. In fact there is a war here, the border line is 131st st & 5th Ave, the war is the Lincoln Project kids v. the 129th St. kids. They’re kids, however they pack guns, and fight over drugs and anyone reading this can go to the local NYPD station and they will confirm the war, the battle lines, the gun shots, and the ages of those responsible for this “turf” drug distribution war. The point? I see Black men standing around on corners doing nothing all the time. I often wonder how many gun shots did that young 25 yr old man, standing around doing nothing, looking hopeless about life and his future, how has Harlem culture traumatized him, or instilled within him a sense of undiagnosed depression? How many incidents of violence did he see between age 5 and 15. Does he think he’ll end up dead or in jail by age 30 anyway?

    I believe mental illness within Black males in Harlem is pervasive. Addressing this state with treatments and programs is a good thing. What’s critical is acknowledging the condition and state exist, first and foremost, and not living in denial about it.

  9. Yes, indeed, look for instance at Section 8, which refers to “a comprehensive network of mental health prevention and intervention services.”
    Check out the “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” exhibit — I have — see the history of similar bills, they are the enemy of our community.
    Inform yourself.

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