Yesterday in Miami an Air Marshall shot and killed a man claiming to have a bomb in his bag. Except that he didn't. But shooting an innocent man is still worth ample praise:
This shows that the program has worked beyond our expectations," said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House transportation subcommittee on aviation. "This should send a message to a terrorist or anyone else who is considering disrupting an aircraft with a threat."So while our government officials continue to live in an alternate universe (along with the Washington Post's reporting on the story), others in the Real World are asking questions:
But some security experts question whether killing the passenger, whose wife, according to other passengers, said was mentally troubled , was justified.This man is much more than "troubled". He is very, very sick. Sick enough and delusional enough to tell Air Marshalls that he had a bomb in his bag. Clearly any person of sound mental state would know how unbelievably dangerous it is to say that in U.S. travel today.
This man was beyond mentally "troubled".
One passenger on the flight, Mary Gardner, told a local television station that Mr. Alpizar's wife had said he was bipolar and had not taken his medication. Ms. Gardner told WTVJ-TV in Miami that Mr. Alpizar had suddenly run down the aisle from the back of the plane toward first class and that his wife had followed.Thankfully the New York Times has their reporting together. A member of my immediate family suffers from bipolar illness, and for many of us family members of the mentally ill, this story hits our deepest fears. The FAA is playing down his illness because they made a mistake. A common one, according to advocates for the mentally ill:
An analysis this year by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit group in Virginia, found that mentally ill people were four times more likely than members of the general public to be killed by the police.
In my mind, a few things went wrong here (in no particular order):
• We are still unable to control mood episodes with any extended consistency. Medicines fail to combat the illness in the face of stress. Our family members are often their own worst enemy, refusing to take their medicines and desperately believing they are "fine"
• Law enforcement is still quite ignorant with how to handle the mentally ill. Like the stat above shows, with often deadly results
• This woman probably should have told the flight attendants and Air Marshall that her husband was bipolar. Except that they probably wouldn't have known what that meant, or assumed he could turn mortally violent and ban him from flying
• They were flying in from a third world country where it would have been difficult to stabilize her husband, notwithstanding her work responsibilities at home
This excerpt reveals how little the public knows about families of the mentally ill:
In Maitland, a middle-class suburb of Orlando, neighbors of Mr. Alpizar described him as quiet and friendly and said he never acted erratically. The one-story home he shared with Ms. Buechner, was white brick with a red door and shutters and a Christmas wreath.That is my family. Those of us fortunate enough to have loved ones under control the majority of the time are experts at hiding it and pretending there's nothing wrong.
Even considering the trickiness of the situation (a suspect claiming to have a bomb, not getting the info that he was mentally ill), it may not have been the right action:
Aviation security consultant Douglas R. Laird of Laird & Associates said shooting a suspect who claims to be carrying an explosive device could cause a greater threat to passengers if that suspect detonates the bomb after being shot. "It's a terrible call," the former Northwest Airlines security director said.And a tragic one. I wish that we could take this case and talk about the ways things need to change for the mentally ill. But we won't -- we'll continue fearing terrorists because not enough people will hear he was sick, and we'll keep bickering about the FAA and TSA and all those other bureaucratic organizations that can't seem to decide whether or not it's okay to bring small sharp objects on planes.