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Whitlock: President John Kennedy, Jordan Neely, and America’s reprobate mind

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Twenty-two days before his assassination, John F. Kennedy signed the most important piece of legislation of his presidency – the Community Mental Health Act.

The act provided federal funding for mental health and research facilities across America. It fueled the United States’ de-institutionalization movement, social and medical reform that shut down “insane asylums” and treated the mentally ill with psychiatric drugs.

The Community Mental Health Act, signed on Halloween 1963, arguably stands as the Emancipation Proclamation for the mentally ill.

I know this because yesterday a Twitter user sent me down a mental health rabbit hole with a single tweet.

"US population 1955: 161 million
US population 2023: 332 million

1955 mental asylum population: 559k
2023 mental asylum population: 35k

This is the real crisis"

The user sent me the reply in response to my tweet showing a disturbed person harassing a New York police officer at a subway station. The disturbed person was participating in a protest over the death of Jordan Neely, the mentally ill homeless man killed last week inside an NYC subway.

Before receiving the tweet, I had no idea that America had dramatically pivoted on how it treats the mentally ill. Like most of Western society, we used to commit, house, restrain, and care for our mentally disturbed inside institutions. Following the lead of Europe, in the 1950s we concluded that our treatment of the deranged was inhumane.

Pharmaceutical companies convinced lawmakers that they could concoct drugs to control the insane. We shut down insane asylums.

President Kennedy had a soft spot for the mentally ill. His sister Rosemary suffered brain damage at age 23 after a lobotomy surgery. Four years after Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which ended the practice of institutionalizing patients against their will in California.

The law made California’s prison and homeless population explode. The mentally ill committed crimes and were not taken care of by their families. They lived on the streets or in prison.

This all perfectly explains Jordan Neely. Abandoned by his father as a child and made motherless at 14 by a murderous stepfather, Neely fell into depression, mental illness, and crime. Arrested more than 40 times, Neely lived on New York’s streets and harassed and assaulted people on the city’s subways.

Mental illness is America’s real crisis.

Corporate media are discouraged from discussing the failure of drugs to combat the problem. Big Pharma, with its advertising power, owns the mainstream media. Television networks, internet platforms, and most social media apps depend on Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s ad dollars. There’s considerable risk for any broadcaster or network that questions anything produced by Big Pharma.

Rather than analyze our mental health crisis, we’ve chosen to normalize it.

That’s why Richard Levine gets to play the role of Rachel Levine, the first “female” Public Health Service Commissioned Corps four-star admiral. President Joe Biden appointed Levine as assistant secretary of health. And that’s why Biden sat down for a celebratory interview with Dylan Mulvaney, the transgender actor and comedian.

Crazy is the new normal. Anyone who doesn’t adopt the new normal is branded a racist, homophobe, or transphobe.

The name-calling and smear campaigns distract us from addressing the ramifications, consequences, and root causes of our new normals.

Are the mentally ill better off living on the streets than inside an asylum? Are they better off inside a prison than in an asylum? Is affirming the delusions and mutilating the bodies of the gender dysphoric more humane than treating their mental disorder?

Is living a lie healthier than confronting the truth?

I can’t speak for every individual, but I can confidently say America is not a better place when we’re all forced to live a lie. Just as the truth sets us free, lies limit our freedom.

The tweet I received yesterday provoked several epiphanies in me.

A decade ago, when I read author Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," her research and narrative on the growth in America’s prison population had an enormous impact on my worldview. I swallowed her entire narrative. I bought the book for family and friends. Alexander became one of my four journalistic heroes, alongside Chicago columnist Mike Royko, sports writer Ralph Wiley, and newspaperman turned TV producer David Simon.

My longtime LLC is titled RWSA, which stands for Royko, Wiley, Simon, and Alexander, my Mount Rushmore.

Alexander blamed “mass incarceration” on America’s fruitless drug war. It’s a crock. America’s love of drugs and partnership with global drug companies spawned so-called mass incarceration.

That love affair and partnership swelled the prison population. De-institutionalization moved the mentally ill from insane asylums to prisons.

And the destruction of the nuclear family increased mental instability. The 1960s promoted drug use, promiscuity, the matriarchy, and the destruction of the nuclear family. We bought the lies that a pill could fix every problem, that free love is better than monogamy and marriage, and that feminist rule is superior to the patriarchy.

We chose crazy. Our destroyed and tattered families produce crazy like a factory assembly line. Mass incarceration is a consequence of crazy, not racist drug policies.

I don’t know the solution to our mental health crisis. I do know that normalizing crazy is only making things worse. Two men pretending to be married and “raising” children increases the insanity. So do child-friendly drag shows and story hours. Normalizing obesity kills. Ascribing a racial motive to every mixed-race negative engagement promotes segregation and division. Adopting silly, obvious double standards – such as feigning deep, life-altering emotional pain over a racial slur you use daily – provokes additional foolishness.

Ignoring the crazy, belligerent, threatening, and occasionally violent homeless man on the street or subway doesn’t improve society or promote safety. Indifference is as lethal as hate.

We’ve grown indifferent to the insanity we’ve normalized. We’ve adopted a reprobate mind.

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