Patrick Lee took an acid trip in September of 2005, and never came back. He didn’t go crazy. He died at the hands of the Nashville police. Way back in the 1960’s, and even today in some lucky locations, somebody who went over the edge on a strong psychedelic would quite possibly end up in the hands of fellow trippers who knew how to contact, reel in, and ground wayward psychonauts.
But Patrick Lee didn’t get a helping hand. He got the business end of a taser, repeatedly, and died two days later without regaining consciousness. The final irony of the case came this year, when the court ruled that his death was his own fault, due to “excited delirium,” and not the result of being administered repeated severe electrical shocks.
“Excited Delirium”–ED–just like “erectile dysfunction.” What kind of twisted humor is at work here?
The coroner and the court noted that people die from “ED” in any number of other ways besides getting tasered. The term originated in 19th-century “insane asylums,” when inmates died under conditions of involuntary restraint, to be polite, and had fallen out of use until the Taser Company needed a defense for its multimillion dollar business. The sad thing is that, so far, courts are buying it. I see the deaths of all these innocents as an indictment of a violent, repressive frame of mind.
But that should come as no surprise. Too many people in this country simply assume that violence is the way to do things, whether it’s tasering incoherent trippers, sending in the Tac Squad break down the doors of unarmed marijuana users, or having the military terrorize Iraqis with door-to-door, room-by-room searches that, more often than not, destroy everything and find nothing.
Violent repression generally incites a violent response, which becomes the reason for continued violent repression. Even when there is no violent response, as in most US drug cases, the police project their own fear on their largely peaceful targets. How can we break this cycle of violence and demonization?
When Nashvillian Eric Volz was jailed in Nicaragua for a murder he obviously didn’t commit, there was a massive outcry here in town, and this outcry actually moved our government to do what it’s supposed to do: take care of one of its citizens when a large entity persecutes them.
We got Eric Volz back from Nicaragua; we’re not going to get Matthew Lee back from the grave, but the fact that he had ingested an illegal drug shouldn’t blunt the effort to see that justice is done in his case. It isn’t just about getting Metro Council to reign in police taser use; it’s about teaching alternate, non-violent, more compassionate ways of dealing with people who are being disorderly in public, and ultimately about creating a society in which everyone is embedded in a network of friends who will take care of them and their crazy feelings before it ever gets to the point of calling the police.
There’s no way to legislate that–it has to come from each of us widening the sphere of our care, taking the time and energy necessary to give a demanding person our full attention, of going the extra mile instead of shutting out folks who are hard to handle. Those individual, personal decisions, made by each of us, no matter how well we think we’re doing it already, are what it will take to shift our culture of violence into a culture of peace. As we do our personal work, the political and legal changes that express a change in the national consciousness will fall into place, not without struggle, but just as inevitably as the fall of Communism. And it all starts with you and me.
Patrick Lee died for our sins; let’s resolve that his death was not in vain.