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California will soon have a tougher new legal standard for the use of deadly force by police, under legislation Gov. Gavin Newsom signed yesterday, Aug, 19, that was inspired by last year’s fatal shooting of a young, unarmed man in Sacramento.

Newsom signed the legislation amid unusual fanfare, convening numerous legislators, family members of people who have died in police shootings and advocates including civil-rights leader Dolores Huerta in a courtyard at the Secretary of State’s building—used in the past for inaugurations and other formal events.

The governor contends that with Assembly Bill 392 in place, police will turn increasingly to de-escalation techniques, including verbal persuasion, weapons other than guns and other crisis-intervention methods.

“It is remarkable to get to this moment on a bill that is this controversial. But it means nothing unless we make this moment meaningful,” Newsom said after signing the legislation.

He made a point of praising law enforcement, saying the “overwhelming majority are extraordinary and honorable people.” He is planning to attend the funeral today of California Highway Patrol Officer Andre Moye Jr., who was killed by an ex-felon last week in Riverside.

Newsom also noted that the state’s current budget includes an additional $35 million for more police training, including training on ways to better handle severely mentally ill people. He said as many as a third of people shot to death by police are diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or some other serious illness.

“That is a tough assignment for law enforcement,” the governor said. “What’s happening on the streets of California is challenging, and law enforcement is increasingly being called to do social work.”

Kori McCoy, who attended the bill signing, was among various family members of people shot to death by police. His brother, Willie McCoy, was shot Feb. 9 while he slept at a Taco Bell in Vallejo. Six officers fired 55 rounds, hitting him more than 20 times.

“I don’t think this is going to totally change everything, but it definitely is a piece, and we’ll take it,” McCoy said about the legislation.

The law reflects a compromise between civil-rights advocates who want to limit when police can shoot, and law-enforcement groups who said earlier versions of the bill would have put officers in danger.

Under the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, police may use deadly force only when “necessary in defense of human life.”

That’s a steeper standard than prosecutors apply now, which says officers can shoot when doing so is “reasonable.” One of the most significant changes will allow prosecutors to consider officers’ actions leading up to a shooting when deciding whether deadly force is justified.

“This will make a difference not only in California, but we know it will make a difference around the world,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the San Diego Democrat who carried the legislation.

The law doesn’t go as far as civil libertarians originally proposed, and courts will need to define what a “necessary” use of force is in future cases. The negotiations led a few early supporters, including the group Black Lives Matter, to drop their support, and major statewide law-enforcement organizations to drop their opposition. After a year of contentious testimony over how to reduce police shootings, the final version of the bill sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support. 

Newsom’s staff helped broker the compromise, and his signature was not a surprise. In March—after Sacramento’s district attorney cleared the officers who killed Stephon Clark on March 18, 2018, in his grandparents’ backyard after mistaking the cell phone he was holding for a gun—Newsom signaled support for police reforms that “reinforce the sanctity of human life.” And in June, he said he would sign the bill as he praised advocates for “working across their differences” to forge a compromise.

“The bill is watered down; everybody knows that,” Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, told the Los Angeles Times. “But at least we are getting something done. At least we are having the conversation now.”

California police kill more than 100 people a year—at a rate higher than the national average and highest among states with populations of 8 million or more. Most of the people police kill are armed with a gun or a knife.

But when California police kill people who are not armed, the impact falls disproportionately on Latinos and African Americans. Together, those groups make up 66 percent of the unarmed people California police killed between 2016 and 2018, but about 46 percent of the state’s population.

For more on California’s attempt to reduce police shootings, please listen to CalMatters’ Force of Law podcast. It’s available here on Apple Podcasts or here on other podcasting platforms. To read the Independent’s ongoing coverage of police shootings, go hereCalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Elizabeth Brown’s bedroom holds a trove of evidence of her fight to save herself.

Preserved among Twilight novels, posters of Korean pop singers and cameras she used for her budding journalism career are clues about the Santa Rosa teenager’s agonizing struggle with the mental illness that claimed her life last year.

Next to her bed sits the lavender candle she lit to soothe herself. On her desk are the bunny slippers she wore when she was too depressed and anxious to leave the house. Taped to the wall are two plastic hospital bracelets from separate psychiatric admissions in 2017.

Underneath them hang four sticky notes, on which she had printed:

“channel all the anger, sadness, hurt into this one thing”

“you can have control”

“you can be beautiful”

“this pain is good.”

The cutting, the suffocating despair, the suicidal thoughts—those details live in the journal she hid behind a password on her laptop.

“She really tried hard,” says her mother, Seong Brown. “She believed in the medical system to help her.

“But they failed at every turn.”


Around California, people with mental illness—and their family members—talk about pleading with insurance providers for treatment.

Their stories share an underlying premise: Despite policy advances in the last two decades intended to compel insurers to provide equivalent levels of care for physical and mental illnesses, the reality on the ground still looks very different.

A poll released in January by the California Health Care Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than half of those surveyed thought their communities lacked adequate mental-health-care providers, and that most people with mental health conditions are unable to get needed services.

The state Department of Managed Health Care has cited health plans dozens of times in the past decade—penalizing them millions of dollars—for mental-health-related violations.

And earlier this month, a federal judge in Northern California ruled that United Behavioral Healthcare had wrongly restricted treatment for patients with mental-health and substance-abuse disorders in order to cut costs, in violation of federal law.

Not all problems with access to mental health care are illegal, but some almost certainly are, said David Lloyd, policy adviser at The Kennedy Forum, a nonprofit mental health advocacy organization founded by former congressman Patrick Kennedy.

“There’s a lot of evidence that discrimination by plans is happening,” he said.

Experts say mental health has been underfunded historically, in part because of prejudice against people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.


California enacted a law requiring health plans to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of severe mental illnesses in 1999.

A decade later, in a major victory for mental-health advocates, the state passed a law requiring health plans that offered mental health coverage to provide the same level of care they gave on the medical/surgical side. The law was strengthened again in 2010 when the Affordable Care Act listed mental health as an essential benefit that insurers were required to provide.

Insurers say they’re doing their best to comply with these laws but face a shortage of mental-health providers. Plans are working closely with state regulators and using a variety of methods, including virtual appointments, to meet these “serious challenges,” said Mary Ellen Grant, spokeswoman for the California Association of Health Plans, a trade group that represents insurers.

Most plans no longer limit the number of visits to a mental-health provider, nor do they charge higher co-pays or deductibles. But that hasn’t made access to mental and physical health care equivalent, said Lloyd of The Kennedy Forum.

The primary challenges for patients now exist in areas harder to track and quantify, including pre-authorization requirements and determinations of what is “medically necessary,” he said.

Parity laws are often so complex that it can be hard for people to know whether the barriers they face are actually illegal or just feel unfair, said Jennifer Mathis, policy director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C.

“Most people aren’t able to figure this out,” Mathis said.

All many people know is that their loved one desperately needs help—and isn’t getting it.


In early January 2019, on the first anniversary of the day that Elizabeth Brown took the action that eventually ended her life, her parents, Seong and David, sat at the kitchen table in the immaculate Santa Rosa home that Seong, an architect, designed.

Seong retrieved an email from her husband’s colleague detailing cancer treatment his wife received from Kaiser Permanente. While Elizabeth descended into mental illness, their friend’s wife was treated by a team of oncologists, nurses, counselors, social workers and outside specialists.

“This is what she got,” Seong said. “And she’s still here.”

Citing federal privacy laws, Kaiser declined to comment on Elizabeth’s care. In a written statement, the company said, “This is a heartbreaking story, and our condolences go out to the Brown Family and her loved ones. While we can’t speak to any individual case out of respect for the privacy of those involved, the loss of any person greatly saddens every physician, therapist and nurse involved in that patient’s care. We review each case extensively and when opportunities to improve are discovered, we share that knowledge with our care teams.”

Elizabeth was a top student, her parents said. She earned a black belt in karate, played piano and was a violinist in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

After sophomore year, she applied to Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts and started there before her 16th birthday. She made the dean’s list.

She also started having panic attacks. In May 2016, after her second year at Bard, she asked to see a therapist.

“Something’s not right, Mom,” Seong said she told her.

A few days later, Elizabeth first met with a Kaiser psychologist in Santa Rosa, beginning a treatment odyssey chronicled in 3,000 pages of medical records provided by her parents. The psychologist described “depression, self-criticism and self-destructive behaviors,” suggesting a self-forgiveness audio program and discussing cognitive behavioral therapy strategies.

As the months passed, Seong and David Brown grew increasingly concerned. Their daughter would head off to college, only to land in a hospital or threaten to kill herself and return home to California.

The family was dissatisfied with the frequency of sessions available through Kaiser. They were referred to an outside contractor, records show, but grew frustrated waiting to hear back. They eventually began paying $160 a session so she could see an outside therapist once or twice a week.

On Jan. 18, 2017, records show, Elizabeth tore up her parents’ house, searching for pills to swallow to kill herself. She found herself holding a kitchen knife and, frightened, called police. They took her to the hospital. Two days later, she was screened for an intensive outpatient treatment program offered through Kaiser.

“Patient’s mother is very worried that Patient will kill herself and requested a higher level of care,” the provider Elizabeth met with wrote in her notes.

Elizabeth agreed to try the Kaiser program—group therapy a few hours a day, several times a week, for two weeks. She was taking several medications, but they didn’t seem to be working, her parents said.

A letter she wrote herself during that time offers a window into her mindset.

“The depression drops you into a deep pit, leaving you to claw at the edges in an attempt to pull yourself out,” she wrote. “But there are people, resources, pieces of hope that will drop you a ladder—I promise. Even though you scream, and it seems like no one hears you, you will learn to help yourself. … You can rely on yourself; you are your own saving grace. Because in the end, you won’t be saved by IOP or medications or therapy—you will be saved by you.”

Around that time, records show, her Kaiser psychiatrist diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. Over the next few months, he changed her medications regularly and offered words of encouragement via email.

But a few weeks later, she was struggling again.


In 2013, the state Department of Managed Health Care levied a $4 million fine—one of the largest in its history—against Kaiser for deficiencies in providing timely access to mental health care and for violations of state parity law related to mental health education materials.

In an interview, Department Director Shelley Rouillard said Kaiser “actually is doing very well” at meeting the settlement agreement’s benchmarks.

In December, Democratic state Sen. Jim Beall of San Jose introduced legislation to require plans to report to the state annually on parity compliance—and for the state to make those reports accessible to the public.

That same month, Kaiser mental-health workers went on strike for five days to protest long patient wait times. Striking providers described not using the restroom all day and working through lunch, afraid that any call they don’t answer will leave a patient to suffer.

“The HMO is not going to go to oncology and say, ‘Our next available opening is in six weeks, so that’s what’s available,” said Kenneth Rogers, a psychologist with Kaiser in Elk Grove who serves as a shop steward for the union.

People on both sides of the debate agree that mental health workforce shortages are a big piece of the problem.

Kaiser has hired 30 percent more therapists since 2015, and pays the state’s highest rates, said Dr. Linda Kim, chair of regional mental health and addiction medicine and recovery services for Kaiser Northern California.

“I truly believe no other organization is doing more than what we are doing, in terms of aggressively hiring and in terms of truly innovating and finding new models of care that are evidence-based,” she said.

Professional associations representing psychiatrists and social workers say they often don’t want to work with insurers at all, citing low reimbursements and onerous administrative burdens.

One study found that only 55 percent of psychiatrists accept insurance, compared to an average for all health care professionals of 89 percent.

Sheree Lowe, vice president of behavioral health for the California Hospital Association, said health plans often require reauthorization every five days for hospitalized patients receiving mental-health or substance-abuse treatment—even for evidence-based care that routinely takes much longer. In some cases, clinicians have to wait up to two hours on hold in order to get that authorization, she said.

“That doesn’t happen if you go in with a fractured hip or with pneumonia,” she said.


Elizabeth returned to college in Massachusetts in the fall of 2017. She was quickly hospitalized twice. Doctors there diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder, her parents said, which was subsequently added to her Kaiser medical record.

That October, as the deadly Tubbs Fire moved closer to the hills around the home Elizabeth’s mother had designed, she hosed down her roof and bargained with God: “Take my house. Bring my child back.”

The house was spared. Elizabeth got sicker. Desperate, her parents made plans to send her to a residential treatment program in January 2018. It would cost $45,000 out-of-pocket.

On Dec. 4, 2017, Elizabeth emailed her Kaiser psychiatrist. “There is a lot to cover since we last met,” she said.

“It’s a 30 min visit to remind you and my part at this time is to refill your meds in the transition to your more intensive treatment,” he responded, according to Elizabeth’s medical record.

That afternoon, Seong sent the psychiatrist an email: “This is very critical and important for Elizabeth’s well-being because of her acute symptoms. She will be home more than a month and she needs an intensive outpatient therapy that is more than once a week.”

He responded that he understood, and that Elizabeth could return to the Intensive Outpatient Program or try to see a new therapist through an outside contractor. “That is the options I have available,” he wrote.

Seong developed a protocol when she was away from Elizabeth. She’d check in via text. If no response came within 15 minutes, she would call twice. If there was no answer, she’d race home.

On Jan. 10, 2018, Seong felt hopeful. Elizabeth texted that she was drinking coffee and reading a book. They made plans to buy new glasses frames after Seong came home from work.

In between texts to her mother, her parents said, Elizabeth also sent one to a friend. Its message, in essence: Send the police to collect my body. I don’t want my parents to find me.

This is an abridged version of the full story, which is available here at CALmatters.org—a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics. The coverage is funded by a grant from the California Health Care Foundation. Consumers experiencing access issues, or other issues with their health plans, can reach the state’s Department of Managed Health Care Help Center at 1-888-466-2219 or www.HealthHelp.ca.gov. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, there is help available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) for resources and support.

Published in Features

I’m gay and have been dating a guy for 10 months. He’s great overall, and I would say that for the most part, we both want it to work out. But I am having a problem with his friends and other lifestyle choices.

All of his friends are straight, and almost all of them are women. All of my friends have always been gay men, like me, so I find this strange. I don’t have any problem with women, but I don’t hang out with any women, and neither do most of my friends. He makes dinner plans for us with his straight friends almost every week, and I grin and bear it. They’re always old co-workers, so the whole conversation is them talking about old times or straighty talk about their children. It’s incredibly boring. He’s met my friends, and he likes some of them, but dislikes others.

It’s obvious that he is not comfortable relating to gay men, generally speaking. He does not seem knowledgeable about gay history or culture. For example, he strongly dislikes drag queens and never goes to gay bars. There is one woman in particular he makes dinner for every Friday night. It’s a standing date that he’s only occasionally been flexible about changing to accommodate plans for the two of us. Now he’s planning a weeklong vacation with her. When he first mentioned this trip, he asked if I would want to spend a week camping. I said no, because I don’t like camping. He immediately went forward with planning it with her. I’m pretty sure the two of them had already hatched this plan, and I don’t think he ever really wanted me to go. I think it’s WEIRD to want to go camping for an entire week with some old lady.

He does other weird things, too, like belonging to a strange new-age church, which is definitely at odds with my strongly held anti-religious views. He has asked me to attend; I went once, and it made me EXTREMELY uncomfortable. The fact that I didn’t like it just turned into a seemingly unsolvable problem between us. He says I’m not being “supportive.”

I need some advice on how to get past my intense feelings of aversion to the weirdness. How can I not let our differences completely destroy the relationship?

Hopelessly Odd Man Out

Differences don’t have to destroy a relationship. Differences can actually enhance and help sustain a relationship. But for differences to have that effect, HOMO, both partners need to appreciate each other for their differences. You don’t sound appreciative—you sound contemptuous. And that’s a problem.

According to Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute (a research institution dedicated to studying and strengthening marriages and other interpersonal relationships)—who says he can accurately predict divorce in 90 percent of cases—contempt is the leading predictor of divorce. “When contempt begins to overwhelm your relationship, you tend to forget entirely your partner’s positive qualities,” he writes in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. Contempt, Gottman argues, destroys whatever bonds hold a couple together.

You’ve been together only 10 months, HOMO, and you’re not married, but it sounds like contempt has already overwhelmed your relationship. It’s not just that you dislike his friends; you’re contemptuous of them. It’s not just that you don’t share his spiritual beliefs; you’re contemptuous of them. It’s not just that his gayness is expressed in a different-than-yours-but-still-perfectly-valid way; you’re contemptuous of him as a gay man. Because he doesn’t watch Drag Race or hang out in gay bars. Because he’s got a lot of female friends. Because he’s happy to sit and talk with his friends about their kids. (There’s nothing “straighty” about kid conversations. Gay parents take part in those conversations, too. And while we’re in this parenthesis: I can’t understand why anyone would waste their time actively disliking drag queens. However, being a gay male correlates more strongly with liking dick than it does with liking drag.)

This relationship might work if you were capable of appreciating the areas where you two overlap—your shared interests (including your shared interest in each other)—and content to let him go off and enjoy his friends, his new-age church, and his standing Friday-night dinner date. A growing body of research shows that divergent interests + some time away from each other + mutual respect = long-term relationship success. You’re missing the “mutual respect” part—and where this formula is concerned, HOMO, two out of three ain’t enough.

Here’s how it might look if you could appreciate your differences: You’d do the things you enjoy doing together—like, say, each other—but on Friday nights, he makes dinner for his bestie, and you hit the gay bars with your gay friends and catch a drag show. You would go on vacations together, but once in a while, he’d go on vacation with one of his “straighty” friends, and once in a while, you’d go on vacation with your gay friends. On Sundays, he’d go to woo-woo church, and you’d sleep in or binge-watch Pose. You’d be happy to let him be him, and he’d be happy to let you be you—and together, the two of you would add up to an interesting, harmonious, compelling “we.”

But I honestly don’t think you have it in you.

P.S. I have lots of straight friends, and I’m a parent, and sometimes I talk with other parents about our children, and I rarely go to gay bars, and I haven’t gotten around to watching Pose yet, or the most recent season of Drag Race, for that matter. It’s devastating to learn, after all these years and all those dicks, that I’m terrible at being gay.

P.P.S. If a straight person told you, “I don’t have any problem with gay men, but I don’t hang out with any gay men, and neither do most of my friends,” you’d think they had a problem with gay men, right?


I’ve been in an on-again, off-again relationship for the past four years. My girlfriend has an assortment of mental-health issues—anxiety, depersonalization episodes, depression, paranoia, among others—that make it very stressful and tiring to be with her.

Despite my best attempts at getting her to seek help, she refuses to take the plunge. Whether it’s a result of her illness or not, she refuses to believe that I actually want to be with her. I do care deeply about her, and the good days are wonderful. But nearly every time we go on a date or have sex, it ends in tears, and I have to endlessly reassure her that I do really want to be with her. I’m exhausted by having to defend my feelings for her multiple times per week, and I don’t know what to do.

He’s Exhausted And Lost

There’s only one thing you can do, HEAL: Put this relationship on hold—take it back to off-again status—and make getting back together contingent upon her seeking help for her mental-health issues. You’ve made it clear, again and again, that you want to be with her. By finally seeking help—by actually taking the plunge—she can make it clear that she wants to be with you.


I have a very sexy German boyfriend, and he is not circumcised. His otherwise beautiful dick is a problem. It smells—sometimes a little, and sometimes it really stinks. After he showers, the smell is still there. He says he uses only water. Is there a better way to wash an uncircumcised penis? Can he use some kind of soap?

Girl Asks Gay4 Grooming Intervention Near Genitals

Yes, GAGGING, there is a better way: He needs to wash that thing with motherfucking SOAP. If the soap he’s got is irritating the head of his penis or the inside of his foreskin, he needs to try other soaps until he finds one that cleans his dick without causing irritation. And you should make allowing that otherwise beautiful German dick anywhere near you contingent upon him learning how to clean it properly. There’s no excuse for stank-ass dick.

On the Lovecast, a biblical recipe for abortion: savagelovecast.com.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; @fakedansavage on Twitter; ITMFA.org.

Published in Savage Love

Dear Mexican: I’ve read that 75 percent of Americans are against giving illegal immigrants citizenship. I’m for full amnesty and citizenship for the current 12 million that are here, but I have two absolute conditions.

First, the border is locked up by both the U.S. and Mexico, and illegal entries are reduced by 90 percent, even if that takes the military of both countries. Second, citizenship would require pledging allegiance to America and denouncing Mexican citizenship.

My question is: Do you think that the Mexican portion of the 12 million would agree to this? And do you think the Mexican government would agree to help close the border if full amnesty was given to those who are now here?

Wally Wall

Dear Gabacho: You heard about how Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and equip it with solar panels, right? Well, your idea is stupider.

Primeramente, locking up the border accomplishes nada. There are fewer Mexicans coming into los Estados Unidos right now, not because of Trump’s pendejadas, but because the United States is turning into Mexico—so why not just stay in Mexico? And putting both the American and Mexican military on la frontera is a waste of resources and firepower better used against the Saudis.

Segundamente, any Mexican who would become legal has to pledge allegiance to the U.S.—it’s call the “naturalization oath of allegiance,” pendejo. And who cares if they have dual citizenship? Mexicans only get that so they can own land down there instead of having to give it up to the government—unless you’d rather Mexicans give that up and bring up their 91-year-old Tía Goya to live in el Norte?

Gabachos like you need to get it into your mind that Mexicans (and other immigrants, for that matter) can simultaneously be American and have another country on their minds, and not be disloyal to the Stars and Stripes. Why do conservatives get all pissy about that, yet cheer on losers who still love the Confederacy? Oh, yeah—because gabacho.

Dear Mexican: My husband has a disability that nobody in his Mexican family accepts. (It’s a serious mental health disorder for which he receives government benefits, but they just tell him, “Be strong, primo,” and, “How did you fool the government into giving you crazy money?”) Nobody has ever helped us with things he can’t do, but they expect him to help his mom with every home repair, because she raised him by herself. She’s verbally abuse and says nasty things about both of us when she’s alone with him, but to my face, she acts like she wants us to be friends.

Do we keep putting on the big, happy ethnic family act and explain away their ignorance of psychology and abuse? I understand that a history of oppression and struggle breeds dysfunction, but where do we draw the line? And don’t Mexicans watch Oprah and Dr. Phil?

Una Frustrated Gabacha-in-Law

Dear Gabacha: Confronting mental health issues among Mexicans is a serious topic that too often gets dismissed due to machismo. Without knowing his exact condition, all I can counsel you to do is ask your marido how he feels, and act accordingly. He might hate the familial abuse, but is too afraid to say anything, and is waiting on you to say something. Or he might not feel abused at all.

If it’s the latter case, keep him away from the primos and mom with promises of sexytimes—works on a Mexican man anytime!

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

With the trauma of the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in nearby San Bernardino fresh in their minds, Simon Moore—the lead adviser of the Coachella Valley High School Health Academy and Health Occupation Students of America—and his students began planning a community outreach program.

Kimberly Bravo, a senior at the Thermal high school and the captain of the CVHS HOSA community awareness team, noted in a news release announcing the forum that mass shootings have taken countless innocent lives.

“Later, we find out that the people committing these shootings suffer (or suffered) from various types of mental health issues. The question we ask ourselves is, ‘Why didn’t anyone hear these individuals’ cries for help?’” she said.

At the forum, Bravo, her fellow students and the members of the public who attended learned that the premise of the forum was flawed: Most people who carry out mass shootings don’t make cries for help—because they aren’t mentally ill.

“Not all of these shootings are based on mental illness,” said Desert Hot Springs Chief of Police Dale Mondary, one of the panel participants, who worked in San Bernardino before taking his newish job in the desert. “I’d say the majority probably are not. It could be political causes, or religious ideology or some sort of family-relationship issue.”

The fairly well-attended forum attracted a distinguished group of prominent local and national professionals and politicians, all with their own perspectives on the theme.

“Everyone who we invited showed up—and, I mean, that’s just amazing,” Moore said after the forum. “We asked Dale Mondary, the chief of police from Desert Hot Springs, because he’s a new guy to the area who came from San Bernardino. State Representative Chad Mayes, who is a Republican, just showed up and said, ‘Let’s talk.’ And we’re not even in his district. Also we got Supervisory Special Agent Colin Schmitt from the FBI (who was lead incident commander during command post operation for investigating the San Bernardino shootings). And given the acclaim that attendee Dr. James Fox receives among law enforcement as a profiler in the U.S., it was really cool to get him.”

Fox (pictured below) is a professor and interim director at the School of Criminology at Northeastern University who has appeared on numerous television shows, writes a regular column in USA Today and has been called on for his expert opinions by the U.S. Congress, several attorneys general, President Bill Clinton and Princess Anne of Great Britain, among others.

The panel covered numerous topics over the course of the discussion, which lasted more than 90 minutes—and the hard link between mental illness and mass shootings was not the only myth debunked at the forum.

“There’s one tiny flaw in all the theories as to why there’s been an increase in mass shootings in the United States, and that is the fact that there has not been an increase in mass shootings over the past several decades,” Fox said. “Now, I don’t mean to minimize the pain and suffering of all those who have been victimized in these attacks. But the facts say clearly that there has been no epidemic.”

He offered an array of statistics to support this stance.

That position not withstanding, student co-moderator Sergio Ortega asked, “With the growing number of mass shootings in public spaces, what do you think is the root cause of these incidents?”

“In the cases of shootings in public places which are the rarest, maybe 5 or 6 a year,” Dr. Fox said, “they are the ones where mental illness is most likely to emerge. These individuals have a paranoid sense that the whole world is evil or the government is corrupt, and they really don’t care who they kill as long as they kill as many people as possible.”

Schmitt mentioned that shooters often put a lot of thought into where they make their attack.

“Between 2000 and 2013, there were 160 active shooter instances, and 46 percent of them took place in areas that were open to pedestrian traffic. Obviously, it’s unlikely that we’d have an incident like this at an FBI building which is full of armed agents. If somebody is looking to kill lots of people, they are going to go somewhere where there is not a lot of law enforcement.”

After the forum, we asked Moore if he was surprised by the expert opinions that seemed to undermine the basic premise behind the forum.

“No. They knew the discussion was about violence in relation to mental health,” he said. “Dr. Fox’s finding is that most of those shooters are not mentally ill. He told us that among people who commit mass shootings, less than 12 percent have had mental health issues. And Chief Mondary has a specialty of combating crime rather than profiling. I think it was great that they both spoke from their experience with the public.”

So what’s next for the students who were involved in this public-awareness exercise?

“Now it’s time to get the word out,” Moore stated. “When we had a debriefing with the student organizers, I asked if most people who carry out mass shootings have mental health issues, and everyone in the room said, ‘No.’”

Published in Local Issues