The National Democratic Congress (NDC) is calling for police officers to be properly trained to sedate mentally ill persons and for mental legislation to be put in place following the shooting death Sunday of a mentally challenged man at Mt. Parnassus by the police.
45-year-old Jerry Paul was the second person shot dead by a member of The Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) within the last two months.
Congress Caretaker for the St. George North-west Constituency, Ali Dowden, addressed the issue Monday at the weekly press briefing of the island’s main opposition party.
“It is time that we act more responsibly as police officers by using restraint; the first impulse must not be to pull a trigger. We must be concerned about life”, Dowden told reporters.
He said that information gleaned from “two eyewitnesses in the area” indicate that the deceased was not endangering anyone at the time of the incident.
“The man was walking the road with a cutlass…I don’t know what was the situation but he swung the cutlass at the police officers and so their reaction was to shoot him.
“When he got shot, the young man fell over a wall…it is also reported that the way they treated the young man it was not human-like and did not show love for a fellow human being. They actually picked him up and flung him in the van.
“This is not the way to treat human beings…he should not have been treated that way. You see mental patients in this country and all over the world have a right to protection and when all else fails such as family, friends and neighbours, it is the right of the state to protect them, not to kill them. And so I believe it is time for something to be done in that field.
The NDC Caretaker, who is also associated with the Grenada Friends of the Mentally Ill, which promotes mental well-being, awareness and understanding across the island expressed total dissatisfaction with the way in which mentally-challenged persons are treated on the island.
Describing the treatment as “very distasteful”, Dowden said: “We treat them with discrimination, stigma, like if they are not a human being. And I think it is time that we change that mindset, not just among police officers (but) amongst all of us in the country.”
Mental illness is a chronic disease and according to Dowden “even diabetic patients show symptoms of mental disorder at times when it’s very severe.”
Health Minister Nicholas Steele was asked to comment on the two recent shooting death incidents of the mentally challenged by the police at the weekly post-Cabinet briefing.
The minister was guarded in his remarks stating that it was an issue between a member of the public and the police.”
He said the “police as they would in any shooting where a police officer would have had to use force will go through their investigations (and that) as a responsible Minister” he has to wait for the police investigation to be completed.
“I cannot assume based on reports in the public that because that individual had a mental issue that it is overly excessive force on the part of the police, that the police officer’s life wasn’t threatened, (or that) there (could have been) possibly a different approach” Minister Steele said.
“We have to wait for that proper report from the police in terms of the use of force in those two instances to then determine whether there is a better way,” he added.
The Health Minister stated that this issue of shooting the mentally challenged is separate and apart from the recognition that in Grenada, as in most developing countries (that) “there is a lot more that we can and will be dealing with respect to mental health.”
He acknowledged that there is an issue of overcrowding at the Mt. Gay Mental Hospital, which he said will be addressed in the second phase of the General Hospital project to come on stream in the near future.
“Two weeks ago I met with an agency that came to Grenada and we are seeking assistance in improving the physical conditions of our Mental Hospital as well as the support network there…”, he said.
“Once that is complete not only would you have a new Accident and Emergency ward and labs in the hospital but it would allow us now to put back the area in that hospital that dealt with certain individuals who are now at Mt. Gay,” he added.
According to Dowden, the former Congress government led by then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas had “drafted a mental health bill with relevant protocols to guide the way on how to address the issue of how to treat with mentally ill persons, and also how the police should proceed”.
Dowden claimed that the legislation is just sitting on a shelf within the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
He called on the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) regime and Health Minister Steele to review the policy if needs be but to move expediently to enact the bill in the country’s Parliament.
In response to this, Minister Steele said government’s main priority at this time is to improve the physical conditions of the Mental Hospital.
He said that “one of the first most demanding areas to be dealt with in respect to mental health is the physical condition of our mental health patients and that is what I am addressing”.
“If the opposition thinks or is implying that we should have addressed the legislation that they were unable to bring to Parliament first before dealing with the physical conditions then you decide whether we are making the right decision with respect to the people of Grenada particularly those who are dealing with mental health issues”, he told reporters.
Minister Steele stressed that he will not bring forward mental health legislation in Parliament until the constitutional reform referendum is over on November 24 and it would be followed by the presentation of the budget on December 7.
“So don’t look for any legislation with respect to mental health until the first quarter of next year (but) we will strive as a responsible government, learning from all of the lessons to find ways to deal with those individuals in our society that have mental health challenges”, he said