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The Early Alpizar Comments

Against the backdrop of news about the shooting death of American Airlines passenger Rigoberto Alpizar yesterday afternoon by a U. S. air marshal who decided the bipolar man who'd not taken his medication was a terrorist with a bomb, I open this morning's Courier-Journal to a feature about Syriana director Stephen Gaghan.

Reporter Tamara Ikenberg is talking with him about his earlier films. His "most disappointing project," he tells her, is his 2002 film "Abandon," "starring Katie Holmes as a schizophrenic killer," writes Ikenberg.


The studio watches the film, and the head of the studio says to me, 'Katie's crazy,' and I say, 'Yeah.' She says, 'She can't be crazy. Her audience won't let her'… I was at cross-purposes with the studio. I was a first-time director and quite naïve. … It was like the worst two years of my life.

No; there's no real relationship between this tidbit and Alpizar's murder. But so far the the groups who should speak out on treatment of the "mentally ill" -- MindFreedom, for one -- have no statements on their websites, and so I am left to cast about for some way to put it into context.

Perhaps the following blaming-the-victim quotes will do for a start:

From the Washington Post:

"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."

From Rich Glasgow 's blog This Is Rich:

His wife claimed he was mentally ill, but didn't take his meds. How very tragic! Seriously! The message to be learned here is, take the frickin' meds!!!!!


The shooting of Mr. Alpizar is a horrible tragedy. I don't know why he was off his medication, but there may have been a good reason. I believe that his wife did what she had to do to try to get him home and that she should not be blamed. She will probably suffer unjustified feelings of guilt, especially since many people are blaming her for taking him on the plane or for not making him take his medications. I believe that the system is to blame. Ever since September 11, I have been worried about the effect of the increased security precautions on disability rights. Unfortunately, nothing can bring back Mr. Alpizar, and I wish his family the greatest of condolences. I hope that the investigation of this tragic event results in increased accommodations for people with all kinds of disabilities as well as for anyone who legitimately freaks out due to the increased strain of air travel.

A few reflections on the killing of Rigoberto Alpizar, and the policy of "shoot to kill to protect."

After the Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, was killed by police officers in London on July 22, 2005, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying that De Menezes jumped a ticket barrier and was running away at the time when he was shot. This statement was reported as fact by major media outlets covering the story. When witnesses came forward to tell what they saw, some of these accounts were quite different to the official version. Eventually the Metropolitan Police were obliged to acknowledge that their initial account was a fabrication: De Menezes did not jump a ticket barrier, and he was not running away at the time when he was shot.
[See http://www.justice4jean.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Charles_de_Menezes]

Since Costa Rican-born American, Rigoberto Alpizar, was killed by air marshals on Wednesday, the official version has been that he announced he was carrying a bomb. By yesterday, witnesses were coming forward to say that they did not hear Alpizar say anything (Alan Tirpak and Mike Bershears in the report below):

From http://edition.cnn.com/2005/US/12/08/airplane.gunshot/index.html
"Passengers describe wife's desperation" (Thursday, December 8, 2005)
'Accounts vary on whether Alpizar had announced he had a bomb.
'[Alan] Tirpak said he didn't hear Alpizar say anything.
Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, said Alpizar had run up and down the plane's aisle yelling, "I have a bomb in my bag."'
'[Mike] Beshears said he did not hear Alpizar say anything. "He just was in a hurry and exited the plane," he said.
'Alpizar's wife also followed him part of the way down the aisle, then returned to her seat saying, her husband was sick and she needed to get his bags, Beshears said.'

On December 9, it was reported that criminal charges may be brought against police officers involved in the killing of Charles Jean de Menezes. In that case, however, British police did not have the alibi of "mental illness."

In order to consider the difference that the concept of "mental illness" makes, I want to highlight the following section of another news article following on from the killing of Rigoberto Alpizar:

Probe after Miami airport killing
Thursday, 8 December 2005
'In a statement, American Airlines described the shooting as an "isolated incident", adding that none of the other passengers were affected or were ever in danger.
'"I don't know if they shot an innocent man or not. I don't think he was armed or had a bomb. I think he had a mental illness," [fellow passenger] Mr [John] McAlhany added.'

In what sense can the death of Robertigo Alpizar be described as an "isolated incident"? Not only is the use of lethal force against people diagnosed as "mentally ill" frighteningly common, but when the "incident" is a global media event sanctioning lethal force against the psychiatrized, the adjective "isolated" is an absurdity of stupifying proportions.

As a psychiatrized person, I consider assertions in newspapers and on TV about the length of time that has elapsed since the last voluntary or involuntary administration of medication to be a distraction. The unstated assumption behind these assertions is that the coercive concept of "compliance" with medication regimes should be accepted by all psychiatrized people without question, in spite of all the adverse effects to which psychiatric medications are acknowledged to give rise.

Consenting to a discussion of whether someone is "on" or "off their meds" also entails being drawn away from the issue of trauma caused by ongoing processes of psychiatrization, and the effects of having to deal with this trauma. Among its various dimensions, of course, is the fear of becoming a victim of another "incident" of the use of lethal force against the psychiatrized.

The comments of the passenger, John McAlhany, are revealing: "guilt" would be carrying a bomb; "innocence" would be not carrying a bomb; "mental illness," however, seems to fall somewhere in between. In practice, for the authorities that means: first, shoot-to-kill; then, invite only questions framed by the ideas of "mental illness" and so-called "non-compliance," together with all of the associations of these ideas.

Put simply, psychiatrization causes distress, and when that distress is manifested, it must not be treated as a capital offence.

Richard Ingram
Vancouver BC

this whole situation made me so angry-with all the peace keeping tools available today that are nonlethal,the authorities still are trigger happy and wanting to make like the Old West. even a police dog trained for muzzle fighting could have taken the man down without serious injury,and held him long enough for him to be collected for questioning. this is a frightening situation for anyone with a mental disability to see accepted so casually.

This tragic killing of Mr. Alpizar is by far from isolated as others have already stated. My heart goes out to Mrs. Alpizar and hopefully she'll realize that none of this is her fault.

This Shoot First attitute will kill alot of people but I must admit that it certainly hits us who are disabled more than any other community of peoples. We are afterall, the outcasts of society and have been for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Especially did I appreciate comments and links made by Richard Ingram. They tell alot and we would do well to study what he is saying.

My own horror stories have been posted, although I find it nearly impossible to describe horror in words typed out (part of one of my disabilities).

My condolences to Mrs. Alpizar, family and friends.


Denise Gilmore

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