Listen to Us: Black Survivors in the Mental Health Care System

In few days the Black History Month will finish and Spectacle is contributing to this important event by republishing an old and powerful documentary about institutionalized racism in mental health care. The documentary “Listen to Us: Black Survivors of the Mental Health Care System“, collects experiences of mental illness and the impact of institutional treatment on black people’s lives.

The trailer:

Unfortunately the experience of unlawful detention in mental health care institutions and the effects of the stereotype of being “black and dangerous” is still relevant today. We hope this document from the ’90, will raise awareness and contribute to make mental health care better.

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Listen to Us: Black Survivors of the Mental Health Care System

This powerful and emotionally distressing documentary tells the story of black former mental health patients caught up in a psychiatric system reputed to be institutionally racist. These black patients became increasingly vulnerable to unlawful treatment and discrimination once The Mental Health Act (1983) permitted patients to be detained against their will.

 

These brave survivors speak out about their personal experiences and describe what it means to be black and mentally ill. You get the feeling that these people were misunderstood, misdiagnosed and racially stereotyped as “black and dangerous”. Furthermore, the disturbingly low lack of patient support for black patients also denied them the comfort and security of which they were entitled.

Their stories examine the harsher side of a typical mental health institution, in relation to the measures of control used upon patients. This includes factors concerning higher doses of medication, seclusion, control, and constraint.

In this documentary, former patients speak out about their life before, during, and after their incarceration. You follow them through their journeys of confusion and turmoil. Firstly, their struggles to understand their illnesses, and how they cope with the side effects of medication. Then secondly, their attempt to rebuild their lives and overcome their dreadful experiences that they suffered.

Listen to Us, filmed in the late 90s is an insightful and important viewing, and its a topic still widely relevant today. Little has changed within the last decade which indicates that the problem hasn’t gone away. However in spite of this, treatment received by various black ethnicities is continually less widely reported.

Statistically black people are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health problem, and are three to five times more likely to be diagnosed or admitted to hospital for schizophrenia than any other group. Also when it comes the populations of prisons and secure units, black people are again over-represented.

There is still a way to go before this group can get the support and understanding they need to secure successful treatment. This documentary highlights these points and demonstrates that their voices still need to be heard, as the title Listen to Us indicates.

Buy Listen to Us on DVD click here

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Olympic Borough Racist Policing and Selective Security

 

© Copyright Danny Robinson Forest Gate Police Station (Danny Robinson) / CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Forest Gate Police Station located in the Olympic borough of Newham is at the centre of alleged racist assault. The London Olympics website states that the Olympics are a “celebration of different cultures” and that “diversity was a key reason why London, one of the most multicultural cities in the world” was chosen to host the events. However, these testimonies of ‘celebrating diversity’ have been subsequently undermined from the allegations of racism from members of the Metropolitan police, which could be seen as a form of institutional racism.

These allegations of racism echo previous instances of institutional racism which have have been resistant to change. In the 1970s there was a report from a school boy in the borough of Newham who was attacked shows that the resilience of institutional racism in the face of police reform.  When the boy was taken by his employer to Forest Gate Police Station to report the incident the police officer, a character that resembled a Dixon of Dock Green style Desk Sergeant on hearing the story bent down under the counter, pulled out a double barrel shot gun and asked: ” Was he Black? We’ll get him wont we lads?” to the cheers of the other police officers in the station. When the Desk Sergeant heard that the assailant was white, and not black and leant his address he sighed, “Oh that lot. That family are well known”. No further action was taken.

The professionalism of the Metropolitan police force has once again come under scrutiny after new reports of racism have emerged.  Hours after PC Alex MacFarlane was recorded on a mobile phone apparently using racist and abusive language, a colleague PC Joe Harrington was allegedly recorded in the custody suite assaulting a teenage boy.

In the first incident of the alleged racial abusive language recorded by Mauro Demetrio, 21, on his mobile phone PC MacFarclane is heard saying that “You’ll always have black skin colour” has been recently suspended. While  PC Harrington was not heard making racist comments on the recording he was one of the three officers investigated for the alleged assault of Mauro Demetrio.

Soon after Demetrio was held custody at Forest Gate police station where he witnessed PC Harrington allegedly assault a 15 year old boy who was handcuffed. Demetrio stated that he saw PC Harrington kick the teenager in the back of the leg and once he was on the floor, kneed him in the back.

After Demterio’s report has been made public, a separate Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation was launched into the case of the 15 year old and subsequent CCTV footage of the incident has been found.

The close proximity of these events which occurred during the London riots last August has caused concerns over the way police officers operate.  More controversy has arisen due to the initial advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) police complaints department that neither officer should be charged . This has subsequently caused pressing reviews by the CPS.

In recent years security has become a central issue in the planning of the Olympics, as the games will see some 12,000 police officers patrolling the streets of London at any one time as well as 5,000 military troops supporting them. However, are the recent allegations of racism undermine the security projects planned for the Olympics?  A spokesperson for the Newham Monitoring Project has stated that even “after years of re-branding its poor reputation of racial inequality, the culture of racism within the Metropolitan police is still deeply embedded.” “With 12,000 police officers based in Newham during the Olympics the borough’s black communities face the prospect of a regime of repressive policing” that mirrors an apartheid approach to policing. Black Olympic athletes may want to think twice about sightseeing in Newham.

 

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The Security Olympics

The Olympic Legacy has been an idea under siege since the term was first bandied about. Today though, Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society at Newcastle university has published a damning indictment of the Legacy in the Guardian. His essay outlines how the security operation surrounding the games is not only about security, but instead about the promotion of corporate and political interests, thinly veiled by the non-description of public interest and safety.

Graham’s article does not make for light or quick reading, but here are a few of the ideas to get you going:

With the required numbers of security staff more than doubling in the last year, estimates of the Games’ immediate security costs have doubled from £282m to £553m. Greece’s security costs for their Olympic Games were a major contributor, as part of the overall £10bn costs, to Greece’s subsequent debt crisis. Current estimates for the London Olympic Games stand the costs around £26bn.

More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed in the London operation than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure. On top of this, an aircraft carrier will be moored on the Thames, and drones will patrol over the ceremonies.

New, punitive and potentially invasive laws such as the London Olympic Games Act 2006 are in force. These legitimise the use of force, potentially by private security companies, to proscribe Occupy-style protests. One such law allows police to arrest or eject anyone that does not comply with the ‘celebratory look and feel’ of the Games – in theory to prevent unofficial advertising. However, corporate interests aside, the odds that this law will be utilised only against advertisers are long.

The security preoccupations of Olympics present unprecedented opportunities to push through highly elitist, authoritarian and speculative urban planning efforts that otherwise would be much more heavily contested – especially in democracies. These often work to “purify” or “cleanse” diverse and messy realities of city life and portray existing places as “waste” or “derelict” spaces to be transformed by mysterious “trickle-down effects”. The scale and nature of evictions and the clearance of streets of those deemed not to befit such events can seem like systematic ethnic or social cleansing. To make way for the Beijing Games, 1.5 million were evicted; clearances of local businesses and residents in London, though more stealthy, have been marked.

Spiraling costs, social cleansing, Government privatisation policy, and suppression of the population – these are all “bigger picture” issues. The everyday realities of the games seem to pale in comparison.  As Professor Graham delivers a strong blow to the pomp and sanctimony of the London Organising Committee, he highlights their priorities articulately but with subtlety. It seems that bankrupting the country is an acceptable price for establishing the Olympic legacy – oppressive security measures and extensive privatisation of any service in reach.

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Battersea Power Station: Out of the frying pan into the fire

The horror story continues…

Nightmare on Nine Elm Street

The abysmal Vinoly plans for Battersea Power Station that we had all hoped were finally dead and buried with the collapse of previous owners REO has come back to haunt all who care about the beautiful building and the quality of life for all those living in its shadow and the surrounding area.

Just when you thought it was safe Architect Viñoly has been hired as “creative brain” behind developer Mike Hussey’s plan for a new stadium for Chelsea football club. AAAHHHHHHGGGGG……

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Olympic ceremonies will cost another £40m

The budget for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies has been doubled to over £80 million, it was announced today.

Ministers blamed the increased cost of security on the recruitment of 23 700 security guards to work at more than 100 competition and training venues. This brings the taxpayer’s contribution to venue security to £533 million. With the policing bill set at £475 million, the overall cost of Olympic security is now £1 billion.

Delivering the Government’s quarterly Olympic budget update today, Olympics minister Hugh Robertson said: “This money will not be spent on fireworks, it will not be money going up in smoke, it will be an important investment in the economic future of the country.”


He continued by saying that a meeting of the Prime Minister, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and himself had decided that they “needed to maximise and promote London to the four billion television viewers after being presented with a wide range of ceremonial components across the ceremonies.”

Robertson acknowledged the current economic conditions but said that the potential benefits that could flow through enhanced tourism numbers justified the increase.

The extra cash will come from the Olympic contingency fund and the London 2012 project remains on course to come in at around the budgeted £9.3 billion.

Putting on a great show is important but what’s even more important is creating a lasting legacy – other than debt. Surely they’d be able to put on a few good shows for the original £40 million budgeted and then they could have spent the additional £40 million on something that would benefit the people of Britain in the future?

This is where we’d normally add a sarcastic comments about broken calculators, but this time we’re just going to let the numbers speak for themselves…

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