Cafe Racer Shooting
Ian Stawicki, the man responsible for last week's shootings—like Kyle Huff (the shooter behind the Blue House massacre) and Isaiah Kalebu (who committed the South Park attack and murder)—struggled with mental illness. Stawicki's family, his partners, and the very people he killed on May 30 at Cafe Racer all were concerned about his erratic behavior, his lust for firearms, his delusional and grandiose thinking. They shared a growing dread about him.
In Washington State, it is exceedingly difficult to involuntarily commit someone— particularly for an extended period of time—who is mentally ill unless they are an imminent threat to themselves or others, or so gravely disabled they are unable to complete the most basic tasks of life. Individuals with illness severe enough to be committed to a mental health facility in other communities are allowed—they are compelled—to try to integrate into the community here. Washington State has among the fewest inpatient psychiatric beds of any state in the nation. Given this dearth, it is now typical for mentally ill patients in crisis to wait for hours—or days—in emergency rooms to receive care in our community.
In place of (costly and arguably inhumane) warehousing of the mentally ill, the plan for decades in Washington State has been to provide aggressive outpatient case management. Psychosis, bipolar disease, depression, anxiety, and others are all treatable diseases. The notion—and it's not a bad idea at its core—is to use an army of social workers to keep mentally ill people in the community engaged with treatment and the community safe.
Over the same decades, our investment in social services has dwindled—acutely so in the past few years of no-new-taxes budgeting. Right-wing propagandists who have fought bitterly against any new taxes to support social service spending in our state—including the Seattle Times editorial board, Tim Eyman, and anyone you know who has uttered the phrase "a more efficient state government"—are directly responsible for our social service network being gutted. They are directly responsible for the many safety nets left tattered and unmanned.
Essential, successful, and efficient programs like our mental health system have been cut. Social workers responsible for caring for (and keeping watch over) mentally ill individuals in the community are now routinely expected to handle scores of complicated patients, with fewer resources to direct them to. As a social worker commented on Slog last week, under these circumstances, the desperate battle to keep their clients—and you—safe is a losing one:
I am a social worker, and while I happen to have a small, manageable caseload, most of my colleagues are saddled with a totally unrealistic amount of clients (60, 70, 100!!!). In addition, we are paid just a tiny bit more than your average fast food worker... I myself work two jobs (both in social work) and rarely have even a day off. I do this because I honestly love the work and the clients, and I know it is important (and also because I need to survive). But I know I am not always at my best...
The budget for mental health services is insufficient, making it pretty impossible to find resources for clients sometimes. And we're talking about basic resources like food, shelter, and clothing.
The big picture here is that our society does not care about the mentally ill or the people who dedicate their whole lives to working to help stabilize them. The only time we even talk about mental illness is when horrible things like this happen. And that's a huge problem.
The events of last week could have been very different if the hard work of Washington State's mental health providers had been properly supported.
The reign of the radical right's financial policy in Washington State has left us—particularly the richest among us—with some of the lowest tax burdens of any community in the United States. The cost is the Blue House, the South Park, and now the Cafe Racer tragedies.