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Seven police officers died last week – four in Oakland California, three in Pittsburgh. Sunday night a St. Louis police officer was wounded by gunfire. In the last eighteen months our metropolitan area has taken its fair share of tragic news headlines, with police officers and firefighters fatally caught in the line of fire.
The usual explanations have been offered by reporters and government officials alike:
“We need to get assault rifles off the streets.”
“The jobless rate is causing great pain and these killers are lashing out at the nearest symbol of government authority.”
“Graphic bloodshed in video games, on TV and the internet is making violence socially acceptable.”
The usual explanations carry with them a very low expense threshold. Passing laws or regulations — even to the point of enforcing them - will not cost a lot of money. In most cases the cost would be less than a Wall Street bonus.
The real root cause of the violence in each of these tragic events is mental illness. Providing the level of mental health care that would ultimately prevent these assassinations is a cost our society is not yet ready to bear. The last decade has seen enormous advances in clinical mental health research. Persons once deemed lost causes due to schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and chronic depression now have the potential to lead productive lives. But this is only possible when communities commit to effective mental health care for all.
As our discussion on national health care policy proceeds, we dare not push mental health issues to the bottom of the priority list. Too many families are hurting.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.