Traffic heading in and out of downtown Tulsa on I-244 was brought to a complete standstill for almost eight hours on Friday, while police waited for a man pacing back and forth on a utility bridge to make a life or death decision.
What happened was a demonstration in skill and patience by the first responders. The man, after more than seven hours, came down from the bridge and was taken for a mental health evaluation.
Reading about this made me wonder, “What value do we put on quality of life?”
We can speculate about the kind of support this man might have or might need. NewsOn6.com reported that he is a known sex offender and could face charges for assault and battery against the police. But, the story does not tell us much about the nature of his crime or the extent of his victimization.
Readers on Facebook commented on the story, and only a few offered understanding. Most made comments ranging from harsh to vulgar. But that was on Facebook. Thankfully, they were not at the bridge.
The comments on Facebook had little to do with our society's core values. Thousands were delayed for hours by the traffic snarl this event caused. Yet, there was not another acceptable course of action but to wait as long as necessary.
Our society values life and is prepared to make sacrifices to protect it.
At the end of the eight hour ordeal, Daryl Kaiser’s will to live won out over his wish to end his suffering. But what will his life look like?
It will be up to our judicial system to decide whether this man should do time in jail or time in the hospital.
Who will help him cope once he is released? The corrections department, our mental health system, his family?
Stories like this are played out in cities and towns all over Oklahoma on a daily basis. They might not be as dramatic, but the choices are the same.
Police use the criteria in Oklahoma Title 43A to make a determination as to whether protective custody is justified. Officers are looking for signs that there is a threat of harm to self or others. If officers decide that they meet criteria, someone can find themselves in the care of our mental health system until a judge determines if they need involuntary inpatient treatment. Seldom is an order given for court ordered outpatient treatment.
Missing from the law is language concerning the nature the effect that a person experiencing a mental health crisis is causing distress to the people around him. In this case thousands were delayed by traffic.
What are sleepless nights by parents worth? Or the depleted bank accounts of spouses with a manic partner who can spend an entire life savings in days?
On Friday, thousands of Tulsans were affected by the actions of Kaiser. It is hard to fathom the depth of distress that kept him on the bridge for so long. But, for every action there is an equal reaction. How we react as a society to mental health issues does matter.
Jean Williams is a NewsOK Contributor and a volunteer with the Edmond North-OKC National Alliance on Mental Illness. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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