Tim Burchette’s Budget Gaffe

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchette made a major screw-up when announcing his budget for Knox County this year.  I’m going to call him out on it.  In announcing his decision to fund the creation of a mental health facility, he made the mistake of telling the public law enforcement “had to take” the life of a mentally ill man who fired on them.  I’m not going to say this is the exact quote, but it’s damned close.

“One of the largest treatment centers for the mentally ill is the Knox County Jail, and that’s a shame.  We just had a story recently where a young man who’d come home from the war, he was mentally ill, and he opened fire on a couple of Knox County police, and they had no choice but to take his life.”

Bad move, Mayor Burchette, especially when you’re attempting to peddle your mental heath treatment facility.  It’s not the creation of such a complex that has me shaking my head.  It’s your abject decision to frame it in the context of a cop shooting, one under questionable circumstances, and use that to advance your chosen narrative of “we need better mental health facilities than a jail.”

Every time a police officer fires his or her service weapon at a person with the intent to kill, they’re making a conscientious decision to impose a death sentence on that person.  Saying they had “no choice” is a ridiculous option, especially when the cops had “less lethal” alternatives like Tasers to mitigate the incident and the individual with mental health issues.  If this person were mentally ill, perhaps suicidal, there’s a good possibility that man might have chosen to “check out” through suicide by cop.  Since police seem to be rather gun-happy these days, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the cops decided to assist in the suicide.

There is an issue with mental health in our society.  That’s not in debate.  Another important point to consider is we still stigmatize mental illness, so much to the point we can’t have honest discussions about the problem. I commend Mayor Burchette for his commitment to making sure the mentally ill aren’t locked in prison cells beside those incarcerated for actual crimes, but framing the discussion through a cop shooting isn’t the best tactic.