Vandalism Arrest Brings Home National Mental Health, Hate Crime Discussion

Published : Monday, August 12, 2019 | 5:55 AM

[Updated]  Last week’s arrest by Pasadena police of a homeless woman for vandalism which seemed to threaten racial violence brought home the current national dialogue regarding mental illness, violent crimes and their prevention.

Jackie Rita Williams, 65, was identified as the suspect and held by Pasadena Police last week.

The words, “China Leave I will kill you” were found scrawled on a sign at the Pasadena Presbyterian church at 585 East Colorado Boulevard Tuesday, according to Pasadena City spokesperson Lisa Derderian.

Williams is homeless and is believed to suffer from mental illness, said Derderian.

A Pasadena man passing the church saw the threatening message on the sign, photographed it and eventually police were informed. That process – the classic “see something, say something” – is precisely what police say they need to prevent possible crimes from occurring.

Additional similar messages allegedly were written by Williams on two other buildings, including the U.S. Postal Service building on Colorado Boulevard at Garfield Avenue, said Police Lt. Pete Hettema.

Commander Jason Clawson said Williams’ case is being referred to the Los Angeles County District Attorney to decide whether to prosecute Williams and if so, whether or not a hate crime enhancement charge should be added.

If the District Attorney declines to charge, the case could be referred to Pasadena City Attorney Michele Bagneris.

Whatever the outcome in Williams’ case, the incident echoes themes dominating the national conversation.

The recent deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have split the country on their true nature and meaning: were they passionate political acts or acts of madmen?

President Trump blamed mental illness and violent video games for the incidents, while others have labeled the El Paso shooting a hate crime driven by white supremacy, as Democrats called for more gun control laws.

At last Wednesday’s Villa Park vigil for the El Paso shooting victims, Rev. Felicia Helen Parazaider, founder of The Revolution Of Love (ROL) ministry, called out the shooting incidents.

“We are beyond politics right now,” Parazaider said. “This is about cruelty. This is about white supremacy. This is about racism and xenophobia and violence. And I believe that there is a soul sickness, that when it goes untreated, that it goes into violence. It sneaks in the door, a back door if you will, and we’re terrified of this.”

A City of Pasadena Public Health Dept. spokesman said there is a rise in the number of people being treated for mental health issues.

“There are a lot of conditions that qualify as mental health disorders but in general, more people are being diagnosed and treated in the U.S. as awareness of mental health symptoms increases,” Acting Deputy Director Manuel Carmona said in an email. “It really isn’t that we are seeing an increase in the presentation of mental health disorders but instead that it has been historically undiagnosed and underreported.”

Carmona also noted that people with mental health disorders are much more likely to be the victim of a crime, as opposed to committing crimes.

“The Pasadena Public Health Department cannot assess the mental health of individuals involved in mass shootings or other criminal activity,” Carmona added.

Clawson noted that there are many social factors as to why people commit crimes, but increasing prevention and intervention can actually lessen the need for law enforcement.

“You really don’t know what people are dealing with,” he said, “especially in the homeless population, their daily struggles. So we try to identify the best we can and make referrals, and get people to the service providers that can actually help them get their lives back on track.”

Clawson also noted that hate crimes are “very minimal” in Pasadena.

But when a hate crime is committed, says Clawson, “Deep down inside you don’t know what their motive is. It could be a copycat incident, it could be someone joking around.”

“Other times it could be because some people have vile hatred towards certain groups of people and they want to express their message. Fortunately, in the city of Pasadena, we’re not seeing that very often.”

 

[Editor’s Note: In his email to Pasadena Now, Pasadena Public Health Dept. Acting Deputy Director Manuel Carmona also said: “The first step is realizing there is nothing wrong with talking about your symptoms and seeking medical care. Early diagnosis of a mental health disorder can lead to wellness and a healthier life. If you are concerned about potential symptoms, seek care immediately and know that you can live a successful and happy life with treatment. The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health is available to help 24/7 at (800) 854-7771. If you have questions, the Public Health Department can provide additional information at (626) 744-6339.]

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