Floor speech on Florida shooting

February 23, 2018 by  

February 14, 2018, a day that is celebrated each year by expressions of love and affection for those we hold dear, became a day instead marred by anguish and sorrow as we watched in disbelief the High School students in Florida walked in single lines, hands held above their heads, and were escorted by police to safety away from a terrify scene. A deeply troubled man took the lives of 17 innocent children that day – and their families, friends, and teachers will never be the same, their lives have been changed forever. Valentine’s Day will now become a painful anniversary for so many.

There is so much that we do not know about why this young man committed such a heinous act. But we have learned a few things:

According to an article in the New York Times on February 17 we know that a Florida social services agency visited Mr. Cruz’s family home to investigate troubling behavior nearly a year and half before this horrific event. But the agency determined “he was at low risk of harming himself or others.”

  • We do know that the police were called to this home over 39 times.
  • According the article, “Mr. Cruz also worried officials at his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., who on at least one occasion alerted a mobile crisis unit to get him emergency counseling, according to the state report.”
  • Cruz “had a long history of fights with teachers and was frequently accused of using profane language with school staff. He was referred for a “threat assessment” in January 2017.”

The multiple systemic failures and warning signs here are breathtaking. It’s easy to play the Monday morning quarterback, but what isn’t easy is rolling up our own sleeves and asking ourselves the difficult questions. Do we have what it takes in Arizona to help a family at risk like the Cruz family? Do we have what it takes in Arizona to protect our children? Are we holding our agencies accountable and making sure we are not simply throwing money at the problem? What are those barriers to appropriate treatment for a troubled young man like Nicholas Cruz? How can we overcome them?

Two current barriers to treatment we are certain of, include the Federal roadblock known as the IMD Exclusion that limits the number of public psychiatric beds in facilities to 16. At the state level, due to the Arnold vs. Sarn settlement, we have limited the number of beds at the Arizona State Hospital to 55 for Maricopa County residents. Our population continues to grow – and at least 4% of our residents’ struggle with a serious form of mental illness. Are we keeping pace with the need? Our headlines seem to paint a very clear answer: no.

It’s time to work toward removing these roadblocks so we can allow for more appropriate contained treatment facilities and safe housing solutions. Prisons and jails cannot, and should not, be our only option.  It’s also time to assess our process for involuntary commitment. Is it working for Arizona residents? If not, what can we do to fix it?

It’s time to be honest about the need, not because we should act out of fear or rage, but because we have an obligation to care for our vulnerable, at risk families. It’s time to be honest about the need because we have an obligation to protect our children and our community. It’s time to be honest about the need because we must honor so many victims. Not only the recent victims in Florida, but so many right here in our own state. Arizona has an opportunity to lead on these issues and more. Will we seize this historic moment right before us?





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