In today’s newspapers, I read three seemingly unrelated stories, which upon retrospection are in fact related.
One had to do with the crash of the Germanwings plane earlier this month. The current best guess is that the pilot purposely crashed the plane when he thought he might lose his job as a result of some eye condition or that he had been suffering from depression and had long harbored suicidal thoughts. It now appears that he was treated for depression while in pilot training, took a leave from the training program, and later returned. It is not clear whether the airline or the training program was aware of his depression and suicidal thoughts when he reentered pilot training.
The second story appeared in the Washington Post about Shari Thomas, a woman who had killed a man who had abused her as a child, went to prison, earned a college degree there, earned a degree in biotechnology after release, and now thanks to the Internet, finds it hard to get a job. Her past will always haunt her. You can read about it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/womans-criminal-record-upends-her-life-25-years-later/2015/03/30/4cb95966-ccf5-11e4-8a46-b1dc9be5a8ff_story.html
The third story is about a car that crashed into a barrier at Fort Meade MD, the home of the National Security Agency. The current theory is that the driver of the stolen car made an accidental turn into the highly secure and guarded complex, became concerned when he saw the police car as he had some illegal drugs in the car, and accidentally crashed into a police car in an attempt to avoid the situation. The end of the article mentions a similar case when a woman was shot when she accidentally (or not) crashed into a White House barrier in October 2013. Details are available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/officials-respond-to-incident-at-nsa-on-fort-meade-campus/2015/03/30/08bdfe56-d6e1-11e4-ba28-f2a685dc7f89_story.html
What are the unifying themes around these stories?
One might have to do with how we as a society deal with mental illness, how we treat or stigmatize those with mental illnesses, and how we protect ourselves from the mentally ill who act violently. Miriam Carey, the woman who crashed into the White House seemed to suffering from some mental illness. Did she get the care she needed? She had a job at the time. Did it provide mental illness support? Would she have lost her job had her employers known about her illness? Did Andreas Lubitz hide his mental illness from his employer fearing job loss. Apparently flying was a childhood dream and the thought of being grounded may have driven him to crash his plane. The New York times addresses this point today at:
The second theme is the need for security and the parameters to establish it when facts are unclear. In the case of Shari Thomas, should her murder conviction more than 25 years ago disqualify her for employment today? Should the fact she killed an abuser, admittedly not in self defense, give prospective employers a reason to not hire her? Should mental illness years ago prevent one from obtaining a commercial pilot’s license? In the Fort Meade case, and the White House case, and the many other police shootings that have made headlines in recent months, how do we decide when force is needed to protect the public, how much is needed, and when lethal force is justified?