Based a public domain photo of Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks and the Power of No

In 1900, Montgomery, Alabama passed a city ordinance for the purpose of segregating bus passengers by race

Conductors had the power to assign seats to carry out that purpose; however, no passengers would be required to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded and there were no other seats available.

Over time Montgomery bus drivers adopted the practice of requiring black riders to move or stand for whites.

Blacks had the right to stay seated but they had no institutional support for exercising that right.

In the South, when Blacks asserted any of their rights under Federal law, the result was often arrest, beatings or murder.

When he (the driver) saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.” Rosa Park’s,

I walk to my therapist twice a week.

The walk is about five miles and takes me from the Fillmore District, through the Castro and into the Mission District.

Along the way I see what many people in San Francisco refer to as Reagan’s Children; ragged bundles of suffering, huddled on corners, under sheets, on concrete, shoving carts, some motionless under the glaring sun.

Homeless san Franciscan

I am no fan of Ronald Reagan but he left office 26 years ago.

The People of the United States have had ample time to correct his mistakes and we haven’t.

Reagan’s Children belong to all of us.

The summer of 2016 was brutal; bundles of suffering stood out against the sunlit backdrop of a rich and largely gentrified San Francisco; people sick with fatal illnesses sweltering in their filth on perfectly clean streets.

The mentally ill are not a race.

We are a class and we come in all colors.

We are men or women and all shades of gender between.

Many of us were once solidly middle class, some of us are vets, but some of us are simply people who have a genetic predisposition to illnesses that afflict an organ of the body called the brain.

The mental illnesses are the only illnesses in the United States that we systematically refuse to treat.

Just as blacks in Montgomery of 1958 complied with the absurd idea that as blacks they had to give up their seats to whites on a crowded city bus, we, the mentally ill, comply with the absurd idea that our suffering is our fault and that we must accept the punitive contempt that we receive from American culture as a result.

Most of us, weakened by shame and neglect, huddle under our rags and wait to die.

Homeless man


Governor Ronald Reagan signed California’s Lanterman–Petris–Short (LPS) Act into law in 1967 .

The idea was that the mentally ill be treated in the community and not locked away in State Hospitals for the rest of their lives.

In summary, the State cannot hospitalize a person without good cause. The State defines good cause as,

  1. An imminent danger to self: The person is an imminent threat to themselves due to mental disorder.
  2. An imminent danger to others: The person is an imminent threat to someone else due to mental disorder
  3. Gravely disabled

The State’s mental examination consists of three questions when a patient is ‘assessed’ for involuntary commitment:

  1. Will you hurt yourself? No
  2. Will you hurt someone else? No
  3. Can you feed yourself? Yes.

The text of the law that Reagan signed reads as follows:

To end the inappropriate, indefinite, and involuntary commitment of mentally disordered persons, people with developmental disabilities, and persons impaired by chronic alcoholism, and to eliminate legal disabilities;

To provide prompt evaluation and treatment of persons with serious mental disorders or impaired by chronic alcoholism;

To guarantee and protect public safety;

To safeguard individual rights through judicial review;

To provide individualized treatment, supervision, and placement services by a conservatorship program for gravely disabled persons;

To encourage the full use of all existing agencies, professional personnel and public funds to accomplish these objectives and to prevent duplication of services and unnecessary expenditures.

The fact the State meets none of these goals is rarely addressed
by our political leadership.

There is no prompt evaluation and treatment because there are no hospital beds or crisis clinics.

Patients in crisis are often turned away from the one understaffed and underfunded clinic that we do have in San Francisco and the most ill are branded “frequent flyers and turned away as a matter of course.

In other words, if you are so desperately ill that you need intensive psychiatric treatment then you are faking.

The stigma against serious mental illness is so ingrained in our culture that our mental health services reek of it.

Suicide claims the lives of 38,000 Americans a year — more than car accidents, prostate cancer or homicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 90% of suicides are related to mental illness, says Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.”

On average, people with serious mental illness die up to 23 years sooner than other Americans.

The involuntary commitment and detention of people with mental illnesses is not ended; in fact, it is worse and more damaging because we go to jails and prisons and not to a hospital.

According to the Treatment Advocacy Reports: “In the United States there are now more than three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. Looked at by individual states, in North Dakota there are approximately an equal number of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons compared to hospitals. By contrast, Arizona and Nevada have almost ten times more mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. It is thus fact, not hyperbole, that America’s jails and prisons have become our new mental hospitals.”

“About 2 million people with mental illness go to jail every year, according to a 2013 study in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

In New York, the cost to keep one person in prison is $60,000 a year.”

The other piece of that story is that many of the mentally ill go
to prisons for profit.

Public safety is not guaranteed or protected:

“Five weeks before the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, the gunman, Aaron Alexis, told police that he was hearing voices and being bombarded by strangers with a microwave machine. If he had been transported to a psych ward, the shootings might never have happened.

“In 2007, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho was behaving so irrationally that a court ordered him to seek mental health care. The order was never carried out. Cho killed himself and 32 others.”

“Before James Holmes dressed up as the Joker and shot 70 people in a movie theater, campus police at the University of Colorado had been warned that he was potentially violent.”

CBS News

There is no individualized treatment and supervision.

Without adequately funded long-term hospitals we cannot give treatment to potentially violent or gravely disabled persons; In fact, our response to patients who are gravely disabled is to toss them into our nation’s gutters.

We, the mentally ill, have the right to prompt evaluation and individualized treatment but there is no institutional support for us to exercise these rights.

I always take the bus home from my therapist.

The 22 line cuts down 16th Street which runs from the Mission District into the Castro.

Last week I sat behind a young mother who had a five-year old on her lap.

He gazed out of the window and asked his mother about a man sleeping barefoot on cardboard.

“Mommy? Why is that man sleeping there?”

“He doesn’t have a home.”

“Why doesn’t he have a home?”

“He decided he doesn’t want one.”

“Why would he do that?”

It takes a child to question a decades old lie that people choose to live and die on our nation’s streets.

Homeless man

The people of the United States know that this must change.

But because those people who claim sound minds and bodies refuse to do what is right, people with mental illnesses must stand up and say no to this brutality.

We must do as Rosa Parks did.

“I did not want to be mistreated; I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.” Rosa Parks


(c) Rob Goldstein 2015-2017







27 thoughts on “Rosa Parks and the Power of No

  1. This is great. Did you know Rosa Parks was not the first person to challenge that law? There was a young woman (teenager) who did it a month earlier. Both were working for the ACLU and didn’t just get tired of it, they set out to challenge the law. Rosa Parks became the poster child because she was seen as more of a sympathetic character, but both of their bravery is an example we should follow in all areas on injustice.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sure, I just find it interesting. Not that it makes Rosa Parks any less brave, just interesting because it really hides the power of organized civil disobedience if it is taught in terms of an old lady just got tired one day and decided it wasn’t fair to move.


      2. Right. Nothing happens in isolation. Stonewall didn’t ‘just happen’….many of the people who rebelled at Stonewall heard King’s message and realized it spoke to their plight as homosexuals. I find it interesting that the group that replaced GLBT people as the ‘them’ that we can spit on with impunity are the mentally ill.
        I have no idea how it happened but the mentally ill are the most oppressed people in the nation. But that’s about to change because once we can see it and name it we can change it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a registered blind guide dog owner. I vividly recollect being followed off a London bus by a lady jangling keys and talking to herself. She followed me into the supermarket and grabbed hold of my guide dog’s harness saying, “I will kill the dog”. Security got her out of the shop and I and my dog where unhurt. It was obvious to me at the time that this lady had mental health issues and needed help. The situation could have been much worse with either me or my dog being seriously harmed. I do sometimes wonder whether the lady went on to do real damage to someone. Kevin


    1. You are absolutely right. I don’t know why so-called ‘Mental health Advocates” think they are doing people with mental illnesses a favor when they downplay the violence potential that is always present in the more severe forms of bi-polar illness and schizophrenia. Yes, it is true that the majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent and it is true that most people who do have illnesses that escalate into violence are not violent when properly treated.

      People are assaulted by people who have lost control every day.

      It’s common sense that if we don’t treat people who have lethal illness that often lead to suicide or homicide that we will see an increased rate of suicide and homicide. How many people have to suffer and die for this little slice of the obvious to sink in?


    1. Thank you, my friend. The only way we’re going to end this persecution is for those of us who are most affected by it to say NO. Obviously waiting for the rest of the country to get a clue and end it out of decency isn’t working. You would think that the fact that we’ve been openly discussing the failure and collapse of the mental health system for over three decades would result in some kind of change for the better. But instead it’s gotten worse, and when I ask my psychiatrist at Kaiser why they don’t step up to the plate and do something all I get as an answer is,”We can’t go back to the past.” What does that mean? We can’t undo a crime against humanity….We can’t go back to the past to improve lives but we can go back to the past to greedily create a new Gilded Age?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re right that makes no sense. That person clearly doesn’t get it. I had a class last night and we talked about this very thing. Many of the students are young and ignorant (sorry but in this case it is true) and blaming violence in society on “the mentally ill” the professor and I spoke against that but it really shows the state we are in. They simply did not have a clue- the system is not set up to understand or help or fix. Thank you for your faithfulness with your posts and the beauty of your work and words.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you…and if you are inclined, please share this. The ‘kids’ are blaming ‘the mentally ill’ when in reality their parents dropped the ball and chose tax cuts over public health. It would be as if we sent cancer patients to the streets and blamed them for dying in front of us.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes that’s exactly it! I will absolutely share- in fact my professor responded with a similar statement. The light needs to be cast on these things- we need many more Roberts- you are a very very good soul. Thank you

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Thank you Rob- I believe I am :)) that is why we are here- to love and help. I read these stories of the on goings in this world and my heart tears that I can’t rescue and even just hug and hold these hurting hearts.


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