Essay:Andrew Messina

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Andrew Messina was a teenager who, in May 2012, was shot and killed by the police after his parents requested assistance in dealing with his suicide threats. The situation illustrated many of the pitfalls of involving the police in familial problems. The police will often make such situations worse because they have their own agenda which potentially conflicts with the family's goals. This agenda usually involves putting the highest priority on the safety of the police officers; the next-highest priority on upholding the interests of the government, typically in ways that involve sacrificing the individual's life, liberty and property for the sake of enforcing rules and laws established through dysfunctional political processes; and the lowest priority on doing anything to help a lawbreaker or mentally disturbed person who is causing them trouble.

The police do not show deference to the family's wishes in such situations, but take control and muscle them aside. If the family decides, partway through, that the police are being unhelpful or even counterproductive, the family cannot retract their request for assistance. In this situation, the family began raising objections to the police's use of large numbers of officers using SWAT procedures, but their concerns were ignored.

Since the police are not members of the family that asked for their assistance, they have less of an incentive to refrain from opening fire on anyone who might be carrying a weapon in a remotely threatening manner. Also, being unfamiliar with the family members involved, they cannot know through personal acquaintance and experience what a person is likely to do, so they may have a greater tendency to make errors in judgment that result in deadly force being unnecessarily used. There is also the question of whether using firearm-wielding police to try to forcibly put a stop to a situation in which a person is threatening no one but himself is productive, or whether it is likely to escalate the situation. If the subject knows that the police will attempt to take him into custody if they get the opportunity, it could provoke threatening gestures intended to keep them away; of course, such gestures can be used as justification to kill.

The police and courts are not psychologists, although sometimes they do use force to compel a person they deem mentally ill to see a psychologist. The government's psychologists are not subject to the same competitive forces as private psychologists, and therefore tend to be of lower quality than those the family could have hired directly. People have a tendency to dislike unwarranted coercion, however, and to become distraught if the coercion becomes extremely egregious; this can worsen one's state of mind rather than improving it.

Arguably, a better solution to such situations is for the parents to continue trying to talk down their child. They are the ones who have established more of a rapport including, perhaps, love, trust, caring, and understanding. Andrew Messina's mother remarked after the incident, "That's the one thing I would have done different today. I would not have called 911."

The government claims that the shooting was acceptable because of the government-established rules of engagement that apply to such interactions. There is no indication that the family agreed to such rules being practiced on their property, however. The police knew that the boy was armed when they entered the property; they had an opportunity to stay out of harm's way if they did not want to respect the family's wishes that the boy was not to be shot.

Indeed, the police were asked by the family to bring one car rather than a SWAT team. Arguably, the boy's conduct was self-defensive in nature, and the police's conduct constituted armed criminal trespass and murder, according to libertarian principles of natural law. Then again, given Messina's stated desire to die, it might alternatively be considered an assisted suicide, in which case it would be considered wholly justifiable according to the principle of self-ownership.

State schools and restrictions on minors

The news coverage noted that according to Messina's parents, Andrew "had a bad day at school and the pressure was so overwhelming, he grabbed a gun and threatened to kill himself."[1] In the 911 call, his mother stated, "What set him off is that his grades aren’t good, I don’t like the friends he’s hanging out with, stuff like that."[2] The systems of compulsory education and government schools, as well as the other restrictions placed upon minors, can cause a student to feel trapped in intolerable circumstances. In a free market, a problem such as finding one's school environment to be a bad fit academically or socially could be relatively easily remedied by switching schools or otherwise searching for alternative forms of education, and disputes with parents can be resolved by the child exercising his autonomy as a sovereign individual.

But because the government has taken away so much of people's money in order to fund its system of state schools, few can afford to send their children to private school or take off work to home school them. People are stuck with whatever school their district offers, unless they are willing to go to the expense of moving — which, thanks to the government-sponsored system of homeownership, is beyond many people's means, since there are significant switching costs, and so many homes are now worth less than the mortgage amount. In any event, moving might not solve the problem, if the other district's school is just as bad (which it quite possibly is, due to burdensome regulations, dysfunctional governance systems devoid of the safeguards inherent in the investor democracy that private ownership affords, and the lack of significant competitive pressures or a profit motive). The anguish the government school system and its other policies engender leads to tragedies such as this, in which people see no other escape but death.


See also