In deciding to honor U.S. Rep. Ron Barber for his "distinguished contribution in furthering public understanding of mental illness," we agree with Si Schorr, attorney, community leader and founder, with his wife, Ellie, of the Schorr Family Award:
"Very often, if something involving the mentally ill happens and it causes damage to others, you do not see the victims respond in the way that Ron Barber characteristically did," Schorr said during an interview on Arizona Public Media's "AZ Illustrated Metro" on Monday.
Barber will be the 15th recipient of the award, co-sponsored by the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southern Arizona.
On Thursday he will join a list that includes Mindy Bernstein, executive director of Tucson's Café 54 and Our Place Clubhouse, a training program for individuals recovering from mental illness; Sylvia Nasar, economist, journalist and award-winning author of "A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr.," the math genius who recovered from schizophrenia and received a Nobel Prize; and Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatry professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and author of "An Unquiet Mind," her memoir about her manic-depressive illness.
Barber, as Schorr noted, is being recognized for his lifelong involvement in the field, but especially for his leadership after the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings, in which he was wounded, along with 12 others, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and in which six people were killed.
After the shootings, Barber and his family established the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding - fundforcivility.org - as "a living memorial" and to work toward building "a community where people feel safe, are treated with dignity, and where we can all work together without rancor to solve community problems."
But for the Schorrs, Barber's public statement on Nov. 8, 2012, when Jared Lee Loughner, the mentally ill Jan. 8 shooter, accepted a plea deal that includes spending the rest of his life in prison, tipped the balance.
In court that day, Barber pointed out that Loughner's erratic behavior at home and at school before Jan. 8 had repeatedly raised red flags that he "needed mental health treatment." Had Loughner been given that treatment (and he emphatically was not), Barber said, then the horrific violence on Jan. 8 "might never have taken place."
That is "not the reaction one gets from an ordinary victim of a crime," Schorr said. "He said it. He felt it. He believed it."
That, said Schorr, made a compelling case for honoring Barber with the Schorr Family Award. We agree completely.
Arizona Daily Star
What Barber said
These are excerpts from Ron Barber's statement at the Nov. 8, 2012, sentencing of Jared Loughner. The statement can be read in full on Barber's congressional website at http://1.usa.gov/105rcNw
"Mr. Loughner, this is only the third time I have seen you.
"The last time was at the hearing in this courthouse, when you pled guilty to the charges that bring you to this sentencing hearing today.
"The first was on that fateful morning of Jan. 8, 2011.
"On that day, your violent actions took the lives of six wonderful people and wounded 13 more.
"That was a day that shocked our community and broke our hearts and we struggled to make sense of it.
"But there is no way to make sense of those senseless acts.
"I, and many others, have physical and mental wounds that will be with us for the rest of our lives.
"My family suffered greatly and our lives are forever changed.
"Six families lost loved ones and their hearts will ache for as long as they live ....
"The tragedy your brutal violence inflicted was not - and will not - be the event that defines who we are individually or as a community. ...
"Since the tragedy, I have been reflecting on and speaking about what we can do to prevent another such violent episode.
"We must renew our efforts to increase community awareness and knowledge of the symptoms, prevention and treatment of mental illness.
"We know for a fact that 90 percent of people with a mental illness never commit a violent act.
"In your case, Mr. Loughner, I believe that your behaviors preceding the shooting should have alerted others that you needed mental health treatment.
"Had this happened, the violent acts you committed might never have taken place.
"Now you must pay the price for the terror, injuries and deaths you caused."
If you or someone you know is having a mental-health emergency and is a danger to self or others, call 911. For help with mental-health issues and for resources, call the communitywide crisis line at 622-6000.