Michael Lembhard
Mental Illness

Michael Lembhard

New York
March 7, 2012
Michael Lembhard
Michael Lembhard

In 2012, a young man named Michael was killed by a police officer in Newburgh, New York. He had brandished a knife at the officer and was subsequently killed. The local newspaper wrote a retrospective of his life.  Michael had learning disabilities. The most striking statement in that article was, “Michael don’t know how to read. Michael is in the sixth grade.” This was a statement made in a deposition given prior to a lead poisoning lawsuit by his mother. Michael and five of his siblings had lead poisoning.

Michael had behavior problems. In 2004, Michael suffered minor injuries in a scuffle with police officers. His uncle said Michael had ADHD. He was ticketed or arrested for driving offenses 11 times in four years. He was pepper-sprayed by the police when evading arrest for having open alcohol in public. The mother of one of his children filed a menacing complaint against him. The family reports that he smoked PCP.

I often wonder if Michael’s life would have been different if he had not been lead poisoned. There is a picture of Michael in which he appears so very angry. He is shirtless and displaying the scrapes he received in the scuffle with police. He is only 15 years old in the photo. His uncle said he had a hard time “shutting his mouth when challenged.”

Ode to Michael

No one told me why I can’t sit,
be still, be good
Why can’t I when I’m mad
I am on fire I am shaking
I just want to be good

No one told me why I can’t
Put my fingers in my ears
Shut my mouth. I yell back
They fire questions at me
I just want to be good

No one told me why I can’t
Read like kids read
Remember so much of me
I cannot find my fire
It used to be so good

No one told me why I can’t
Remember the home where
I touched the paint, drank the water
Its fire burned out my intellect
They say it is no good

No one told me why I have lead poisoning
I only knew that I was angry all the time
I only knew I could not follow the commands
I only knew when the police fired at me

-Charlotte Mountain

Michael Lembhard

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