Psychosurgery & The Second Violence Initiative


At the head of now disbanded Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA), psychiatrist Frederick Goodwin was the federal government's highest ranking psychiatrist and one of the world's leading biological psychiatrists. He was thrust into the hot lights of national media attention in early 1992 after he allegedly made remarks that compared inner city youth to monkeys who live in a jungle, and who just want to kill each other, have sex and reproduce. The statements in question were made at a February 11 meeting of the prestigious National Advisory Mental Health Council. One person in attendance, an African American government employee, was offended enough to phone the Washington Post.

Ten days of escalating media debate and criticism ensued, at the end of which Goodwin issued an apology. On February 21, 1992 he said he had "learned all too painfully that the absence of malice or bad intentions does not excuse the insensitivity" of his comments, adding, "In an effort to shed light on the violence problem, I juxtaposed primate research to the problems in our cities in a careless way. I regret this insensitivity."

Media controversy continued, but as yet no one had seen the actual transcript of Goodwin's speech to the National Advisory Mental Health Council. Meanwhile, Goodwin resigned as head of ADAMHA; but Louis Sullivan immediately appointed him to a post he was already scheduled to assume, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Goodwin remained well-placed to lead the violence initiative.

The media coverage of Goodwin's apparently racist remarks was considerable, and Congressman John Conyers, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, demanded Goodwin's resignation. But then Conyers came under fire from the Wall Street Journal in a March 9 editorial titled "The Speech Police." The Washington Post followed with an editorial on March 21, "The Fred Goodwin Case," stating that an otherwise great scientist and psychiatrist had made an unfortunate slip. The newspaper commented, "this is the political high season. When the going got tough, Dr. Fred Goodwin was out."


In an effort to lend support to Congressman John Conyers, Ginger Ross Breggin and I visited his office on March 17, 1992. There we read the newly arrived verbatim transcript of Goodwin's remarks to the National Advisory Mental Health Council. The transcript not only confirmed Goodwin's comparison between monkeys and inner-city youth, it contained something far more threatening. The government was indeed planning a program of urban biomedical social control aimed at identifying and treating children with presumed genetic and biological "vulnerabilities" that might make them prone to violence in later years.

Goodwin described this inner city psychiatric intervention as "one of the planning initiatives that is the top priority of the agency now for its planning for the future and what we mean here is the 1994 budget."

Goodwin emphasized NlMH's unique expertise and role in identifying the vulnerable individual-the youngster who might grow up to be violent. He spoke of "early detection" and "preventive interventions." While he acknowledged that "psychosocial variables" do contribute to crime, he focused on psychiatric concepts of "impulsivity," "biological correlates" and "genetic factors." He said that genetic factors in violence and crime "are very strong."

He discussed the need to identify specific populations for "extensive and expensive productive interventions." Because the interventions would be costly, it would be necessary to "narrow your focus on your population that you are going to intervene in" to "hone down to something under 100,000."

Goodwin noted the public's concern over violent crime, and suggested that there would be more political support or "leverage" for focusing on individuals rather than on social reform or "large social engineering of society." He cited gun control as an example of social engineering that would draw less support than focusing on individual criminals. It was in this overall context that Goodwin had made his comparison between inner-city youth and monkeys in a jungle:

If you look, for example, at male monkeys, especially in the wild, roughly half of them survive to adulthood. The other half die by violence. That is the natural way of it for males, to knock each other off and, in fact, there are some interesting evolutionary implications of that because the same hyperaggressive monkeys who kill each other are also hypersexual, so they copulate more and therefore they reproduce more to offset the fact that half of them are dying. Now, one could say that if some of the loss of structure in this society, and particularly in the high impact inner city areas, has removed some of the civilizing evolutionary things that we have built up and that maybe it isn't t just careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all of the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilization over thousands of years in our own evolution.

In March 1992, immediately after we obtained the transcript of Goodwin's remarks to the National Advisory Mental Health Council, we began to organize a national campaign against the government's plans. We started by sending out hundreds and eventually thousands of reports from the Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology and by attempting to arouse media interest.

As far as we know, Mark and Ervin did not perform their psychosurgery experiments on any African Americans. With more limited political aims, perhaps, another surgeon was operating on numerous black children. When I began researching the return of psychosurgery in the early 1970's, I quickly came upon the work of O.J. Andy, director of neurosurgery at the University of Mississippi-Ole Miss-in Jackson. He was publishing reports on multiple surgical interventions into the brains of small children, ages five to twelve, who were diagnosed as aggressive and hyperactive. Of his 30-40 patients, he wrote me in 1971, most were children.

Before the controversy hit the press, l phoned Andy, who told me he could not recall the race of any of the children. Later I contacted a civil rights attorney in Mississippi who was able to determine that most of them were housed in a segregated black institution for the developmentally disabled. The attorney got onto the wards, where the nurses told him with frustration that Andy had a completely free-hand in picking children for psychosurgery.

In 1966 Andy described J. M., age nine, who was "hyperactive, aggressive, combative, explosive, destructive, sadistic." Over a three-year period Andy performed four separate mutilating operations involving at least six lesions with implanted electrodes. The youngster was at first said to be doing well. In a subsequent 1970 article, Andy again claimed that J. M. is no longer so combative and negative. Then he added, "lntellectually, however, the patient is deteriorating."

While Andy did not take an activist political position like Mark, Ervin and Sweet-he did tell B. J. Mason, a reporter for Ebony, that black urban rioters "could have abnormal pathologic brains" and "should undergo tests with whatever capacity we have now." Following world-wide publicity about his operations during the antipsychosurgery campaign, in 1973 a committee of his peers at the university declared his research experimental. When Andy did not establish appropriate experimental protocols, he was prohibited from operating. Andy himself declared in 1980 that he had been forced to stop operating due to "sociological pressures" in his home community.