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• Rev. Fred Shaw, Anti-Racism Task Force Leader, Joins Calls for APA President and Columbia University Psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman to Resign All Advisory and Executive Positions in Light of Blatant Racist Tweet.
• Lieberman has a controversial past, including being irrationally critical of anyone opposing his or psychiatry’s works—making accusations of the type that are now being similarly directed at him, but with merit.
• The Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons wrote to leaders at four institutions affiliated with Lieberman questioning if New York Presbyterian Hospital is safe for students and patients of color.
• Rev. Shaw states, “As an African American and human rights advocate, I am appalled that Ms. Gatwech was subject to this racial abuse,” Rev. Shaw calls for Lieberman’s resignation from all executive and advisory positions he holds internationally, including with pharmaceutical companies.
By CCHR International
Mental Health Industry Watchdog
February 25, 2022
Former American Psychiatric Association president Jeffrey Lieberman, Chair of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, has been suspended after issuing a racist post on his Twitter account about a dark-skinned model, Ms. Nyakim Gatwech.
He was subsequently removed from his position as psychiatrist-in-chief at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital and forced to resigned from his role as executive director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. However,
“As an African American and human rights advocate, I am appalled that Ms. Gatwech was subject to this racial abuse,” Rev. Shaw said.
He called for Lieberman’s resignation from all executive and advisory positions he holds internationally, including with pharmaceutical companies—from the U.S. to Spain.
Lieberman tweeted in response to a photo of Ms. Gatwech, an American model of South Sudanese descent, that her skin color was possibly a “freak of nature.”
In an email to his colleagues before he was suspended, Lieberman apologized for the tweet, describing it as “racist and sexist.” He added that he was “deeply ashamed” of his “prejudices and stereotypical assumptions.”
But Rev Shaw said the apology was “public relations rhetoric. This is no light-weight psychiatrist, he’s the former head of the American Psychiatric Association, and has been a researcher for the National Institute of Mental Health and served on its National Advisory Mental Health Council; he also served on the advisory board of the Food and Drug Administration advisory committee for Neuropharmacologic and Psychopharmacologic Drugs and has been on the editorial boards of numerous journals. We shall approach all of them to have Dr. Lieberman be removed as an expert and denied future official affiliations.”
In April 2021, the APA issued a formal apology over what it called psychiatry’s “role in perpetrating structural racism” and “history of actions…that hurt Black, Indigenous, and People of Color” (BIPOC). It took them over 170 years to apologize, which the Task Force rejected. APA’s response to Lieberman’s comment was unremarkable and self-serving. Its Board of Trustees issued a statement, saying it “reiterates its position that both racism and sexism harm the APA as an organization, the field of psychiatry, and the people and communities we serve. Past APA presidents do not speak for, or on behalf of, the APA.”
Rev. Shaw says the APA needs to take a much stronger stand—removing Lieberman’s past presidential title and issuing other sanctions.
Lieberman’s post, with a photo of Ms. Gatwech, was not only racist but also sexist. “It is not a work of art made of black stone or granite,” read the original tweet, published by a user with the handle @zg4ever. Further, he wrote that Gatwech “is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the darkest skin on Earth. But in 2020, Guinness tweeted and clarified that it does not monitor skin tone.”
Rev. Shaw, also a spokesperson for the mental health watchdog Citizens Commission on Human Rights International, which helped found the Task Force Against Racism and Modern-Day Eugenics, notes examples of psychiatry’s racist history:
- In the 1950s U.S. psychiatrist J.C. Carothers argued that in many ways the African resembles a European 8- or 9-year-old child in his reaction to the environment. He compared Africans to a “leucotomized European.”
- He helped developed a “Violence Initiative” program to look for a “violent” gene in African Americans and Hispanics that could be controlled by psychiatric drugs, including the antidepressant Prozac—known to cause violent and suicidal behavior.
- As reported by , The New York State Psychiatric Institute has its own history of racial discrimination and questionable practices. The facility came under fire in 1998 after news broke of research involving Black and Latino children targeted to test a theory about criminal or violent behavior and given a drug that was later pulled from the market. According to s, the researchers targeted boys 6-10 who were the younger brothers of people labeled at the time as “delinquents.”
Shaw rejected explanations for Lieberman’s behavior, including Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia, who described the episode as “unfortunate” and said it “really highlights how deep and pervasive some of our own “I don’t believe this was some ‘unconscious’ bias,” Shaw said. “You could never excuse slave owners’ brutality by saying they were ‘unconsciously’ indoctrinated in the fraudulent idea that Africans were genetically inferior to white humans, justifying their enslavement.” biases can be.”
Comments from others include:
- “We condemn the racism and sexism reflected in Dr. Lieberman’s tweet and acknowledge and share the hurt, sadness, confusion, and distressing emotions you may be feeling,” Thomas Smith, the new acting director of the New York Psychiatric Institute and other leaders said in an email to staff.
- A dozen doctors called the Coalition of Concerned Analysts of Color at Columbia sent a mass email to the psychiatric department demanding Lieberman’s resignation, condemning his beliefs and stating: “We do not support such views and condemn these beliefs and actions. Nor do we support a department that continues to employ anyone holding them….”
- The Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons wrote to leaders at four institutions affiliated with Lieberman questioning if New York Presbyterian Hospital is safe for students and patients of color.
Lieberman has a controversial past, including being irrationally critical of anyone opposing his or psychiatry’s works—making accusations of the type that are now being similarly directed at him, but with merit.
- In 2013, Lieberman was APA president when the organization’s ( ) was released, garnering international criticism from mental health professionals with threats to boycott its use. Lieberman told that he’d hired a public relations firm to address psychiatrists being “stigmatized” in the wake of this outcry over the manual.
- “Tawdry PR explains both his comments at that time and today,” Rev. Shaw opined. Lieberman justified the , stating “…it represents a system that is ” and psychiatry has “no better alternative.”
- Further, Dr. Stone wrote: “I was very disappointed to see Dr. Lieberman’s shallow, self-serving and evidence-free diatribe appear in as a guest opinion. He failed to reveal important conflicts of interest. He made serious claims for which he presented no evidence. He has made thinly veiled personal attacks on his critics, without offering anything substantive to counter rationally.”
- With Frederick Goodwin targeting African American children targeted to be drugged with Prozac in the late eighties to “curb” their supposed “violence,”, it is notable that in 1991, Lieberman was a member of the FDA’s Pharmacologic Drugs Advisory Board, which met to hear evidence that Prozac could cause violent and suicidal behavior. At the time, Lieberman had financial ties to antidepressant makers. Despite damning evidence, the committee refused to support a warning that Prozac or antidepressants could cause violent/suicidal behavior. (Since then, dozens of school shootings have been linked to teens taking antidepressants documented to cause hostility.)
- In 1997, Lieberman helped with the formation of the International Early Psychosis Association, along with Australian psychiatrist, Patrick McGorry. Between 2002 and 2010, Lieberman was Vice President for the group’s North America sector and in 2014, was Vice President for the entire group. McGorry came under criticism for promoting the theory of “Psychosis-Risk Syndrome” for which individuals from age 14 could be arbitrarily determined to be at risk or developing psychosis and drugged with antipsychotics Lieberman and McGorry are on the Editorial Board of —a position Lieberman should resign from. the onset of psychosis to “prevent” it. The problem was that the “diagnosis” had a more than 80% false positive rate and psychosis is a side effect of antipsychotics.
- In 2003, in response to British regulators warning doctors not to prescribe antidepressants to those aged 18 and younger because of the risk of suicide, Lieberman told However, in 2004, the FDA also found that antidepressant use in youngsters and young adults could cause suicidal behavior. It then mandated manufacturers to place a black box notice on drug packaging, warning of the risk of suicide. After the FDA issued the warning, Lieberman’s rhetoric changed, now claiming there “wasn’t sufficient evidence to support a link between these drugs and suicide,” in 1991., ‘‘I think they’re really overreacting. This is really going way too far, and in the process doing more harm than good.’’
One former trainee of Lieberman told in the wake of his current racist comments that no one was “surprised” by his remarks:
Rev. Shaw adds: “This is the character of the man who now—in response to his racist comments said: ‘An apology from me to the Black community, to women, and to all of you is not enough. I’ve hurt many, and I am beginning to understand the work ahead to make needed personal changes and over time to regain your trust.’”
Rev. Shaw called the apology self-serving and reiterated that Lieberman should be denounced internationally and any pharmaceutical company affiliations should remove him as a speaker, consultant, advisory board member or researcher. In December 2020, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company in Spain, announced collaboration with Lieberman and other researchers from Columbia University that the Task Force will seek revocation of the relationship.
Rev. Shaw’s Task Force will write to government agencies and private companies and organizations to ask them to remove Lieberman as one of their experts and will also contact psychiatric agencies or groups planning on having him as a speaker.
The Task Force Against Racism and Modern-Day Eugenics comprises over 100 African American community members that want to see racism eliminated from the mental health field and greater accountability instituted in the psychiatric industry for racist and harmful treatment of minorities.
Lola Fadulu, “Columbia Psychiatry Chair Suspended After Tweet About Dark-Skinned Model: The post from Jeffrey Lieberman, which described the model as possibly a ‘freak of nature,’ drew negative attention from medical professionals,” , 23 Feb 2022, Updated 24 Feb 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/nyregion/columbia-jeffrey-lieberman.html
Lieberman, Jeffrey A., ; London Vol. 1, Iss. 3, (Jun 2011): 225-231. DOI:10.2217/npy.11.30, https://www.proquest.com/docview/912446471
Josefa Velasquez “A Racist Tweet by Columbia Psychiatry Chair Ripples Through New York’s Elite Medical Circles,” , 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.thecity.nyc/2022/2/24/22949146/racist-tweet-columbia-psychiatry-chair-jeffrey-lieberman-new-york-medical-elite
https://www.cchrint.org/2021/01/26/american-psychiatric-associations-apology-for-harming-african-americans-rejected/, citing: Megan Brooks, “APA Apologizes for Past Support of Racism in Psychiatry,” Medscape, 19 Jan 2019, https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/944352?src=wnl_edit_tpal&uac=345404PY&impID=3143084&faf=1
Anna Madaris Miller, “Top psychiatrist suspended after tweeting about a Black model, using the phrase ‘freak of nature,’“ , 24 Feb 2022, https://www.insider.com/columbia-psychiatrist-jeffrey-lieberman-suspended-tweet-black-model-2022-2
Nick Mordowanec, “Columbia Psychiatry Chair Suspended After ‘Racist’ Tweet About Black Model,” , 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/columbia-psychiatry-chair-deactivates-twitter-account-after-racist-tweet-1681877
https://www.cchrint.org/2019/07/17/minority-mental-health-month-may-spell-mental-health-slavery/ citing Jonathan M. Metzl, The Protest Psychosis, How Schizophrenia became a Black Disease, (Beacon Press, Boston, 2009), pp. xii, xiv, p. 101
https://www.cchrint.org/2020/06/16/naacp-inglewood-executive-educates-about-psychiatric-racism/ citing “U.S. Hasn’t Given Up Linking Genes to Crime,” , 18 Sept. 1992, https://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/18/opinion/l-us-hasn-t-given-up-linking-genes-to-crime-153192.html
Ronny Reyes, “Columbia University psychiatry department chair is suspended after referring to a dark-skinned model as ‘a freak of nature’” , 24 Feb 2022, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10548689/Columbia-University-prof-suspended-referring-dark-skinned-model-freak-nature.html
https://www.cchrint.org/2021/03/08/resource-on-why-psychiatry-is-upset-about-its-failures-and-critics/, citing: Michael Vlessides, “The Past, Present, and Future of the DSM,” , 15 Dec. 2020, https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/942694
https://www.cchrint.org/2021/03/08/resource-on-why-psychiatry-is-upset-about-its-failures-and-critics/, citing: Judy Stone, “Anti-Psychiatry Prejudice? A response to Dr. Lieberman,” , 24 May 2013, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/anti-psychiatry-prejudice-a-response-to-dr-lieberman/
Sue Dunlevy, “US expert slams Patrick McGorry’s psychosis model,” , 14 June 2011, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/us-expert-slams-patrick-mcgorrys-psychosis-model/news-story/17af8dc06430231afbf44bc9df2d38bf
Olafimihan Oshin, “Columbia chair suspended after tweet about model of South Sudanese descent,” , 23 Feb. 2022, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/595599-columbia-chair-suspended-after-tweet-about-black-model
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