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Family and friends say Sharon Denise Dixon needs psychiatric help

Updated: June 15, 2013 6:33AM



As is too often the case, Sharon Denise Dixon, the former alderman of the 24th Ward, had to do something that landed her in jail before her mental state got attention.

Dixon was once a rising star in West Side politics. But on Monday, the former alderman was led into Branch 44 Courtroom on the West Side wearing a yellow jumpsuit like a common criminal.

Last week, Dixon, 50, was arrested outside the Ogden District Police Station in the Lawndale neighborhood after she allegedly showed a police officer a loaded .357-caliber revolver. Police claim Dixon had been walking in and out of the police station with the holstered gun on her waist.

She was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

It was Dixon’s second run-in with police.

In 2009, while a sitting alderman, Dixon was arrested and charged with a DUI stemming from a confrontation with Chicago Police officers in Rogers Park.

A judge determined Dixon was not guilty on the DUI charges, but friends claim the incident triggered a downward mental spiral.

If so, it also likely contributed to her failed bid for re-election in 2011.

“We’ve been trying for about a year and a half to convince her to seek mental health assistance and so far she has resisted,” said Frank Watkins, her former aldermanic chief of staff, who was once engaged to Dixon.

“I love Sharon. She came up on the hard side of life and made something of herself,” Watkins said in a recent telephone interview. “She needs help and it seems like the only way she is going to receive it is if a judge orders her to receive it involuntarily.”

Dixon looked waif-like, her arms clasped behind her back, when she stood before the bench on Monday.

Ald. Ed Burke, the powerful dean of the City Council, stood beside her as legal counsel. The scene in the institutional courtroom was a stark contrast to the days when Dixon was a member of the illustrious City Council where she and Burke were colleagues.

Dixon stood silently while Burke asked the court for a continuance so that his client could undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Shortly before Dixon was due in court, Burke got a phone call from Watkins asking him to appear as Dixon’s lawyer.

“There are limited things people can do without a court order if a person does not wish to seek help,” Burke told me after the hearing.

“She is clearly ill and she needs help,” he said.

Like too many other people locked up in Cook County Jail, Dixon’s incarceration is one way to keep her from harm.

Burke didn’t ask for a reduction of Dixon’s $25,000 bond.

Her closest friends, and her only brother, Michael Dixon, believe “it is not in her best interest to be out on bond,” Burke said.

“At least not now until the court-ordered psychiatric evaluation is completed. The goal is to get her evaluated and to see what type of care she needs, if any,” he said.

Dixon’s brother and a lifelong friend, Madalynn Crenshaw, were in the courtroom and Dixon stared blankly at them during her brief court proceeding.

“She got paranoid, super paranoid. She thought people were following her and that people were trying to come up in her house,” Crenshaw told me. “I am not a physician, but I could see she was paranoid. We want some help for her.”

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month — the time set aside to bring attention to a disease that affects as many as one in four Americans.

But because of the stigma attached to mental illness, often those who need help the most deny they are suffering until tragedy strikes.

Frankly, a lot of people still do not believe that former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s downfall is linked to his bipolar diagnosis. In some instances, people dismiss mental illness as an excuse to cover up criminal behavior.

But it is hard for me to see anyone in his or her right mind walking into a police station strapped with a loaded gun, let alone a former alderman who worked tirelessly to build up a downtrodden section of our city.

“In the black community, people think mental illness is a joke,” Crenshaw said. “But it’s a disease. The bad thing about it, you can’t get treatment for the person. They have to get treatment. We hate that this situation happened, but we have been trying to get her some help for a while.”

Dixon’s brother said their mother suffered from a mental disorder and died a “few years ago.”

“This is extremely difficult. We’ve been here before. Now it’s her. We have a chance to get her some help and this is what we are trying to do,” he added.

“Hopefully we will be more fortunate in this situation than we were with my mother.”



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