This is Mental Health month and know historically our community have shunned or not spoken of those we love with a mental illness. Some years ago, my doctor told me 50 per cent of his patients were dealing with depression! There are many gun related suicides in the USA. We are dealing with an opioid epidemic. I believe those who are assigned to protect us may be only equipped to protect themselves, while not being able to keep us from hurting ourselves or others. Police work may be perceived as exciting, but rarely can one be prepared to handle a situation with so many variables that could become volatile. Often times police officers are the catch all for societal and systemic failures. When society does a poor job of providing assessible healthcare for those in need, the general population or families are left with the challenges of coping or hoping where so many things could go wrong.
When we lack the facility or capacity to manage or diffuse a mental health crisis, death is possible as it was in these four cases below. Whether one was known to have a mental problem, or one’s home was entered to address it, or where one is most likely to be accosted through homelessness on the street, or overly restrained with brute force all were greeted like any criminal. Without the proper training, temperament and experience to deal with multiple types of people in law enforcement, while maintaining professionalism, volatile mental health situations can spiral out of control in unexpected ways. Compassion is out there but we mostly hear of tragedies.
On May 15, 2019 in Baytown, Texas, Pamela Turner, 44, African American woman, was gunned down during an altercation with a police officer. Her clinical mental diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia and she was on medication. Her circumstances involved being evicted; possibly pregnant with several active misdemeanor warrants on record. While this was a one on one interaction. They knew each other and according to a family member who interviewed with AP stated Ms. Turner, after arguing with building management, she would get an unnecessary and unwelcomed visit from a police officer who also lived in her complex, Juan Delacruz.
When death is involved and one of two person die, the family and community would want a thorough investigation. There are various versions of the story including a night time video posted to social media. What did she have the right to expect from the police officer? Juan Delacruz knew better but maybe not so well trained to work with a mentally challenged person. His history with her may have kept him from diffusing the situation, especially since they both lived in the same complex and had had unfriendly interactions. He could have called for backup. The police department in defense of their actions say the officer was justified. As stories go his taser was snatched by her and used on the officer leaving little option but to defend himself in that moment with deadly force. Given their history, he was not qualified.
*Pamela Shantey Turner was the mother of two children in their twenties and a grandmother of three (3). Those around the apartment complex were aware of her mental illness and viewed her interaction with other adults, though at times confrontive, was harmless. Going from a ‘simple stop to the use of brutal deadly force is shocking and raises serious concerns’ came in a statement from the ACLU of Texas. They also acknowledged more unanswered questions and saw no disrespect in a citizen documenting activities around them. Maybe Pamela Turner’s life passes through a system that has a horrible history of treating African Americans poorly or without dignity, respect, or even professionalism. As the Department of Justice breaks down before our eyes it is no wonder the state and people of Texas may apply different rules of engagement and behavior in our communities and particularly with our women. It is frightful and alarming that entanglement with the legal system sends us straight to the penal system or our grave without opportunity to calm confused emotions, figure out what can be done to address urgencies, and unsympathetic brute force keeping us from surviving another day.
*Natasha McKenna, 37 had ‘her hands were cuffed, and legs shackled, suffered from mental illness when in custody at Fairfax County, Va. jail on February 3rd, 2015. In this circumstance she was shocked four times with a stun gun, when approached with force cause her intense reaction and resistance. They named her behavior as ‘excited delirium’ a response from mental patients. She had no business being in a prison cell.
*Shereese Francis, 29 died of suffocation after being chased down and cornered, restrained, punched while face down on a bed when being handcuffed by police called to her home as a result of going off her medication in Queens, N.Y. on March 15, 2012. Her sister observed this was the last method in working with an out of control mentally ill person.
*Margaret Laverne Michell, 54 was homeless, had mental problems, while pushing her shopping card she was stopped by police. The claim was she lunged at them with a screwdriver as two witnesses disputed this interpretation. Two officers where present. Why was this a failure?
Who are we and where are we on the scale of human evolution that we have a society that has been dominated so long by policy makers, who are against full human and civil rights for all citizens and instead misuse police force to mitigate failed policy that need to be changed or improved? How is it that one phone call can cause the assault, humiliation, or even death of another person? An attempt to answer this question in and of itself illustrates the depth of breakdown in our civil society. How can we be clear that calling the police is not the same as calling for medical assistance? It is effectively calling deadly force