It doesn’t take a sociology or psychology expert to see a few common factors with officer involved shootings of black men in America. Before the hashtag, before the media frenzy, before the police interaction… there is a human being. A human being with a family, a soul, a conscience, a soul, and a mind.
Any black man on the planet will tell you that getting pulled over is one of the most stressful encounters. It takes an extremely focused and centered state of mind to remain level during police interactions. Furthermore our heightened fear of “Acting nervous or weird,” which can give officers a reason to think we’re up to something adds to the overall mental drain that comes with interacting with police.
There’s nothing worse than to get pulled over and begin having flashbacks of countless black men laying calmly on the pavement while an officer yells “Stop resisting.” It’s enough mental strain to make anyone noticeably unsettled.
But what happens when a black man, who may already be dealing with an altered mental state, compounded with the stress of a regular police interaction, has a run-in with police?
Is it possible to not be able to respond to screaming commands? Is it possible that in some cases police officers are misreading symptoms of mental illness with non-compliance? Is it possible that many of these police officers are dealing with some type of mental issue that incites them to act a certain way when dealing with men of color?
The body count is getting larger and tensions are drawing higher so we must explore every option until we find a solution that brings about better interactions between minorities and law enforcement officials. Here are a few cases where mental illness was clearly a variable in such interactions:
1.)Twenty-seven-year-old Air Force veteran Anthony Hill was naked and unarmed when DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen shot and killed him outside his apartment in the small Atlanta suburb of Chamblee. In March of last year, a maintenance worker at Hill’s apartment building called the police after seeing Hill banging on neighbors’ doors, crawling, and lying on the ground naked, in the midst of an apparently bipolar episode. When Officer Olsen arrived, police claim, Hill charged at him. Olsen fired and Hill died on the scene.
2.)Alfred Okwera Olango, an African American man was shot and killed by El Cajon police (San Diego area), his sister was captured in an eyewitness video as she wept and screamed at officers, saying she told authorities her brother was mentally ill.
In the video posted on YouTube (some explicit language), the man’s sister said she told officers he was sick and needed help. She said she called police three times but instead should have called a “crisis communication team.”
3.)Charles Kinsey, was trying to calm one of his autistic patients, lying on his back, yelling at two police officers standing behind telephone poles just a few dozen feet away on Northeast 14th Avenue. In the video he can be heard saying, “All he has is a toy truck in his hand, that’s all it is. There is no need for guns.” Despite his plea one of the officers fired three shots, hitting Kinsey at least once in one leg.
4.)Keith Lamont Scott, the 43-year-old North Carolina man shot and killed after a confrontation with Charlotte police. His wife can be heard yelling to police, “He does not have a gun. He has a TBI.” TBI means Traumatic Brain Injury.
5.)Jason Harrison, a mentally disabled man, was shot dead while holding only a screwdriver at his front door. His mother had called police in Dallas, Texas, for help to take him to a local hospital as he was in a mental crisis. Harrison’s mother opened the door to the awaiting officers and he appears behind her twiddling a screwdriver. The officers immediately demand he drop the tool and within seconds fire several shots, killing Harrison.
All of these cases are similar in that there was a clear notice to police that the subject had an altered mental state, yet officers still responded with deadly force. Race plays a big role in these interactions, but we cannot sit by and push critical issues under the table. It is important we become more aware of mental illness and how to effectively get our loved ones help in the event of a crisis.
Police are not trained mental health workers and you may be doing your loved ones a disservice by not knowing the proper people to contact for assistance.