Last month 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier was shot dead by a Chicago police officer after his father placed a 911 call because LeGrier was acting irrationally, wielding a baseball bat. This was not his first confrontation with the law but the death of LeGrier, who suffered from mental illness, gained national attention because a bystander was also killed.
10 days after Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, MO. a young man suffering from mental illness, named Kajieme Powell was fatally shot by police in St. Louis. Michael Brown’s death gained national attention but Kajieme Powell’s death did not because he was mentally ill. Why do we ignore, even justify, police killing of a mentally ill person yet give national attention to other police shooting victims?
The Washington Post reports that 25% of the victims of police killings in 2015 displayed signs of mental illness. We already know that 14% of inmates in jails and prisons suffer from a mental illness.
We have to ask ourselves Why are we so afraid of mental illness that we rely on police to deal with a mentally ill person in crisis?
Are we afraid of their disturbing behavior? Are we afraid of getting hurt? Are we afraid of not knowing how to respond? of not knowing how to de-escalate a situation? Are we afraid of those who are different than we are? Are we afraid to admit that people with a brain disorder are part of us?
Why don’t we fund and provide alternative responses to police confrontation? In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for more support for the care of the mentally ill. Unfortunately, in the past 5 years there has been a decrease in funding of mental health treatment services in states across the country. I live in Santa Barbara County which has the least amount of funding for mental health services of any county in California. What does that say about our attitude about the mentally ill?
Some law enforcement agencies are beginning to train their police to respond to mental health emergencies in Crisis Intervention Teams (C.I.T.) Cities like San Antonio are integrating mental health services with law enforcement. We need to invest in more humane treatment for those who suffer with brain disorders. I invite my readers to respond to why we fear the mentally ill.