“We been hurt, been down before / when our pride was low / looking at the world like, where do we go?” — Kendrick Lamar
According to the Portland Press Herald in Maine, “nationally about half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year are mentally ill. In many cases, the officers knew from the start that the subjects were unstable.” There remains no national standard for crisis intervention of the mentally ill.
Across the country, U.S. Justice Department investigations have concluded that officers have systematically used unconstitutional force, or engaged in a pattern of using excessive force, against the mentally ill. Unnecessary force by officers has led to deaths in many instances. Last month, 111 people died during police encounters. Those who lost their lives were mostly people of color, mentally ill, or both.
In the video, Hall, 49, is seen standing in a Saginaw, Michigan, parking lot surrounded by eight police officers with their guns drawn and pointed at him. During the short stand-off, a police dog began to growl and lunge toward Hall, who took out a small pocketknife in response. It was when he turned to the dog, the ACLU says, that police showered Hall with a stream of bullets.
The officers fired 46 shots in a matter of seconds, hitting Hall 14 times. Once on the ground, an officer turned him over, handcuffed him, and put his foot on Hall’s back—with “his blood running down the street like water,” Jewel Hall, Milton’s mother, told the ACLU.
Hall suffered from a mental illness. The city “has admitted that its officers lacked sufficient training, particularly in how to deal with mentally distressed people.” None of the police officers faced federal charges.
Last year, Jason Harrison’s mother called 911 for police assistance in bringing her 39-year-old mentally ill son to the hospital. Last month, The Dallas Morning News posted a video of the fatal shooting of Jason Harrison by two police officers. Harrison’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.
According to the Dallas police incident report, Officers Rogers and Hutchins responded to a “major disturbance” involving a mentally ill person. The report stated, Jason Harrison not only posed a threat, he “lunged at one officer.” According to the lawsuit, police officers had assisted Harrison’s mother with this same task numerous times before this incident. As noted by CNN, “[w]ithin 5 seconds of that first command [to drop the screwdriver], the 39-year-old schizophrenic man is shot five times – including twice in the back as he crashes headlong into the home’s garage door, just a few feet from his mother.”
After seeing the video, do you believe the police officers used excessive force?
In the fourteen-shot tragedy I wrote about last week, 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. A pair of officers checked on Hamilton twice before a third officer confronted him for legally napping in a park. The third officer ended up shooting Hamilton fourteen times. Daily Kos writer Shaun King believes this type of force by police officers against mentally ill victims is extreme when one considers their mental health.
Last year, 43-year-old Parminder Singh Shergill, a U.S. Army veteran suffering from mental illness, was also fatally shot fourteen times. In December, 51-year-old Brian Beaird, an unarmed National Guard veteran suffering from mental illness, was shot over a dozen times by three police officers.
In January, mentally ill 17-year-old Kristiana Coignard was shot five times in a police station by police officers in Texas. Footage of the incident has been viewed almost one million times on YouTube. Many people who have viewed the video are upset because a police officer slammed Coignard to the ground, subdued her, voluntarily released her, and then with another officer shot her five times.
Last month, 27-year-old Anthony Hill, an unarmed Air Force veteran who suffered from bipolar disorder, was fatally shot while walking around nude in an Atlanta suburb. Last week, just one day after his 39th birthday, an unarmed Donald “Dontay” Ivy died in a Taser-related confrontation with three city police officers in Albany, New York. Ivy struggled with a mental illness and suffered from heart problems.
On Wednesday, the Miami Herald posted a video of the fatal shooting of mentally ill 25-year-old Lavall Hall. The police claim Hall was aggressively waiving a broomstick in his hands. Whereas video of Lavall Hall’s death may be controversial because it lacks critical moments of the shooting, video of Milton Hall’s fatal shooting is clear and convincing.
The Editorial Board of The Sacramento Bee recently wrote:
Dealing with the breakdowns of severely mentally ill people, in short, is – as it always has been – a fundamental part of police work. Yet over and over, law enforcement officers prove lethally unable, unwilling or unprepared to handle it. We accept this as if we think it’s OK for police to fail in the face of brain disease.
Although each one of these victims is at fault to a different degree, all have suffered the same premature fatal verdict. Milton Hall allegedly exhibited aggressive behavior with a pocket knife. Harrison was allegedly aggressive with a screw driver. Hamilton allegedly threatened the officer with a baton. Shergill had a knife and ignored police directions. Beaird was involved in a car chase. Coignard threatened officers with a knife. Hill ran toward the police. Ivy allegedly resisted arrest. Lavall Hall was acting aggressive with a broomstick. The question remains, was deadly force by police officers the first reaction or last resort in each of these cases? In other words, were these killings justified?
(1) Whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody; and
(2) Whether it was clearly established that even where an exception to the warrant requirement applied, an entry into a residence could be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment by reason of the anticipated resistance of an armed and violent suspect within.
As noted by Nicole Flatow, “this case is not about cops’ criminal liability. It’s about whether cops are obligated to take special precautions in using deadly force — and in entering an individual’s home without a warrant or permission — when they know an individual was mentally ill.”
Like so many cases before this, police officers were tasked with helping out a mentally ill patient during a psychiatric crisis. Like so many cases before this, police officers responded to perceived threats with deadly force. Unlike so many cases before this, where the police officers shoot the mentally ill victim multiple times, 56-year-old Teresa Sheehan somehow survived the officers’ use of excessive force.
One area of how the criminal justice system handles mental illness is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court because Sheehan survived five or six shots and sued the officers and the city for failing to take her mental health status into account during arrest.
The case for how our criminal justice system handles mental illness has been ripe for a long time. It is beginning to become rotten. How do you think the Supreme Court should rule on these issues?