Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mental illness while Black.

The Intercept has a piece up about the unnecessary shooting of a young black man suffering from some type of psychotic break. Elwood White was 22, and while visiting a family friend began putting rocks in his pockets and acting out violently while yelling "Help me!" and "It wasn't me!" He punched his friend, then ran towards a busy intersection where he ransacked a shop and then threw a cinder block through the window of a truck. 

The descriptions of that day, from bystanders and police officers involved, paint a pretty clear picture of someone in crisis, who would most likely still be alive if they had been a white woman. 
In the absence of good data, we’re left with what research tells us about policing and race and policing and mental illness. Experts say no research exists that examines the overlay of race and mental illness in confrontations with law enforcement.
A lot of the stories I'm hearing about someone suffering from a mental illness being shot by police show how little training cops are getting. They rarely walk into the situation as a crisis situation. A defensive/hostile position is the default approach. Of the stories I've seen, all those who died were either Black or Native. 

As described by the article:
This means that a 22-year-old black male who’s throwing rocks at cars, ransacking a minimart and wielding a broken broom handle will likely be perceived as more dangerous than a 45-year-old white woman engaging in the same behavior, said Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor and former police officer who studies law enforcement training and tactics, “not because of conscious racism, but because of the implicit biases that shape [police] perceptions of that call or that encounter. At an unconscious level, that officer’s brain may be telling his mind, It’s unusual for a 45-year-old white woman to be engaging in this behavior, so unusual that this is probably a symptom of mental illness. At the same time, the officer’s brain may be telling his mind, at an unconscious level,This seems like violent crime that young black adults have committed in the past that I, as an officer, am familiar with, so it’s probably that.”
So why isn't there more training regarding mental illness? 

What goes along with the training for 5150's?

Surely, interaction with the mentally ill is a part of the daily life of police officers, there is a disproportionate amount of mentally ill folk living on the streets. 
Research shows that the less experience an officer has in dealing with someone who’s mentally ill, the more likely the officer is to view that person as a threat. Training in this area tends to be minimal, with most officers getting no more than eight hours of academy training, according to a recent survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum.
Elwood White was only 22.  According to his family he made a comment to his father about hearing voices only weeks earlier. It's possible he was in the midst of some type of schizophrenic break. As soon as officers approached him, and heard him (literally) cry for help, alarm bells should have rung. 

The court case that followed White's death clarified the wrong-doing of the officers involved. But policies have not changed. 

It's just another example of a system with little to no understanding of those suffering from a mental illness, coupled with a systems clear prejudice towards black males. 

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