When Joe Prude called the police on his brother, he was asking for help: Daniel Prude, who suffered from mental health problems, had run almost naked out of his Rochester, New York, house into the snow. When officers arrived, new video footage shows, the March 23 encounter quickly turned violent, and Prude died from asphyxiation under a hood officers had put over his head.
Two years prior, in 2018, Shukri Ali Said of Georgia also wound up dead after leaving her house during a mental health crisis on April 23, 2018. Police, called in to help, found Said standing at an intersection holding a knife. Officers shot her five times in the neck and chest, killing her.
That same month, in New York, officers answered a 911 call about a black man waving something that looked like a gun. In fact, it was a pipe. But when Saheed Vassell, a 34-year-old father with mental illness who was well known in his Brooklyn community, pointed it at police, they shot him dead.
Prude, Vassell and Said are among the hundreds of people with intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses in the United States killed by police every year. According to The Washington Post, 197 of the 999 people shot by police last year had a mental illness.
Police are almost always the first responders in cases of mental health crises in the United States, as they are in criminal and medical emergencies.
From deinstitutionalization to disarray
As a disability and ethics scholar who focuses on criminal justice, I know this country has long failed to justly and humanely care for people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities.
For most of American history, people with mental health disabilities were locked away in hospital-like institutions, many of them state-run. Starting in the 1950s, the physical and sexual abuse common in these facilities, as well as other inhumane practices, spurred a decades-long effort to close them down and return residents to the community.
This process, called deinstitutionalization, was meant to replace institutions with local mental health centers that would provide community-based mental health treatment and assistance for those recently released from institutions.
However, in 1981 Ronald Reagan cut most funding for these centers. And since other existing community services – like schools, housing and health services – were not adapted to meet the needs of these new community members, many were left jobless, homeless and unable to get a good education.
Some people are fortunate enough to live with their families or in one of the United States’ roughly 500 private residential facilities – places that can cost up to US$60,000 a year. Others end up homeless, in poorly run facilities or even in jails.
But everyone with these disabilities is at high risk of interacting with police. Too often, these interactions go poorly.
‘Nothing about us without us’
In hopes of identifying practices that prevent avoidable deaths, I’ve been interviewing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities about their experiences with the criminal justice system. Under the terms of the academic ethics boards overseeing my research, the names of all my interview subjects are protected.
One reason police encounters can go wrong, I’ve learned, is that people with intellectual disabilities often struggle to comprehend spoken instructions – particularly in a high-stress situation.
“People who don’t have [an intellectual disability] don’t have a hard time understanding what the police are asking them to do,” one man told me. “It’s different for me.”
People with these disabilities are also often disbelieved by the police. A woman I interviewed – who communicated slowly due to her disabilities – said she called 911 on her boyfriend for hitting her. But the police believed the boyfriend’s story that she was the violent one and arrested her instead.
“When they find out that you’re not capable of understanding what’s going on, it’s a free-for-all,” another interview subject told me.
People with intellectual disabilities may struggle in court, too. When one interviewee didn’t understand a judge’s question, he told me, he was sentenced to three months in county jail for disorderly conduct.
Judges and lawyers “need to listen to people that’s on disability,” said the woman arrested after calling 911 on her abusive partner, urging patience.
Strategies for change
Recognizing that they struggle to handle people in mental crisis, many U.S. cities are making efforts to improve outcomes.
New York City trains some officers in crisis intervention and recently mandated that a social worker must accompany officers to such cases. Denver is looking to adopt a mobile crisis intervention program started in Oregon that ensures medics and crisis workers, not police, respond to mental health calls.
These and similar efforts nationwide are a step in the right direction. But my research indicates they may not go far enough.
Police frequently encounter people with psychiatric disabilities when someone calls 911 about a person acting unusually in public. If police perceive that person as potentially violent, the situation can quickly escalate.
That’s how Anthony Hill, a black veteran found wandering around his Atlanta apartment complex naked, died in 2015. Hill, who had gone off his medication, ran toward Officer Robert Olsen, who shot him. Olsen was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Nov. 1, 2019, for aggravated assault and violating his oath of office.
Nor do laws targeting police violence address the factors that lead people with mental health disabilities to need emergency assistance in the first place.
Despite growing recognition of the stigma around mental illness, people with mental health disabilities are often still feared, pitied and associated with violence in TV and movies. This social stigma can lead to societal rejection and isolation. And the difficulties people with mental health challenges face finding adequate housing, health care and employment all increase their risk of involvement with the criminal justice system.
One lesson from the history of American mental health care is that reforming just one problematic aspect of the system doesn’t work. To serve this population’s needs, other institutions – from education to housing – must also be made more flexible, responsive and accessible.
Just as shuttering institutions 60 years ago solved little, simply targeting police responses won’t suffice now, either.
This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments.
93 Black Men And Boys Killed By Police
1. A.J. Crooms
1 of 93
A Florida sheriff's officer shot and killed two Black teens, A.J. Crooms and Sincere Pierce.— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 19, 2020
Here's what we know so far: pic.twitter.com/A8FRNS93L6
2. Sincere Pierce
2 of 93
MOTHER SPEAKS: Cynthia Green of #Cocoa speaks out about her son 18 yr old Sincere Pierce, shot and killed in deputy involved double shooting last Friday. Says she isn’t getting answers and still hasn’t seen her son’s body. @MyNews13 #News13Brevard pic.twitter.com/hYFxZEOqz6— Greg Pallone (@gpallone13) November 17, 2020
3. Walter Wallace Jr.3 of 93
4. Marcellis Stinnette, teen killed by police in Waukegan, IllinoisSource:Twitter 4 of 93
5. Jonathan Price
5 of 93
The Texas police officer who fatally shot Jonathan Price has been arrested and charged with murder. His bail has been set at 1 million dollars. I'm glad. RIP Jonathan, rest in power. pic.twitter.com/Mw5GMQX0Eb— ~𝓣𝓮𝓷𝓪𝓬𝓲𝓸𝓾𝓼 𝓣𝓮𝓪𝓱~ (@TeahCartel) October 6, 2020
6. Deon Kay6 of 93
7. Daniel Prude
7 of 93
The killing of Daniel Prude by Rochester police officers is unacceptable, and we need real answers for why this happened and why it took so long to come out.— Jeremy Cooney (@JeremyCooneyROC) September 2, 2020
Trained medical professionals should respond to mental health crises, not armed officers. pic.twitter.com/EPhH9inn1x
8. Damian Daniels
8 of 93
Yesterday in SA cops killed Sergeant Damian Lamar Daniels in front of his home. His family asked the Red Cross to get him to the VA.— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) August 27, 2020
He had a legal gun on his hip that he never removed. He didn’t want to go and he struggled when they tried to force him.
So they killed him. pic.twitter.com/q6U7OSXb6D
9. Dijon Kizzee
9 of 93
This is #DijonKizzee, 29 yrs old and shot and killed by LA Sheriffs after being stopped for a bike violation. Cops handcuffed his lifeless body. While police investigations can drag on for months/years, cops have already claimed he ran away, and dropped clothes and a gun. #BLM pic.twitter.com/pM6mQfWLeQ— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) September 1, 2020
10. Trayford PellerinSource:GoFundMe 10 of 93
11. David McAtee
11 of 93
in an attempt to disperse crowds, #DavidMcAtee, a louisville bbq chef known for serving cops free meals, was shot and killed by the police last night. he was unarmed. not only were the officers’ bodycams off, but they also left his body on the street for 12 hours.— adaliah 🇹🇬 (@adxlls) June 2, 2020
say his name. pic.twitter.com/kqOPku8iuQ
12. Natosha “Tony” McDade12 of 93
13. George Floyd13 of 93
14. Yassin Mohamed14 of 93
15. Finan H. Berhe
15 of 93
Montgomery County Police Tweet Video Of Cop Shooting Finan H. Berhe In Maryland https://t.co/HzNV24ZpZB— Bishop Jerome McCorry (@JMcCorrySpeaks) May 9, 2020
16. Sean ReedSource:Twitter 16 of 93
17. Steven Demarco TaylorSource:S. Lee Merritt 17 of 93
18. Ariane McCreeSource:The Herald/YouTube 18 of 93
19. Terrance Franklin19 of 93
20. Miles HallSource:KRON4 20 of 93
21. Darius TarverSource:S. Lee Merritt 21 of 93
22. William Green
22 of 93
They murdered my cousin. How do you have someone in handcuffs and in a seat belt and shoot them multilpe times.All cops aren't bad but those were. I will fight with the last breath in me for justice. William Green was a family man, a working man. Funny. Loving. Love and miss you. pic.twitter.com/PhM3a6C7uj— Liv 👸🏾 (@liv__03) January 28, 2020
23. Samuel David Mallard, 19
23 of 93
This is a 2019 mugshot of the murder suspect Cobb police shot & killed today. Samuel Mallard, 19, was previously arrested for impersonating officers a half dozen times. In the 2020 case, the GBI says he’s involved in a murder/robbery. CCPD says there are other suspects. @wsbtv https://t.co/7EfuVQLmNB pic.twitter.com/ttWg5HjFkj— Chris Jose (@ChrisJoseWSB) January 17, 2020
24. Kwame "KK" Jones, 17Source:facebook 24 of 93
25. De’von Bailey, 19
25 of 93
Grand jury rules fatal officers' shooting of Devon Bailey was justified. https://t.co/MHXYQn87aH— Scott Kilbury (@SKilburyFOX21) November 14, 2019
26. Christopher Whitfield, 3126 of 93
27. Anthony Hill, 2627 of 93
28. De'Von Bailey, 1928 of 93
29. Eric Logan, 54
29 of 93
BREAKING NEWS OUT OF SOUTH BEND:— Joshua Short (@JoshuaShortWNDU) June 27, 2019
Two lawyers representing the estate of 54-year-old Eric Logan, who was shot and killed by a South Bend police officer, have sued that officer, Sgt. Ryan O'Neill and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The suit was filed in federal court today.
(READ THREAD) pic.twitter.com/frOpKFQIAV
30. Jamarion Robinson, 2630 of 93
31. Gregory Hill Jr., 30
31 of 93
Gregory Hill, Jr. - the family of Greg Hill grants permission to use these photos to honor Greg or tell his story. pic.twitter.com/uhn1RbEQBv— John M. Phillips (@JohnPhillips) June 1, 2018
32. JaQuavion Slaton, 20
32 of 93
This is Jaquavion Slaton, the 20-year-old who was was shot & killed by Fort Worth Police on Sunday. Community demanding release of body camera video, but FWPD hasn’t said when/if that will happen. #WFAA pic.twitter.com/iakQyWrRCl— Teresa Woodard (@twoodard8) June 10, 2019
33. Ryan Twyman, 24
33 of 93
34. Brandon Webber, 20
34 of 93
When they see us, they kill us...— Jeneisha C. Harris (@JeneishaCHarris) June 13, 2019
Brandon Webber, father of 3, shot by U. S. Marshalls 16-20 times in Memphis.
No one deserves to be shot and killed like this.
I could say so much but I’m really at a loss for words. pic.twitter.com/9EFhUplHDw
35. Jimmy Atchison, 21
35 of 93
36. Willie McCoy, 20
36 of 93
One of six officers who fired at Willie McCoy had killed unarmed man in 2018 || Via: Guardian https://t.co/CjrSIa8r1Z— SafetyPin-Daily (@SafetyPinDaily) February 23, 2019
37. Emantic "EJ" Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., 2137 of 93
38. D’ettrick Griffin, 1838 of 93
39. Jemel Roberson, 26
Source:false 39 of 93
Security guard Jemel Roberson was holding down a shooting suspect when police burst in and shot Roberson instead. pic.twitter.com/zNsYvQMRg8— HuffPost (@HuffPost) November 14, 2018
40. DeAndre Ballard, 23Source:false 40 of 93
41. Botham Shem Jean, 26
Source:false 41 of 93
The young man who was killed by a Dallas police officer in his own apartment this morning has been identified as 26-year-old Botham Jean. He worked at the PwC firm in Downtown Dallas. https://t.co/oyjHMdMXVv pic.twitter.com/uSvJWJ062e— FOX 4 NEWS (@FOX4) September 7, 2018
42. Antwon Rose Jr., 17Source:false 42 of 93
43. Robert Lawrence White, 41Source:false 43 of 93
44. Anthony Lamar Smith, 24Source:Getty 44 of 93
45. Ramarley Graham, 18Source:Getty 45 of 93
46. Manuel Loggins Jr., 31Source:Getty 46 of 93
47. Trayvon Martin, 17Source:Getty 47 of 93
48. Wendell Allen, 20Source:Getty 48 of 93
49. Kendrec McDade, 19Source:Getty 49 of 93
50. Larry Jackson Jr., 32Source:Getty 50 of 93
51. Jonathan Ferrell, 24Source:Getty 51 of 93
52. Jordan Baker, 26Source:Getty 52 of 93
53. Victor White lll, 22Source:Getty 53 of 93
54. Dontre Hamilton, 31Source:Getty 54 of 93
55. Eric Garner, 43Source:Getty 55 of 93
56. John Crawford lll, 22Source:Getty 56 of 93
57. Michael Brown, 18Source:Getty 57 of 93
58. Ezell Ford, 25Source:Getty 58 of 93
59. Dante Parker, 36Source:Getty 59 of 93
60. Kajieme Powell, 25Source:Getty 60 of 93
61. Laquan McDonald, 17Source:Getty 61 of 93
62. Akai Gurley, 28Source:Getty 62 of 93
63. Tamir Rice, 12Source:Getty 63 of 93
64. Rumain Brisbon, 34Source:Getty 64 of 93
65. Jerame Reid, 36Source:Getty 65 of 93
66. Charly Keunang, 43Source:Getty 66 of 93
67. Tony Robinson, 19Source:Getty 67 of 93
68. Walter Scott, 50Source:Getty 68 of 93
69. Freddie Gray, 25Source:Getty 69 of 93
70. Brendon Glenn, 29Source:Getty 70 of 93
71. Samuel DuBose, 43Source:Getty 71 of 93
72. Christian Taylor, 19Source:Getty 72 of 93
73. Jamar Clark, 24Source:Getty 73 of 93
74. Mario Woods, 26Source:Getty 74 of 93
75. Quintonio LeGrier, 19Source:Getty 75 of 93
76. Gregory Gunn, 58Source:Getty 76 of 93
77. Akiel Denkins, 24Source:Getty 77 of 93
78. Alton Sterling, 37Source:Getty 78 of 93
79. Philando Castile, 32Source:Getty 79 of 93
80. Terrence Sterling, 31Source:Getty 80 of 93
81. Terence Crutcher, 40Source:Getty 81 of 93
82. Keith Lamont Scott, 43Source:Getty 82 of 93
83. Alfred Olango, 38Source:Getty 83 of 93
84. Jordan Edwards, 15Source:Getty 84 of 93
85. Stephon Clark, 22Source:false 85 of 93
86. Danny Ray Thomas, 34
Source:false 86 of 93
87. DeJuan Guillory, 27Source:false 87 of 93
88. Patrick Harmon, 50
88 of 93
Patrick Harmon was shot and killed by police in Salt Lake City, Utah. The district attorney says the shooting was "legally justified." pic.twitter.com/zYBOwlTzRb— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 7, 2017
89. Jonathan Hart, 21
89 of 93
Friends and family of Jonathan Heart aka Sky Young, a young #homeless man killed last Sunday at a Walgreens in #Hollywood for allegedly shoplifting, gather tonight to remember the 20-year-old. pic.twitter.com/uiMRiFnutq— Jasmyne Cannick (@Jasmyne) December 9, 2018
90. Maurice Granton, 24
90 of 93
Dash cam footage of police killing Maurice Granton Jr. has been released. His family says it proves that he was unarmed pic.twitter.com/YLAM7my1ny— NowThis (@nowthisnews) July 26, 2018
91. Julius Johnson, 23
91 of 93
92. Jamee Johnson, 22Source:S. Lee Merritt 92 of 93
93. Michael Dean, 28Source:S. Lee Merritt 93 of 93
How To Stop Cops From Killing People Suffering From Mental Illness was originally published on newsone.com