It’s been three years since Kayla Moore was killed in her home by Berkeley police. What did she do you ask? Was she threatening, was she suicidal, was she a danger to society? No Kayla was mentally ill, black and transgender. Those three criteria alone made her a target, as African Americans, transgender women, and the mentally ill are killed at an alarming rate due to police encounters. It truly is a national crisis.
The reality is the mentally ill are at higher risks of being victims of violence than the perpetrators, and those with mental illness are four times more likely to die in encounters with police as compared to the rest of the population. However, if you’re one of those rare mentally ill people, who don’t take drugs, and stay on their medication, how long will that last with the lack of mental health services available. Family and friends call the only people they can call, when a loved one is in crisis: the police.
It is irresponsible to substitute police officers for trained mental health workers. Berkeley continues to under-staff emergency mental health services while supporting increased funding for the number of officers hired. The underfunding of mental-health services and lack of mobile crisis team means that there is only police available to respond and they are inadequately trained.
Unfortunately, killing a black woman in crisis is becoming more and more common. For those with mental illness, the constant dehumanization is debilitating. The sad truth is, most mentally ill people will see a jail before they see a mental-health facility. Mental-health issues are seen as crime issues- the need to restrain and punish is the first response.
Let’s not shame or hide our mentally ill, but show there is hope and that normalcy can be achieved.
Kayla was so proud that she was able to find affordable housing in the city in which she was born and raised. She felt connected to Berkeley, but the sad reality is, the Berkeley we knew 20 years ago no longer exists. There is no tolerance if you are Black, mentally ill or homeless. Not only will you be racially profiled, but heaven help you if you linger on a street corner for too long.
Police misconduct is not just a male experience, as women of color are losing their lives to this violence. Transgender women of color are stopped, harassed, assaulted and murdered by police with impunity. This past year has seen unprecedented organizing, action and attention around Black women’s experiences of policing. However, more needs to be done to foster an environment where being a transgender woman is not a crime and not to be shamed.
Andrea Ritchie, an attorney specializing in police misconduct states, when people look or act queer or gender nonconforming, police “often read that as disorder and they often perceive that person as already disorderly, as already suspicious, as already prone to violence.”
We can start by ensuring that those who have died are named and identified with dignity. It’s important for society to not just understand, but to care about mentally ill Black woman, and to not forget. Let’s not forget Michelle Cusseauz, Tanisha Anderson, Shereese Francis, Tyisha Miller, and Kayla Moore (just to name a few), who lost their lives when the people they loved, called for help. Their deaths are part of a system that treats the most vulnerable and neglected as threats.
A society can exist, in which being transgender, a person of color, or mentally ill is not a crime, and that opportunities should exist for all people. We need to end the stigma, in which society devalues their lives, and improve their circumstances by eliminating the hate, and the policing. Let us focus on correcting systemic flaws, demanding criminal justice reforms, increase mental health funding and interventions, and most importantly, end the abuse of power. We miss you Kayla, and we will never forget. #Sayhername
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