It was four years ago that I received a phone call at work that changed my family’s life. As I rushed home to my dad, all I could think of is, “my sister is dead, my sister is dead, my sister is dead.” That mantra ran through my frantic mind, as I tried to navigate traffic, and while absorbing the reality I would never see her alive again. I never got a chance to return her phone call two days before, I never got a chance to update her on the latest family gossip, and I never got a chance to keep her safe.
People of color are more likely to be victims of police brutality, and the victim pool has expanded to include the mentally ill. What is shocking is the blatant under-reporting of these killings and or attacks. What we do know is that the numbers are increasing. Unfortunately, for any family, who has a mentally disabled child, sibling, parent, friend or relative…you cannot keep them safe. Your love, patience, dedication, and unconditional, unbreakable resolve will not save them from what I consider the biggest threat to their lives: the police. Many who are reading this will justifiably think how dramatic and unsubstantiated my reckless comments are, but here are the facts:
- Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from a serious mental illness.
- One in four fatal police encounters involve someone with mental illness.
- People with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police.
- Due to the nationwide lack of mental-health resources, the police are always the first responders to mental-health crisis calls.
- About 1.2 million people in state, local and federal custody reported some kind of mental-health problem. 64% of those are in jails, 56% are state prison inmates and 45% are in the federal prison system.
35% of emergency calls in Berkeley are mental-health calls; and yet Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) has been trimmed down from a voluntary 40 hours of training, to now a mandatory eight-hour training, for all officers who are in direct contact with the public. The officers, who responded to Kayla’s call for mental-health treatment, did not have Mobile Crisis (trained mental-health professionals) to assist with assessing Kayla. The officer ran a warrant check on Kayla, before she finally spoke to her, for approximately 5-7 minutes, before attempting to arrest her on an invalid, unconfirmed warrant, for someone with Kayla’s birth name, yet, incorrect date of birth. Kayla committed no crime. She was not a danger to herself or others; however her roommate called for help because Kayla needed her medication. Kayla waited over two months to see a psychiatrist in Berkeley, and when she arrived at the clinic, she was turned away, as the provider was not available to see her.
In 2001 Amnesty International published a report called United States of America: Race, Rights and Police Brutality, which highlights “the problem of police using excessive force, including deadly force, against mentally ill or disturbed people who could have been subdued through less extreme measures.”
The trend of police arresting and criminalizing those in a mental-health crisis has deadly consequences. But why is it so hard to get justice when this happens? Why has one the most important federal laws, which was enacted to protect the rights of people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, consistently been ignored and disregarded when it applies to law enforcement? And how does this happen in Berkeley, respected worldwide for disability rights?
After four long years, we will finally see our day in court, as we move forward with the American with Disability Act (ADA) claim. Kayla Moore’s court case is for all those who have a disability, and any way the court rules, that determination will have long term impacts on disability rights, and police accountability.