Over the past few days, my world has been both directly and indirectly involved with situations where police were woefully unable to properly deal with mental health situations, one resulting in police brutality.
I’m pretty livid. I’m processing and my way of processing is writing, so here we go. This isn’t going to be well put together. But I need to get it out.
I share this because we need to keep being aware that these situations are happening, and are happening close to home.
I’ve absolutely been that lazy social media advocate, or just the person writing letters to lawmakers when more prominent situations of police brutality have happened, and honestly I’m not sure what else to do.
Who polices the police? (I know so many people doing the noble work, but it’s not WORKING. How do we change the system? I’ve started compiling a rather lackluster list of resources at the end of this post – feel free to drop me a note and I’ll add to it when I get the chance.)
Situation one: South Carolina, Beaufort County, Broad River Bridge
Yesterday, we were driving over the Broad River Bridge – a tall and long bridge over murky and churning water – when we passed someone who looked like he was about to jump. By the time it registered what he was doing, we couldn’t safely stop or turn around. I called 911 as my mom looped around to cross back over the bridge. As we were crossing back, craning our necks to see over the middle barrier, we saw that two men had stopped and had been able to get the man off of the edge. They were sitting with him on the ground, talking to him and holding him. Not because he looked like he was fighting them, but because he looked lost and panicked.
By the time we passed in the same direction, the police had come. They were handcuffing him. My heart sank.
In a perfect world, the only reason to handcuff him would be for his own or others’ safety. But he wasn’t fighting. I felt like such an idiot for having called the police. All of my calls to 911 have been for medical reasons, so my brain defaulted to someone needing medical help, and 911 being the logical way to get them help. I hadn’t even thought that police would show up to arrest him. That was my privilege showing, and I felt sick for it.
I started thinking about what could happen next – would the police lie on their report? Would they say that he had fought them? As we passed, the man looked so exhausted and dejected. He was young, probably not much older than me. He was black. He was wearing a baggie hoodie. I wondered if he was going to be able to make it to the jailhouse safely, and what would happen to him afterward. And I broke.
Situation two: Washington, Christmas Eve
A young man in his mid-30s, someone I’m really close to, has always had a hard time with the holidays. On Christmas Eve, he drank too much. He blacked out. And he proceeded to break a bunch of stuff in his friend’s apartment. She couldn’t get him to calm down and, while she said she never felt any threat whatsoever toward herself, she resorted to calling the police for help in calming him down.
Somewhere between being arrested and leaving her house in a cop car and when he woke up in jail, the police broke his nose, gave him two black eyes, broke his arm, and likely broke a few ribs.
This is a guy who doesn’t fight anyone. He works as a bouncer and deescalates every situation he encounters. I’m sure he gets loud when he’s had that much to drink, but he doesn’t start fights.
And as cops, they had so many options. Get a few guys to cuff him and throw him in the back of a car to calm down. Handcuff him to a pole until he passes out. Do anything at all except beat and break a man on Christmas Eve who was freaking out because it’s the holidays and the holidays are a mental health trigger for so many people.
Instead they beat him. They broke his bones. They broke his body. They had no right to do that.
Where to go from here
Again, I don’t have answers right now. I’m just mad. And deeply sad.
I know amazing people who are doing work on the ground that I don’t think I have the capacity to do. I’m too fragile for it. But if this is something you’re interested in getting involved with on a deeper level, here are a few resources for you while I process.
Neither of these situations happened in NY, but through fellow University of Miami Alumni, I know this organization is deeply rooted in effective change to anything that threatens civil liberties, and the work they do ripples across the country.
I’m a big fan of getting perspective from those who do the work. Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative (a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need) tells his personal account of his inner view of our broken legal system.
And for the love of everything, STOP. FUCKING. DEMONIZING. people with mental health issues. Like every single medical issue, they need medical care. Not a jail cell. Not hand cuffs. Not broken bones. And certainly not legal charges (because yes, under common law in many states, the state can press charges against someone who tries to commit suicide, and they will certainly press charges for things like resisting arrest or disturbing the peace).
If you feel like adding to this lackluster list of resources for which I don’t feel like researching at the moment, please feel free to send your suggestions my way and I’ll add to it.