They shot him fourteen times.
Walter Wallace Jr. – a troubled 27-year-old black man with a criminal history and mental health problems – was no saint. Still, he did not deserve to die in a volley of bullets fired by police officers who clearly were not properly trained to cut down on encounters with people with special needs.
Wallace’s death is a powerful reminder to think twice before calling the police to check on the well-being of a loved one.
Especially if that person is autistic, hearing impaired, mentally ill, elderly, suffering from dementia, disabled or may have a condition that impairs their ability to understand, communicate or immediately comply with an order.
Especially if you value that person’s life.
There are some things that don’t change. Even as the nation struggles with the twin distractions of political theater and a viral pandemic, there are still deadly forces at play.
This is one of them.
At a time when an increasing number of unarmed people were shot and killed just for standing in a certain way, or moving in a certain way, or holding something – anything – that the police could misinterpret as a weapon, or ignite some fear centered on the trigger in a policeman’s mind that has nothing to do with a real threat to his security, even the most benign encounters with the police can have fatal consequences.
Unfortunately, the police – trained at worst and therefore ready to shoot first and ask questions later – increasingly pose a risk for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or special needs whose disabilities may not be immediately apparent or require more subtlety than normal tactics to freeze or shoot employed by police forces in America.
For example, Gay Plack, a 57-year-old Virginia woman with bipolar disorder, was killed after two policemen – sent to check on her well-being – entered her home uninvited, wandered around the house shouting her name and They kicked her open the locked room door, discovered the terrified woman hiding in a dark bathroom and wielding a small ax, and four seconds later, shot her in the stomach.
That was all the time that the two policemen assigned to check on Plack decided to use lethal force against her (the two policemen opened fire on the woman), instead of using non-lethal options (one policeman had a Taser, which he made no attempt to to use) or tried to lessen the situation.
The chief of police defended the actions of his officers, claiming that they “had no other option” than to shoot the 5-foot, 4-inch woman.
This is what happens when you empower the police to act as a judge, jury and enforcer.
This is what happens when you indoctrinate the police to believe that their live and their security is paramount for anyone else.
Suddenly, everything and everyone is a threat that must be neutralized or eliminated.
In light of the government’s ongoing efforts to predict who might pose a threat to public security based on data from mental health sensors (tracked by wearable data like FitBits and Apple Watches and monitored by government agencies like HARPA, “Health Advanced Research Projects Agency ”), Meetings with the police can be even more deadly, especially if those involved have a mental illness or disability.
In fact, individuals with disabilities account for one third to half of all people killed by police officers.
For example, in South Carolina, police shot an 86-year-old grandfather who was supposedly in the early stages of dementia, while he ran his back away from them.
In Oklahoma, police shot and killed a 35-year-old deaf man seen holding a six-inch metal pipe on his porch (he used the pipe to ward off stray dogs while walking). Despite the fact that witnesses warned the police that Magdiel Sanchez could not hear – and therefore comply with – his shouted orders to drop the pipe and fall to the ground, the police shot the man when he was about 15 feet from them .
In Maryland, the police (working as security guards) used extreme force to expel a 26-year-old man with Down Syndrome and low IQ from a cinema after the man insisted on watching a second screening of a film. The autopsy results indicate that Ethan Saylor died of complications from asphyxiation, probably caused by a strangulation.
In Florida, police armed with assault rifles fired three shots at a 27-year-old non-verbal autistic man who was sitting on the floor, playing with a toy truck. The police missed the autistic man and instead shot his behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, who was trying to get him back home. The therapist, bleeding from a gunshot wound, was handcuffed and left lying face down on the floor for 20 minutes.
These cases, and the hundreds – if not thousands – who are left undocumented each year speak of a crisis in policing when it comes to the failure of law enforcement to properly assess, scale down and manage meetings with people with special needs or disabilities.
Although research is relatively sparse, what is happening is revealing.
Over the course of six months, the police shot and killed someone who was in a mental crisis every 36 hours.
Where does that leave us?
To start, we need better police training in all areas, but especially when it comes to escalation reduction and crisis intervention tactics.
A study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that officers trained by the CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) made fewer arrests, used less force and connected more people to mental health services than their untrained colleagues.
Second, the police need to learn to slow down confrontations, instead of increasing tension (and noise).
Maryland police recruits are now required to take a four-hour course in which they learn “reduction tactics” for dealing with people with disabilities: speak calmly, give yourself space, be patient.
An officer in charge of the LAPD’s “mental response teams” suggests that, instead of rushing to take someone into custody, the police should try to slow things down and persuade the person to accompany them.
Third, with all questionable funds flowing to police departments today, why not use some of these funds to establish what a disability rights activist describes as “a 911 number dedicated to dealing with mental health emergencies. , in response to the community crisis, ready teams, instead of police. ”
In the end, although we need to make police meetings safer for people with mental illness or disabilities, what we really need – as I indicate in my book Battlefield America: The war against the American people– is to make meetings with the police safer for all individuals across the board.