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.
106 Black Men And Boys Killed By Police
1. Marvin D. Scott III, 26Source:GoFundMe 1 of 106
2. Kurt Reinhold, 42Source:Getty 2 of 106
3. McHale Rose, 19
3 of 106
JUSTICE FOR MCHALE ROSE!— Hustle House (@hustlehousellc) August 6, 2020
Mchale was killed by 4 officers within hours of the killing of Dreasjon Reed. Because of this, his story has gotten clouded and we need awareness! Mchale was a personal friend of mine and the sweetest boy ever. He & his family deserve justice! pic.twitter.com/SutjQn4fjy
4. Xzavier Hill, 18
Source:Change.org 4 of 106
Xzavier Hill's family deserves justice. Virginia laws do not require the VSP to release footage, nor to wear body cameras. He was 18, and his whole life was ahead of him.— melanie (@smellllanie) January 19, 2021
NAACP: Justice For Xzavier - Sign the Petition! https://t.co/a30fgNP9mk via @Change
5. Frederick Cox, 18Source:Facebook/Tenicka Shannon 5 of 106
6. Patrick Warren Sr.Source:Patrick Warren Jr. 6 of 106
7. Carl Dorsey III, 39
7 of 106
Man shot to death in Police involved shooting in Newark is identified as 39 year old Carl Dorsey III. https://t.co/hdtmb6w0Il— The Tornado News (@TheTornadoNews) January 6, 2021
8. Dolal Idd, 23Source:GoFundMe 8 of 106
9. Andre' Hill, 47
9 of 106
An attorney who has represented the families of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor says he is now working for the family of Andre' Hill, the man killed by a Columbus police officer early Tuesday.https://t.co/9yXaqYKHfu— NBC4 Columbus (@nbc4i) December 24, 2020
10. Joshua Feast
10 of 106
Joshua Feast was fatally shot in the BACK by La Marque PD officer Jose Santos as he was running away, posing no threat. Witnesses report Santos refused to render aid to Joshua after shooting him AND then kicked his body, already debilitated by the bullet. #JusticeForJoshuaFeast pic.twitter.com/zO46PCsGzO— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) December 12, 2020
11. Maurice GordonSource:Mercury LLC 11 of 106
12. Casey Goodson Jr.Source:Walton + Brown, LLP 12 of 106
13. Rodney ApplewhiteSource:Ben Crump 13 of 106
14. A.J. Crooms
14 of 106
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
15. Sincere Pierce
15 of 106
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
16. Walter Wallace Jr.16 of 106
17. Marcellis Stinnette, teen killed by police in Waukegan, IllinoisSource:Twitter 17 of 106
18. Jonathan Price
18 of 106
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
19. Deon Kay19 of 106
20. Daniel Prude
20 of 106
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
21. Damian Daniels
21 of 106
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
22. Dijon Kizzee22 of 106
23. Trayford PellerinSource:GoFundMe 23 of 106
24. David McAtee
24 of 106
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
25. Natosha “Tony” McDade25 of 106
26. George Floyd26 of 106
27. Yassin Mohamed27 of 106
28. Finan H. Berhe
28 of 106
Montgomery County Police Tweet Video Of Cop Shooting Finan H. Berhe In Maryland https://t.co/HzNV24ZpZB— JMcCorrySpeaks (@JMcCorrySpeaks) May 9, 2020
29. Sean ReedSource:Twitter 29 of 106
30. Steven Demarco TaylorSource:S. Lee Merritt 30 of 106
31. Ariane McCreeSource:The Herald/YouTube 31 of 106
32. Terrance Franklin32 of 106
33. Miles HallSource:KRON4 33 of 106
34. Darius TarverSource:S. Lee Merritt 34 of 106
35. William Green
35 of 106
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
36. Samuel David Mallard, 19
36 of 106
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
37. Kwame "KK" Jones, 17Source:facebook 37 of 106
38. De’von Bailey, 19
38 of 106
Grand jury rules fatal officers' shooting of Devon Bailey was justified. https://t.co/MHXYQn87aH— Scott Kilbury (@SKilburyFOX21) November 14, 2019
39. Christopher Whitfield, 3139 of 106
40. Anthony Hill, 2640 of 106
41. De'Von Bailey, 1941 of 106
42. Eric Logan, 54
42 of 106
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
43. Jamarion Robinson, 2643 of 106
44. Gregory Hill Jr., 30
44 of 106
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
45. JaQuavion Slaton, 20
45 of 106
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
46. Ryan Twyman, 2446 of 106
47. Brandon Webber, 20
47 of 106
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
48. Jimmy Atchison, 21
48 of 106
49. Willie McCoy, 20
49 of 106
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
50. Emantic "EJ" Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., 2150 of 106
51. D’ettrick Griffin, 1851 of 106
52. Jemel Roberson, 26
Source:false 52 of 106
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
53. DeAndre Ballard, 23Source:false 53 of 106
54. Botham Shem Jean, 26
Source:false 54 of 106
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
55. Antwon Rose Jr., 17Source:false 55 of 106
56. Robert Lawrence White, 41Source:false 56 of 106
57. Anthony Lamar Smith, 24Source:Getty 57 of 106
58. Ramarley Graham, 18Source:Getty 58 of 106
59. Manuel Loggins Jr., 31Source:Getty 59 of 106
60. Trayvon Martin, 17Source:Getty 60 of 106
61. Wendell Allen, 20Source:Getty 61 of 106
62. Kendrec McDade, 19Source:Getty 62 of 106
63. Larry Jackson Jr., 32Source:Getty 63 of 106
64. Jonathan Ferrell, 24Source:Getty 64 of 106
65. Jordan Baker, 26Source:Getty 65 of 106
66. Victor White lll, 22Source:Getty 66 of 106
67. Dontre Hamilton, 31Source:Getty 67 of 106
68. Eric Garner, 43Source:Getty 68 of 106
69. John Crawford lll, 22Source:Getty 69 of 106
70. Michael Brown, 18Source:Getty 70 of 106
71. Ezell Ford, 25Source:Getty 71 of 106
72. Dante Parker, 36Source:Getty 72 of 106
73. Kajieme Powell, 25Source:Getty 73 of 106
74. Laquan McDonald, 17Source:Getty 74 of 106
75. Akai Gurley, 28Source:Getty 75 of 106
76. Tamir Rice, 12Source:Getty 76 of 106
77. Rumain Brisbon, 34Source:Getty 77 of 106
78. Jerame Reid, 36Source:Getty 78 of 106
79. Charly Keunang, 43Source:Getty 79 of 106
80. Tony Robinson, 19Source:Getty 80 of 106
81. Walter Scott, 50Source:Getty 81 of 106
82. Freddie Gray, 25Source:Getty 82 of 106
83. Brendon Glenn, 29Source:Getty 83 of 106
84. Samuel DuBose, 43Source:Getty 84 of 106
85. Christian Taylor, 19Source:Getty 85 of 106
86. Jamar Clark, 24Source:Getty 86 of 106
87. Mario Woods, 26Source:Getty 87 of 106
88. Quintonio LeGrier, 19Source:Getty 88 of 106
89. Gregory Gunn, 58Source:Getty 89 of 106
90. Akiel Denkins, 24Source:Getty 90 of 106
91. Alton Sterling, 37Source:Getty 91 of 106
92. Philando Castile, 32Source:Getty 92 of 106
93. Terrence Sterling, 31Source:Getty 93 of 106
94. Terence Crutcher, 40Source:Getty 94 of 106
95. Keith Lamont Scott, 43Source:Getty 95 of 106
96. Alfred Olango, 38Source:Getty 96 of 106
97. Jordan Edwards, 15Source:Getty 97 of 106
98. Stephon Clark, 22Source:false 98 of 106
99. Danny Ray Thomas, 34
Source:false 99 of 106
100. DeJuan Guillory, 27Source:false 100 of 106
101. Patrick Harmon, 50
101 of 106
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
102. Jonathan Hart, 21
102 of 106
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
103. Maurice Granton, 24
103 of 106
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
104. Julius Johnson, 23
104 of 106
105. Jamee Johnson, 22Source:S. Lee Merritt 105 of 106
106. Michael Dean, 28Source:S. Lee Merritt 106 of 106
How To Stop Cops From Killing People Suffering From Mental Illness was originally published on newsone.com