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For the Mentally Ill, Calling 911 Could Prove Deadly

by Ed Lyon

Police responding to 911 calls that involve individuals in a mental health crisis might resort to deadly force rather than exercise restraint and give support, according to a trend identified by The Intercept’s Shaun King. And, in areas such as New York City, the vast majority of victims are persons of color.

In 2016, Deborah Danner, 66, was fatally shot in her Bronx apartment after a neighbor reported her being erratic. In 2015, Anthony Hill, a U.S. veteran who served in Afghanistan, was shot to death while naked and unarmed outside his Atlanta apartment. In 2019, Pennsylvanian Osaze Osagie of State College was fatally shot in his own apartment while holding a small knife; 17-year-old Isaiah Lewis of Oklahoma was shot to death while running through backyards unclothed; and 44-year-old Pamela Turner of Texas was shot to death as was 23-year-old Oklahoman Miles Hall.

All of these victims shot to death by cops were citizens of color; instead of help, they faced bullets.

King points to studies showing that nearly half of the people killed by the police have registered disabilities, with a great percentage of them having been afflicted with mental illness.

In many countries, when a call to the police is made about a mentally ill citizen, trained mental healthcare workers accompany the responding officers.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams proposes reforming the mental health crisis responses to reduce police involvement. Among his ideas is creating a non-NYPD phone number for immediate mental health treatment.

The city’s 911 dispatchers fielded 180,000 calls for assistance to mentally ill citizens in 2018. A full 78 percent of the officers in the New York City Police Department have never had any training on how to handle mentally ill citizens.

Someone should have warned Deborah Danner’s caller about this statistic before they made the call to 911 to send her assistance. 



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