American Tragedy: Staggering Amount of Police Shooting Victims Struggled with Mental Illness


Anthony Hill, James Chasse, Tanisha Anderson attribution: Family Photos used w/ permission

By Shaun King, Daily Kos

On April 30, 2014, Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney broke protocol on how to approach someone clearly struggling with mental illness. At 3:28 PM, Manney confronted Dontre Hamilton, who was sleeping on the ground outside of a local Starbucks, and immediately began treating him like a common criminal by patting him down from behind and asking him if he had any weapons. He didn’t, but one minute later Dontre Hamilton was dead, shot by Manney.What Manney didn’t know was that two officers had already performed a well-check on Hamilton and determined that he was not harming anyone or breaking any laws by being there. He wasn’t panhandling or even speaking to anyone. In Milwaukee, outdoor resting is not illegal. A Starbucks employee recounted what she saw:

I never witnessed Dontre attack Chris. Dontre only reacted to Chris’ lunge, in what appeared to be, a purely defensive way. After missing, Chris was frozen for a second, then reached down for his side arm. When he pulled this weapon out, I had a sickly feeling about what was going to happen next. Chris didn’t say anything to Dontre.  Nothing like “calm down”, or “back away”, or anything of the sort, with his brandished firearm. He had his gun pointed at Dontre from about 10 feet away for a couple seconds.  That’s when I heard the shots.I counted the shots as they happened. I guess I expected Chris to just disable him, so I didn’t know how many shots to expect. I counted 3…then 5…then 7…then 10 all in very quick succession. Surely a trained police officer could have disabled Dontre without putting 10 bullets into him. With the rapid, rhythmic fire, there was no way Chris was stopping to check if Dontre was still alive. Count to 10 in your head in a fast-paced, rhythmic manner and ask yourself if you’re shooting to kill. While my cynical side knew what was going to happen to Dontre and compelled me to turn away, my coworker didn’t. They saw the whole thing play out. They will tell you the same thing about how once that gun was pulled out, it was Dontre’s end.

Manney lost his job, but the family of Dontre Hamilton lost their son and brother, and the city of Milwaukee was left with the enormous feeling that the incident could and should have been avoided. Furthermore, it was hard to feel like the loss of a job was a fair penalty for the unjust taking of a life.Follow below the fold for more.

After nearly a year of protests and frustration in Milwaukee, subtle changes and improvements have been legislated on how police in the city should properly and safely handle men and women with mental illness, but the progress has been far too slow, critics say.

MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope) counts among the critics of the work done so far, with some members calling for the expansion of hours for police-mobile mental health team pairings. Right now, such services aren’t available on the weekends, early mornings, and after midnight — times when incidents would likely occur. Reports that crisis intervention training for officers in the Milwaukee Police Department won’t wrap up until 2017 have also drawn the ire of some groups who point to the 30 percent reduction in the people who needed to be hospitalized in recent months as a sign that the program needs more support.

The problem is not a negligible one in Milwaukee or around the country—for example, one study showed that 58 percent of those killed by police in Maine had a pre-diagnosed mental illness. Many other states and cities have noted as high or higher rates.Traditional, heavy-handed police tactics just don’t work with a man struggling through the fog of schizophrenia or a woman in the midst of a severe manic episode. Yelling or physical touching, for instance, may make an episode severely worse and cause sincere confusion for a mentally ill person. Daily, all across America, hospitals have tens of thousands of mentally ill men and women come across their threshold, many in the throes of the most severe episodes imaginable, and the thought of shooting and killing a patient isn’t even on the table. Other well-honed and respected strategies for confronting and subduing the mentally ill to prevent them from harming themselves or others have been mastered and improved upon for decades. Nurses all over America, every single one of them without guns, have bravely cared for millions of mental health patients without once producing a lethal weapon to protect themselves — even when they are in physical danger.

An officer with his or her finger on the trigger of a lethal weapon will rarely react well in the presence of mental illness. Below are many tragic cases in which mentally ill men and women needed the care of mental health professionals, but instead were confronted and killed by police. A new national standard must be enacted on how local police should interact and approach the mentally ill. Our current system is barbaric and unsafe for everyone.

The cities of Houston and Memphis are pioneering the creative partnership between law enforcement and mental health professionals. Milwaukee, using those cities as a model, now aims to have dozens of mental health experts available to arrive on the scene with police officers to help them with non-lethal options where available.

What realistic suggestions or policy solutions do you propose to drastically curb this American crisis? While it is unlikely that we will ever permanently end police brutality in America, surely we can do better than this.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Kos.


Posted By: Nick Vanocur

A talented nut in search of a publisher. Author of 'From the Desk of Nickileaks', @

%d bloggers like this: