Officer-involved shootings in Chicago raise concern on police handling of mental health
Tragedy hit a number of families this holiday season in a string of officer-involved shootings in Chicago this past weekend.
According to ABC7, 55-year-old Bettie Jones and 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier were killed by police early Saturday. LeGrier’s father, an upstairs neighbor to Jones, called 911 for help to restrain LeGrier who was, at the time, experiencing a mental health crisis. However, upon arrival, police responded to LeGrier’s erratic behavior with bullets, killing him and Jones.
Janet Cooksey, LeGrier’s mother, told NBC Chicago that her son was shot seven times.
“I’m trying to be strong because I’ve prayed but it’s my only child and I’m hurting, I’m hurting real bad,” she said.
Yet, in response to shooting, only Jones has been identified as being shot “accidentally.”
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Police Department issued a statement noting that responding officers “were confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer’s weapon. The 55 year old female victim was accidentally struck and tragically killed. The department extends it’s deepest condolences to the victim’s family and friends.”
Unfortunately, LeGrier’s story is all too common, and all too often assumed to be justified. In July, The Washington Post published a database that collected information of fatal police shootings that also identified shootings that involved someone who was described as having mental health issues. Of the 965 shootings the Post identified this year alone, 243, or a quarter, of the shootings involved someone who showed signs of mental illness. The numbers show not only the startling frequency in which such encounters take place, but also how necessary it is to train officers in de-escalation strategies in these special circumstances.
“Why weren’t tasers used in this incident?” Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush noted in a statement released following the shootings. “Why were shots fired before other de-escalating tactics were employed? Why does shooting someone to death seem to be the default tactics of the city’s police force? The questions and many others require immediate answers.”
The CPD has been under scrutiny recently after gaining national attention when a video was released late November detailing the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by former CPD officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014 while walking away.
But while cases concerning McDonald, LeGrier, and Jones are tied by the use of excessive force by officers, LeGrier’s and Jone’s deaths pose questions about the need to invest in non-officer related resources that civilians can utilize in these situations.
Mental health, whatever one’s state, is not a crime, and does not warrant deadly force. Until that is understood and taken seriously in our policing practices, more lives will be lost unnecessarily.
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