Law Enforcement “up in arms” about disability law for mentally ill

With increasing frequency & intensity, law enforcement officers are murdering persons of color at alarming rates, and many departments are now “militarized” thanks to the Feds. The DOD gives away military-readiness gear & weapons to many police departments. What kind of message does this send to those communities of color in varied jurisdictions?

“The bottom line is this.. Police are out of control and when it comes to Black people they are even more so..Today the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement released a Report on Extrajudicial Killings …Its pretty detailed and extensive.. It shows that since Jan 1 2012, they have documented 110 Black people being killed. That amounts to one Black person being killed by police every 40 hours.. Since the shooting death of Trayvon Martin police and shot and killed over 80 Black people..This is outrageous and unacceptable..” (Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, July 9, 2012).

The ADA is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary for when the law was first passed. It protects anyone with a Mental Illness diagnosis. An anonymous attorney said that ADA applies to everyone whatever the social context in which any kind of violence or erratic behavior takes place. This law applies to each person with any kind of disability.

From my personal experience & engagement with the Austin Police Department, I was an attendee at one of the APD’s Diversity Committee meetings; I proposed that it was my view that officers needed much more training in gaining Cultural Competency skill-building for the department. I presented a model patterned after The Center for the Healing in Houston, Texas (www.centerhealingracism.org) that uses a dialogue model, and self-reflexively learns about the many types of racism. I suppose at that time they weren’t ready for it.

Just think about the amount of community members that officers encounter each day. They need human relation’s skills as well as cultural competency skills, and they also need a saavy about those with Mental Illness–if this is missing, departments will collude in perpetuating stigmatizm of Mentally Ill persons.

Often, when you mention training, especially to those in leadership, you hear, “Hell, our budget is already stretched beyond belief–and you expect us to pay for training that is even questionable in some of our minds. We just can’t do that.” Of course, the other side of this perception is that if officers don’t receive competent and evidence-based training and employ it, there will be more people shot & killed due to their disability–Mental Illness–not to mention lawsuits, etc. At the end of the day, it will most likely be more expensive.

In incidents of the killing or wounding of a Mentally Ill person who is aggressive & violent, many officers say they go into an instinctual response. This is an excuse simply for not knowing how to handle the person or situation, and not having the skills needed in the situation. Don’t forget–instinctual responses won’t cut it because there’s a person, perhaps completely innocent, who is a person with a Mental Health disability. There are many solutions that are compassionate, empathic, and can be learned, even with our often biased social conditioning.

One suggestion would be to train one individual or a team of people in cultural competency skills; this person (s) would be an incredible resource to the department, and if possible could be called to an incident where officers perceive that they’re dealing with a Mentally Ill person. I also realize that nothing is cut and dried in an officer’s work, they must be flexible, and do the best they can with what they know. Life is always fluid change is constant.

I believe that a major shortcoming is the leadership in municipal government and in the force itself. Unfortunately, this also fits into the scheme of the new police militarization process. It’s my observation, however, that there is an increasing stress on the streets, and officers & departments must remember they aren’t above or outside the law, in this case, ADA. Just as everyone who is disabled in any way is protected by ADA, paradoxically, law enforcement professionals using instinctual (perhaps biased) reactions must also step up to the plate and realize they, too, are protected by the laws of the land. Just because they’re police officers doesn’t offer “wiggle room” on disability laws.

In summation, I think that training in cultural competency skills, is an absolute must. We live in a nation now that is rapidly approaching the time when European Americans will no longer be a majority in the nation. Prisons have become the largest medical facilities in the nation. No matter what you may think about this, it’s a practical aspect of a new consciousness that people need, in order to educate themselves–we need a new map for a new territory.

copywrite by Christopher Bear-Beam March 23, 2015

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