Mentally ill and mentally distraught individuals continue to suffer a disproportionate amount of police brutality. In the past few months, police officers in Sacramento, California literally used their police car to run down a mentally ill homeless man. They then proceeded to shoot him dead with fourteen bullets.
The victim -- Joseph Mann -- was armed with a knife but, as the video clearly shows, he was desperately trying to get away from the officers who were using crazed and unconstitutional tactics to terrorize and kill him.
A more recent police shooting of a mentally distraught man happened in El Cajon, California. The victim -- Alfred Olango -- was acting erratically in a parking lot. Mr. Olango was not mentally ill, but he was grief-stricken and mentally distraught as a result of the death of a friend. He pulled out a vaping device when confronted by police and was dead by police shooting within a minute.
Among the criticism surrounding the El Cajon police shooting of Alfred Olango was the failure of the shooting officer to engage in appropriate de-escalation tactics. De-escalation is important in all potentially fatal police encounters, but especially so in cases of mentally ill or mentally distraught individuals, who are acting erratically not because they intend harm but because they are not thinking clearly or understanding what is going on. They need help and the chance for the encounter to end with everyone staying alive as opposed to getting run down with police cars and getting shot dead.
Interestingly, in the case of both Joseph Mann and Alfred Olango, there appears to have been two sets of officers on scene -- one set that used prudent and constitutional policing while the other set did not. The original officers on the scene in the Sacramento case wisely opted not to run down or shoot the victim (this was all captured on dash cam audio). In the El Cajon case, another officer on scene deployed his taser instead of his gun.
Lives were lost in both cases, of course, because of the irresponsible actions taken by the second set of officers.
Both victims were African American as well as being either mentally ill or mentally distraught.
For a more in-depth understanding of the problem of police brutality and mental illness, as well as the law that applies to it, please see our webpage Police Brutality and Mental Illness.
For more information on de-escalation, please see our blog topics on de-escalation.