By Charlie Costict
Given what folks should know to be considered an ongoing genocide on Black people in America committed by its very own long arm of the law, a disturbing lesser known fact comes at the intersection as well as expense of being Black and disabled. Reports published by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability rights non-profit organization, show that within the last 3 years about half of the victims killed by police were disabled or suffered from mental illnesses. With tens of millions of Americans suffering from a mental illness and nearly 1 in every 5 Americans suffering from a disability putting a microscope onto this demographic reveals a frightening observation. In 2014 alone, it was reported around 6.8 million Black/African Americans have a diagnosed mental illness and have the highest rate of disability in the U.S.
But what makes matters worse is that undiagnosed mental illness in the Black community is high due to several reasons that in some way, shape or form stem from racism on all levels (Internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural). Black people are forced to see or hear about police beatings and killings of people like them on a weekly basis which causes trauma and amps up anxiety in everyday interactions with the majority especially including law enforcement. In addition, Black people suffer due to cultural stigma surrounding seeking medical help or just overall lack of education in what mental illness looks like and how it can be treated. Few are aware that there are more than 200 classified mental illnesses because structural racism has forced groups of people into poverty and when you are poor most likely you will attend poor schools and thus receive poor education.
We hold onto this pride that we can’t be susceptible to such mental health problems and that treatment is something only White people need or seek. Resulting in this atmosphere where certain actions/emotions you exhibit are just marked off as normal or temporary and “You’ll be alright” sentiments brush off real issues to be acknowledged thus removing the urge to seek help. This creates a volatile situation when in contact with armed enforcers of the law who aren’t properly trained to notice or handle situations involving people with disabilities and mental illnesses. In the case of Korryn Gaines, for example, it is said she suffered from lead poisoning as a child, which can lead to cognitive and behavioral disabilities. Now couple that with possible distress, depression and what is researched and believed to be a link between racism and PTSD in Black folk, we can start to see how an interaction between her and trigger-happy poorly trained police would result in fatality.
Especially when said police realize such incidents will work in their favor statistically given the number of cops receiving paid time off and acquitted charges. What precedent are we setting to ease tensions between these institutions and the community when a group of officers can knowingly murder someone who is otherwise innocent until proven guilty before they can reach court due to situations that should be diffused instead. What we need is police reform on the highest level if repairs on race-relations are desired by those in power looking for change. Proper (re)training of police officers who are supposed to serve their communities by helping citizens in times of crisis and emergency should be strictly upheld.
It’s reprehensible that a disability or mental illness puts a target on your back and gives an officer of the law free rein to murder without consequence. I’ve read many stories of teachers and counselors diffusing tense potentially volatile situations without hurting or killing the parties involved so one could assume a sworn officer would be as capable if not more to do the same. More community involvement should be required of each officer as well as training in handling the disabled without lethal force. It seems obvious what needs to be done but with police brutality barely mentioned in the election debates along with how to execute such reform one must wonder. Is this another systemic cop out (no pun intended) to avoiding the real issue of anti-Blackness in America?
Charlie Costict is a Louisiana Born, Hartford raised pro-Black activist, writer, Blogger, optician, and chef. His aim is to fight social injustice, while educating and empowering others to do the same in hopes of creating the change people need.