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Fatal Shootings Associated with Mental Health Issues

Fatal shootings by police officers are a hot topic in America, and its relation to those with mental health issues should not be ignored. The Washington Post is paying attention, publishing a series of stories concerning those in emotional or mental trauma who have had run-ins with the law.

One of the first stories in the paper was about a man named Gary Page. He was a schizophrenia and depression sufferer who called the cops to tell them he wanted to die. However, instead of simply stating he wanted to die, he made sure he got a response.

He told the cops he wanted to shoot them, that he had a gun, and he took a neighbor hostage. He was obviously drunk when he called 911 dispatch. The cops came, shot him six times, and killed him. Gary’s gun was revealed to hold only blanks, as were his violent threats – they stemmed from his emotional instability.

While it must be understood that the police who arrived on the scene had a duty to protect the hostage, and Gary had already slit his wrists, causing a horrific scene for those officers, the situation must still be evaluated. Gary stated he wanted to shoot cops, which is a statement taken very seriously by officers, who must protect themselves. The officers in this situation should not be blamed in this case, however, the tragedy of Gary’s death is not the only time an officer has shot a person in the throes of emotional crisis.

The Washington Post reports that 124 people nationwide have been killed by police when they were simply in a mental or emotional crisis. Most were armed, however, most had not committed a crime. More than half of the people were suicidal, and most of the 911 calls were placed by concerned friends or family who saw the individual acting erratically and simply wanted help.

Police must react in accordance with their training, and if someone is threatening another individual, the police have a duty to protect. However, in more than half of the mental issue killings, the police agency involved did not provide training to officers on how to deal with mentally ill patients. Additionally, most officers responded in a way that made the situation more dangerous.

Police response to those with mental issues is a crisis in America, but neither side is completely wrong. The police are not wrong in trying to protect others, in their misguided training, or in their tactics, unless the tactics are used incorrectly. The mentally ill are not wrong because the mental illness blocks reasoning and proper societal activity.

Americans are split on the issue of police killing individuals, however, it seems that, instead of blaming or alienating cops, America should be supporting new training or retraining of agencies. Instead of blaming victims, America should support more mental health diagnosis and treatment. The situation is gearing up to be one of America’s biggest tragedies, but we can stop it if we agree to legislation to help both sides.
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