When people ask me how I am doing, I’m afraid that I struggle for an answer. My emotions and feelings run the gamut from reasonably content…to anxious…to fearful…to angry…to hopeful…to confused… They are all over the place – and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. COVID-19 all by itself was troubling and now we’ve added unprecedented flooding in Midland, the horrific murder of George Floyd, our President’s photo op in front of St John’s in DC and nation-wide protests that too often have turned into violent clashes with heavily armed police and military units. I often find that I just don’t have the words to express what I’m thinking and feeling. Which leads me to preparing the blog for this week.
Ove the last couple of years we have addressed almost all the resolutions referred to dioceses for action from the 2018 General Convention in the Nuts and Bolts Blog. There is one that we haven’t yet addressed that is included on the Responding to Racist Violence page on The Episcopal Church website. While this resolution is addressing police brutality, the particular reference to “mental health crisis intervention” is not specifically related to the recent events in our nation; however, the resolution does require our attention:
Resolution B024 Urge Alternatives to Deadly Force by Police and Support Training in Mental Health Crisis Intervention
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, as followers of Jesus Christ, recognize the increase in the number of law enforcement encounters with our brothers, sisters, and siblings suffering from mental illness; and be it further
Resolved, That abiding in His call to serve Him through the care and service of the least among us (Mt. 25:40). As His followers we
-Strongly encourage state and local law enforcement departments to seek and utilize alternatives to deadly force when dealing with unarmed citizens, especially those in mental health crisis and distress; and
-Urge elected officials, governmental agencies and other relevant law enforcement entities to train and educate law enforcement officers and to implement reforms which mandate that law enforcement departments provide mandatory mental health crisis intervention and de-escalation training for all officers who may be called to respond to such situations; and
-Urge all Episcopalians to advocate for mental health crisis intervention training and utilization for all law enforcement officials in local communities.
I think the wording is pretty self-explanatory yet I do find it helpful to go back to read the explanation offered by the presenters of the resolution. Remember, please, that the explanation is not part of the final wording of the resolution.
EXPLANATION Approximately one-quarter of people shot by the police in the U.S. in 2017 were reportedly suffering from situations of mental illness and distress . These statistics run in continuity with studies from the previous three decades, which indicate that perhaps even “half of the people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems”.
The reality of this excessive use of force is that lives are destroyed, families and communities devastated. Situations which call for crisis intervention instead turn to episodes of violence. These episodes are preventable, however, if systemic changes are made in how police officers understand their role as they respond to people in mental illness.
Over the last few days, I have been pleased to hear on the news that many police departments are now changing their regulations about the use of choke holds and other aggressive tactics meant to subdue individuals. Just as this resolution points out, the de-escalation of police violence will save lives. While the requirement of appropriate mental health training might not have been applicable to save the life of George Floyd, training in de-escalation might have. May it be so.
Let us pray –
God, many of your children are weary. They have felt the weight of
oppression on their necks for so, so long: Be present to all who live now in
God, your children are thirsty: Make us a people from whom flow your
unfailing waters of justice.
God, your children are hungry: Make us a people who bring to the world
the food of righteousness.
God, some of your children have so lost sight of their own humanity that
they cannot see it in others; and because they are broken, we all are
broken: Merciful God, heal us.
God, send us out to make peace; not the false peace of anger suppressed,
but the true peace born of repentance and love.
God, you promised through your prophets that you would come among us;
and in place of hearts of stone, you would give us hearts of flesh, and we
would be your people. Come now, and give us the full measure of your Holy Spirit, that the whole world will know that we are your people and that
you are our God. Amen. (Sr. Veronica Mary, AF)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council