Since the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, it seems the United States of America has experienced a shift in momentum in the ongoing conversations around race and how it is a factor in police-involved shootings. Protests have engaged local and federal governments across the country in a demand for justice – not only in the case of George Floyd, but for the litany of others that have been shot and killed. The Washington Post started tracking the number of fatal shootings by on-duty police across the country since 2015, and to date, that number is 5,000, with 1,034 being reported this year alone.
The Washington Post article also includes statistics show that a large number of people killed by police are black, followed closely by hispanics. Statista, a German research firm, reporting trends from 2017-2020 also show the alarming number of white people killed by police in our country. Reporting on mlive.com determined that of the 87 people killed by police in the last five years, 33 of them had been diagnosed with or had clear signs of mental illness.
Mental illness presents a high risk to first responders and the people they have been called to help. It is lamentable that many of those encounters, when police are involved, end with a police officer shooting and killing the person. People such as Osaze Osagie, age 29, who was shot by Pennsylvania police during mental wellness check. Osage, whom police claimed had a knife, was reportedly tased and then shot after the taser had no effect on him. Local prosecutors declined to press charges.
At the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Resolution B024, Urge Alternatives to Deadly Force by Police and Support Training in Mental Health Crisis Intervention, was passed and commended to dioceses and congregations across the church:
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.
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, Bishop of New York, proposed this resolution. There was a statement of rationale or explanation given as part of the proposed resolution (though it is not included in the formal resolution), in which Bishop Dietsche writes, that the excessive force used by police in responding to persons in a mental health crisis destroys lives and devastates families and communities. “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.” The rationale statement also includes links to news articles that contain statistical analysis.
Resolution B024 asks us to encourage law enforcement to use alternatives to deadly force when dealing with unarmed citizens, for us to advocate for law enforcement reforms including metal health crisis intervention training.
Bishop Perry is working to convene with our members who work in law enforcement and continue conversations around anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion throughout the diocese. As Episcopalians, responding to the call of Jesus Christ to seek and serve all, we advocate for justice for all people. Many of our congregations have participated in the growing chorus of voices calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism. As we add mental health advocacy to the list, we remember our sisters and brothers among us who work in law enforcement, and our sisters and brothers who are or care for people with mental health challenges.
Let us pray:
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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~ The Rev. Anthony Estes, Associate Rector, Christ Church Detroit