People with untreated mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed by police
One out of every five American people experience mental illness each year. Of those people, 26 percent will be prisoners, live in shelters or deal with multitudes of other serious detriments including death. The last thing these people need to worry about is whether they’re safe the next time they call 911.
The Treatment Advocacy Center for the Mentally Ill came out with a chilling statistic recently: People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement. To make it worse, one in every four of those people will be killed in a police shooting.
The co-author of this study, John Snook, was interviewed numerous times by several publications including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Daily News and was asked the question: Why and how is this possible? He said, “Individuals with untreated mental illness are vastly overrepresented in every corner of the criminal justice system. Until we reform the public policies that have abandoned them there, these tragic outcomes will continue.”
John Snook explained how a mental illness is just another kind of illness; it’s simply a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes rather horrific outcomes. If someone is suffering from a heart attack most would think to call 911, an ambulance, and the police. They would be there swiftly, to take care of the patient and to reduce any further chances of death. However, because of this stigmatized outlook on the mentally ill, if one goes into a panic or episode, people are afraid and in response they use force and violence to stop them.
In comparison, the familiar campaign of Black Lives Matter rooted from the sudden rise in deaths of people of color resulting from police. Stereotypically, both people of color and the mentally ill are deemed dangerous. While mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are portrayed as monsters through media, people of color are simply associated with violence and criminalization, and are therefore seen as targets.
In July, a police officer in North Miami contended he mistakenly shot an African-American behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, when he was aiming for Arnaldo Rios Soto, a 26-year-old autistic man. John Snook again made it clear the autistic man shouldn’t have been the one to be aimed at to begin with, but regardless, it is likely the shot was taken because the other man was of color.
The most essential thing to question from this issue is what can be done to fix it? The first step is to have a conversation about it.
When interviewing about ten regular Ithaca College Students off campus not a single person said they had heard of this problem. Everyone was familiar with the issue among people of color due to the fact that it is a predominant issue on campus as well.
Freshmen Samantha Schmalz said, “When I think about someone dying under a police’s watch I think [of] African Americans. It’s all over the news. But this statement, I mean now that you say it, I can believe it, but I’ve never heard anything of it.”
Again, although this doesn’t legitimize the mentally ill anymore than people of color, the fact that so little is known about this issue just proves how this could be avoided in the first place. The gray area comes in whether it is truly possible to make these two comparable. Are African Americans murdered because of racist tendencies while the mentally ill are simply acting out and scaring those holding a gun? Or unlike apples and oranges, do they both have a fear factor?
Nonetheless, there is a group on campus called Active Minds whose goal is to “stomp stigma” away from the mentally ill. When reaching out to the president of the organization, Molly Robbins, she said, “I [didn’t] really know that statistic and don’t have much to say about it, honestly. Police don’t have enough mental health training a lot of the time and I think that is problematic when they encounter behavior they do not understand.”
Even someone, who easily reported plenty of information about stigma and trigger warnings when asked, knew very little about this statistic.
Whether this predicament stems from lack of training or lack of treatment for those who are mentally ill this a serious issue that should be reported so government officials can begin to create a change. People with mental illnesses are no more violent than others and should be treated just the same even when behaving unpredictably. Essentially, police are being forced to be mental health counselors without training, and that needs to change.
Meredith Nash is a first-year writing major who stomps stigma every day of the week. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.