Sunday, December 21, 2014

Disability and the Murder of Two NYPD Officers

Yesterday, Ismaaiyl Brinsley made an incendiary Instagram post, shot his girlfriend, traveled to NY area, killed two police officers, and then killed himself.

The simple narrative is that this was about Garner and Brown.  Melissa McEwan and others would like us to keep all three victims in mind, and perhaps that complicates the narrative.

In the meantime, I had a troll yelling at me for the "negro retard" who killed the police officers (said troll has since deleted his account), and so I feel it might be helpful to talk a little bit about disability and murder.

It's likely that Brinsley was in the midst of a serious mental health crisis. I don't have any diagnostic information (and would appreciate links). He was also a career criminal. As with all such tragedies we must apply an intersectional lens to figuring out what happened. I am just going to talk about mental health.

Here's what we know:
On Sunday, it emerged that Mr. Brinsley might have had mental health issues.
During an August 2011 plea hearing in Cobb County, Ga., he was asked: “Have you ever been a patient in a mental institution or under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist?”
According to a court record, he responded yes. The record did not provide any other details.
I have spent much of the last year reporting on killings and harm of people with disabilities by law enforcement. I argue that police are too quick to resort to deadly force and have made a lot of arguments about why and how to reform police strategy. Here's what I may not have said clearly enough.

There will be places in which a person with a disability, often a psychiatric one like schizophrenia, will present a clear danger to themselves or others. At that point, police are justified in using force. The problem is - how does an officer determine the likelihood of such a threat? My #cultofcompliance argument is that police are currently too likely to interpret non-compliance as imminent threat, and so respond with force, often deadly force. People with disabilities and people of color are most often mis-identified as threats (and when they are both, really dangerously often) or handled in such a way as to increase rather than decrease the threat level.

There are no simple answers. There are, though, complex answers. I hope to talk about those complex answers a lot in the coming year.