’Police shouldn’t deal with mentally ill people’

This image from video released on September 10, 2015 by the Fairfax County Sheriff's Office, shows members of the police attempting to restrain Natasha McKenna (L) in Fairfax, Virginia on February 3, 2015. © Fairfax County Sheriff's Office
In the US police are oriented to treat people like they are criminals when they are often innocent and have done nothing wrong or often when the actual problem is one of mental illness, says Carl Dix from the US Revolutionary Communist Party.

Another US police video has sparked anger - it shows a mentally ill woman being tasered by officers. The video shows 37-year-old Natasha McKenna, restrained by medics and officers during an attempted transfer from her cell. The woman had been arrested for attacking a police officer. She had a documented history of mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. McKenna died four days after the recorded taser incident - with officials declaring the death was “a tragic accident”.

READ MORE: Video shows brutal restraint, fatal tasering of mentally ill woman at Fairfax jail

RT: What can you say about this particular case of Natasha McKenna?

Carl Dix: I looked at the video that the sheriff’s department released and it was sickening to watch that they had this woman caged up, naked, that they tased her four times and ended up killing her. But what made it even more sickening is the story that’s behind it, because she should not have been imprisoned. She got arrested for a charge of resisting arrest and assault on an officer that occurred during a mental health incident that she had and that occurred because of that mental health incident. She was taken to a hospital, hospitalized for a week and a half and then after being released from the hospital and diagnosed with severe mental illness needing a cocktail of very powerful medicine and around the clock observation, when she is released from the hospital she gets arrested for these criminal charges. A woman in that kind of distress should not have been in a prison. So the system itself in addition to what the cops did killed Natasha McKenna.

© Eduardo Munoz

RT: Is it right to use police forces to deal with people with mental illnesses?

CD: Obviously not. You look at this video and they keep saying to her “Don’t resist”, but the woman has severe mental illness, so you telling her that is not going to get the desired result. It’s not just that the police are not equipped, they are. The system itself is what’s not equipped, because police should not be the people responding to and dealing with people who have severe mental illnesses. There should be mental health professionals who are brought into those situations. But what happens in this country is that when you call for an ambulance to deal with someone with a medical challenge who comes first are the police. And we’ve seen this time and time again. The police are oriented and trained to deal with people as criminal suspects - to beat them down, to incarcerate and even kill them off. That happens many times with people who are mentally ill. Also this question of people in jail being at the mercy of the guards in that jail and the guards neither being oriented to nor trained to deal with everything that comes up. Around the same time that Natasha McKenna died in prison, in Ohio a woman named Ralkina Jones also died in a jail and there is a video that was recently released of her begging with the guards to give her medicine and saying to them “I don’t want to die in your jail”. And then within a week she was dead in the jail because of the denial of the medicine. This is what policing in this society often comes down to and I do call out the police who should be held accountable, we have got to call out the whole system, because it is a system that is oriented to treat people like they are criminals often when they are innocent and have done nothing wrong, but also often when the actual problem is one of mental illness. This is why Cornel West and I and everyone should call for Rise Up October, a national march in New York City on October 24, because horrors like what happened to Natasha McKenna, like what happened to Ralkina Jones in Ohio… should not happen, must be stopped and it’s going to take grass roots resistance to stop it.  

RT: How many cases, would you estimate, do not get publicity?

CD: There are hundreds of them. So far this year law enforcement in the US has killed more than 800 people - that is from January 1 to September 10. More than 800 people – that’s a rate of almost three people each and every day. So when you see the cases that we have video for, that somebody whipped out their cell phone and recorded it or make it to the media then you have to multiply that 20 times, 40 times, 50 times to deal with all the cases that don’t make it into the eye of the public. That needs to be brought to people so that the authorities can no longer get away with saying these are isolated incidents, this doesn’t happen very often, police don’t usually do this. This happens all the time, it usually gets covered up and then in a few cases where it breaks through they try to blame the victim, they try to say that Michael Brown caused Darren Wilson to kill him, they try to say that Eric Garner should have obeyed the orders of the police, that Sandra Bland should not have got into an argument with the cop who pulled her over in Texas. The thing is – police need to stop being given a green light to murder black and Latino people ...

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.