Once again, a community sits in grief. Once again our neighbors writhe in inconsolable pain. Once again family members and friends are left with more questions than answers in the wake of police violence.
Not only must a community mourn, but also it must ask why on earth has justice been denied in the wake of an insufferable loss? Is it a crime to be young and black and walking down the street in America? Is it a crime to be young and black and mentally ill?
These are the questions that surely plague the family of 25-year-old Ezell Ford after Tuesday’s decision that the two policemen that stopped, shot and killed their son will face no charges in his death. The autopsy showed that he was shot three times ― in the back, in the side and in the arm. He was unarmed.
Over the objections of LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck, in June of 2015 a civilian oversight panel unanimously found that one of the officers was at fault and acted outside of police policy in stopping Mr. Ford, scuffling with him, and in drawing their weapon. The panel unanimously recommended that administrative disciplinary actions be taken due to this violation of police guidelines concerning tactics, drawing of a service weapon, non-lethal use of force and in the lethal use of force. However, Jackie Lacey’s District Attorney’s office has now concluded in a 28-page report that Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas were in fear for their lives and acted lawfully when they shot Ezell Ford on August 11, 2014.
Tuesday’s conclusions tragically trigger an existential question that trouble the core of far too many black, brown and poor communities. That question is, does my life matter? In particular, does it matter to one of the largest, deadliest, well-funded police departments per capita in America?
While both the numbers and the lived reality of communities across the country show that our law enforcement officers are grossly ill equipped to police the mentally ill, cities like Los Angeles did seek to expand its System-Wide Mental Assessment Response Teams (SMART) in December 2015, with similar fledgling efforts in the LA Sheriff’s Department, and in the Burbank, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Pasadena police departments. Though in most cases these units are fledgling and inadequate, they are a step in the right direction.
However a critical question remains. How often does racial profiling and implicit bias, as in the case of Ezell Ford, violate our citizens’ civil rights and actually create a mental health crisis for the mentally ill that ultimately leaves them dead?
A 2015 report from the Ruderman Foundation showed that some 50 percent of the people who were killed by the police between 2013 and 2015 were mentally ill. We also know from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that on average over 50 percent of the men and women in state, local, and federal prison are mental ill.
Source: Black Voices | Delonte Gholston