Police Shot Another Black Woman in Need of Mental Health Support. It’s Time for Change.

An activist displays a sign during the BYP100 #DecriminalizeBlack protest on December 21, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah Ji)An activist displays a sign during the BYP100 #DecriminalizeBlack protest on December 21, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Sarah Ji)

On April 28, two police officers in Georgia killed 36-year-old Somali refugee Shukri Ali Said after her family called 911 seeking mental health assistance.

Many publicly condemned the shooting, suggesting bias against her Muslim identity may have played a role. The Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is leading a civil rights investigation against the police officers.

“It is possible that law enforcement failed to properly de-escalate conflict with a woman they knew to be mentally ill,” CAIR-Georgia director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement issued on behalf of Said’s family. Said, who had been diagnosed as bipolar, was allegedly refusing to drop a knife when the police opened fire.

“It is also possible that law enforcement reacted differently to Shukri, a Somali-American woman who was reportedly wearing a hijab and a dress at the time of the shooting, than they would have reacted to another individual,” Mitchell added.

Political activist Linda Sarsour, who co-chaired the 2017 Women’s March, wrote on Facebook: “I am sad. I am outraged. I am mourning. I am helpless. Every damn day. Black bodies on our streets. We cannot be silent. We cannot be numb. We have to remind ourselves that while this happens too often – it’s NOT RIGHT.”

Said’s death shines a spotlight on a critically overlooked reality that often contributes to cases of police brutality: the way in which law enforcement officers have become front line responders to those experiencing a mental health crisis.

People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter.

According to a 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than people without mental illness, and about one in four fatal law…

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