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Mentally Ill Lives Matter, Too

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Another human being with a mental illness lost their life in a senseless way. The reason I use the word “human” is because that’s what Michelle Shirley was, a human. Instead she was gunned down like a wild bear who infiltrated a residential community. Why are we here, yet again?

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Michelle Shirley, an educated young woman of color, was spotted driving erratically down a southern California street when police began to chase the vehicle. After everything played out and her daughter had been killed, her mother, Debra Shirley, said something eye opening about how police should and could have dealt with the situation: “I really feel like police are not equipped to deal with mental illness in the field. Shoot the tires or disable the car.” Makes me wonder, why didn’t they shoot the tires?

Michelle Shirley is one of a number of victims who have been shot and killed by active duty trained police officers. I thought the objective was to deescalate situations, not kill the person dead on the spot. She didn’t have a gun, it appeared no one was present in the car with her. So what was going through the mind of the police officer who fired the shots? The same question is asked about Dontre Hamilton.

“Mental illness needs to be talked about more. Awareness needs to be spread and the illness needs to be destigmatized.” That’s what everyone says when a person with a mental illness is killed at the hands of police. But what are the chiefs, aldermen and community leaders putting into action so that the cycle of ignorance will not continue to perpetuate itself? We are tired of seeing senseless killings of those affected by mental illness. I said “we” because I am affected by mental illness first hand; I live with severe depression and bipolar type 2. I am more so depressed more than I am manic. I only reach hypomania, which is right up under full blown mania.

Why not seek to provide education and the integration of public safety with the mental illness community? Because (sarcastically speaking) in a minute I’ll be starting a movement called “Mentally ill lives matter.” Why not? Black lives matter, now Blue lives matter (police). Well mentally ill lives matter just as much as any other demographic. As an In Our Own Voice public speaker for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), when needed, I go around to schools, police academies as well as police stations, churches and other businesses to inform the public of who we are. I seek to get my story out, share knowledge and give first hand experience of how I’m affected by mental illness. Changing people’s perception of mental illness and those it affects is personal for me, rewarding, as well as a piece to the puzzle I can add to help end stigma.

This young, educated woman of color, who was trying to beat the odds, was gunned down. There could have been a different outcome instead of resolving the issue with bullets, as if she was a wild animal. Yes, she was out of control, in danger because of her actions, but she by no means deserved to die. Collectively, on a global scale as well as communal, we need to do better. I feel for this young lady, for many different reasons. But to conclude, the number one reason is that it could’ve easily been me.

#Sayhername #MichelleShirley #endthestigma

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Originally published: November 11, 2016
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