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America Is Dangerous for Black People With Mental Illness

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After the death and murder of George Floyd, protests have been exploding all around the country. Floyd was yet another Black man who was murdered at the hands of a police officer. Three other officers were complacent in the death and the Black community is angry. The whole country should be angry. Innocent Black people are being murdered publicly by officers who are hiding behind broken systems and badges that ultimately give them a “right” to use deadly force.

Let me be clear. I am white. I won’t claim to be an expert on race relations or the Black history of this country but I have educated myself enough to know that white people have been the oppressors since they landed in “America.” I am informed enough to know that Black culture is dynamic and profound and the fact that this country systematically white-washes Black culture is painful and invalidating for the Black community.

Racist and ignorant groups of people seek to constantly invalidate and forget the contributions of the very people who built this country. Katherine Johnson, a Black woman, played a pivotal role in getting Apollo 11 to the moon. She calculated, by hand, the trajectories needed to get to there, yet somehow, she is referred to as a “hidden figure.”

So many white hip-hop and rap artists now create music influenced by music created by people who were enslaved such as jazz, blues and rock-and-roll. Still, white musicians are called “creative geniuses” while Black musicians are referred to as “thugs.” In America, white people are profiting off the contributions and work of Black Americans, all while systematically killing them, often in the street, like George Floyd.

Something I have been reflecting on in the past couple of days is being Black and mentally ill in America. I should have been reflecting on this topic much sooner as a white person. Mental illness is what I know. I know what it is like to live with mental illness. I know the lack of training and education police officers get when it comes to handling mental health crisis’ in the public.

I started connecting ideas about police brutality against Black people and people with mental illness. I know that Black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by a police officer. I know that a person with untreated mental illness is 16 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than someone who is stable in terms of mental health. I asked myself, “What happens to the numbers if you are Black and mentally ill?” I went on a deep dive into every archive, website and PDF file I could get my hands on.

There are no numbers. I couldn’t find one number or study that correlates the death of Black individuals where mental illness played a role at the hands of police officers. This was alarming. Why is this information not being studied? Is the system so corrupt that data on the mental health of Black Americans is skewed because they don’t have as great of access to basic mental health care as white Americans do?

As someone who experiences psychotic episodes, I know that a really intense episode has the potential to warrant police presence. After all, you can’t just call a medical professional for help in these situations — a serious flaw of the mental health system. So police are the people who typically respond. As a 24-year-old white female who stands no taller than 5 feet, 4 inches, a police officer would most likely see my erratic behavior for what it is, mental illness.

Now take the same exact situation but replace me with a Black man and there is a good chance that the police officer would report drug abuse versus mental illness. Even though, in this hypothetical situation, we have the same illness and same erratic behavior, because we have different skin colors, we would probably have different outcomes.

I can say with certainty that even though there is minimal research to reference and discuss specifically regarding this topic, being Black and mentally ill in America is dangerous. Being Black, mentally ill or not, in America is dangerous — period.

The systems that oppress the Black community such as the criminal justice system, education system and health care system contribute to their death’s daily. It is long overdue that people with privilege, white people, use our resources to help end the disparities.

Not sure what you can do?

  • Sign petitions.
  • Call your leaders and demand justice for the deaths of Black Americans.
  • Donate to the families of victims or groups that work toward bettering America for the Black community.
  • Protest.

A gentle reminder that protesting might not be for everyone. Protests typically include large groups of people where you may be surrounded. Do not attend if you are made uncomfortable by large crowds of people. Police officers that are present may be wearing body cams. If you are made uncomfortable by small cameras, this may also be a reason to help using another method.

To the Black community. I hear you. I see you. I stand with you.

Header image via Steven Jones on Unsplash

Originally published: June 1, 2020
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