By Rhiannon Koh, AsAmNews Staff Writer
In Dec. 2020, Christian Hall was fatally shot by the Pennsylvania State Police. The 19-year-old suffered from depression and on the day he was killed, had been contemplating suicide.
Recently released videos reveal that the 19-year-old had his hands in the air when the state troopers opened fire. Despite the Monroe County District Attorney’s office finding the shooting to be justified, Hall’s parents are calling for an independent investigation by the State Attorney General.
The case revives a heated debate around policing and mental health.
According to a Washington Post database of fatal U.S. shootings by on-duty police officers, more than 1 in 5 people with mental illnesses have been shot. Since 2015, when The Post launched its database, police have fatally shot more than 1,400 people with mental illnesses.
“By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter,” said John Snook, Executive Director and a co-author of a 2015 Treatment Advocacy Center study. “This is patently unfair, illogical, and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.”
Hall’s case is one of several involving Asian American victims.
As AsAmNews previously reported, the family of Filipino American Angelo Quinto sued in August after police in Antioch, CA killed him while responding to a call of a man in mental distress.
In San Jose, police responded to a Vietnamese woman in mental distress in 2003. Bich Cau Tran was screaming in Vietnamese and waving a vegetable peeler. Officers shot and killed her minutes after arriving.
Despite these all-too-common tragic outcomes, the police remain the default contact for such cases. AsAmNews spoke with Don Cameron, a retired law enforcement officer who teaches at the Sacramento Police Academy.
“I think you could always train the police to handle these situations better. But sometimes you go in and you’re trying to be a counselor, but it goes the wrong way,” Cameron said. “Unfortunately, families blame the police because they call in the first place.”
Cameron also noted that these situations are usually volatile. He explained that it would be unfair to blame the police entirely for how these situations turn out. Some people experiencing mental health crises have weapons on them. If an unarmed counselor were to go to the scene alone, they’d be putting themselves in a very dangerous position.
“I really think there’s no clear-cut solution,” Cameron continued. “I think that it would be a good idea to train the mental health workers and the police in the same classroom setting so they understood what the other one could provide what the other one could do.”
Former Superior Court of California Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell had a different view.
“The primary reason that law enforcement continues to be the first responders to calls about individuals in mental health crises is the lack of resources in communities to treat those with mental illness,” she told AsAmNews. “In-patient facilities are far and few between and in those units that do exist, there are insufficient beds to treat the many people in need of treatment.”
Cordell cited the tragic death of Michael Tyree, a 31-year-old man who was incarcerated in a Santa Clara County jail until beds in a mental health facility became available. Tyree, who suffered from bipolar disorder and addiction, was beaten to death by three jail guards in 2015.
When asked what was preventing the creation of a national, mental health task force, Cordell said, “A national mental health task force will likely do very little to solve this problem. Police departments are not under the direction or supervision of the federal government. Any recommendations from a national task force will be just that—recommendations and not requirements.”
“Given how police unions resist all reforms, not matter how small, and given the fact that these unions create culture of policing, change will have to come from the voters who can and should put pressure on politicians to fund treatment for the mentally ill,” Cordell concluded.
Amidst these numbers and statistics remain human lives that should be remembered.
At a New York candlelight vigil hosted in Dec. 2021 to honor Christian Hall, a spokesperson with the Act Now to Stop Racism Coalition stated, “We demand funding for mental health resources, and not for more police. We demand for the hiring of social workers who are trained in mental health crises to replace police as first responders. We don’t need cops when we’re in crisis. We need help. We need people who know what it means to be trained. To assist, to stand with us, to understand what we’re going through. We don’t need more police.”
Hall’s mother, Fe, also attended a Pennsylvania vigil for her son. She said, “Christian Hall was not just a boy on the bridge. He was a human being. He had a family. He had parents. He had cousins. He had a life… Christian Hall mattered.”
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