At a rally in memory of Ms. Natasha McKenna and other women killed by police or while in their custody, activists demanded, among many things, expanded funding for mental health first responders.
Seconds before Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Mr. Charles Ramsey, was interrupted by activists while giving a lecture early this month at Eastern State Penitentiary, he was speaking about the mere one week worth of training his officers receive in crisis intervention—which focuses on de-escalation and identifying signs of diminished mental health—and the day worth of training his cops receive in Taser usage.
“There’s too many instances where police come on the scene, don’t know what they have, and shoot someone or use a high level of force,” said Mr. Ramsey, who has been the target of many protests related to the case of Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, a 26 year-old black man who was killed by a Philadelphia police officer while unarmed and fleeing on December 15th, 2014.
What Mr. Ramsey described on September 1st inside an eerie prison is a scene that, with minor augmentation and edits, played out earlier this year inside a Fairfax County Jail when police, not equipped to deal with the mentally ill, used a taser on Ms. Natasha McKenna, a black woman who was handcuffed behind her back, ultimately causing loss of life.
What happened to Ms. McKenna in Fairfax, Virginia (the video was recently made public after the cops involved in the incident were found not guilty) could occur in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when you consider that of the 8,000 inmates in Philly’s county jail, roughly 15 percent of those resident would be designated as having a behavioral challenge or a serious mental illness.
The aforementioned statistic was made public recently by Dr. H. Jean Wright, Psy.D, who serves as the Director of Behavioral Health and Justice Related Services for the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and DisAbility Services.
Mental health, at times, can be a justice issues, he told me during Techbook Online’s #SAYNOTOSUICIDE live broadcast, which I moderated.
Dr. Wright also said:
“Individuals that need and deserve and are entitled to treatment should receive that treatment in communities, not jail cells.”
In the case of Ms. McKenna, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, she had been hospitalized for months before her January 26th arrest, which her overseeing physician was against, citing that someone in her condition lacked the capacity to care for herself, thus she wouldn’t fair well in a prison.
But despite Ms. McKenna’s long history of mental illness; she was jailed on a warrant, which claimed she assaulted an officer earlier in January during one of her mental breakdowns.
Many have written that Ms. McKenna shouldn’t have been jailed in the first place, and that was certainly the sentiment of the roughly 100 activists who protested her death in Center City Philadelphia last night, demanding, among many things, expanded funding for mental health first responders.
The activists, a few of whom were responsible for interrupting the police commissioner’s lecture earlier this month, held a long scroll in front of City Hall with the names of women of color who became victims of police terror.
They spoke Ms. Mckenna’s name many times, along with other women who have died either at the hands of police or while in their custody. They condemned the police who looked on, reminding Black officers that they, too, are at risk when their badge and uniform comes off.
And they drew the proverbial line in the sand, with each speaker, in some way, asking the public: which side are you on?
Even Pope Francis, who will be in the City this weekend for the World Meeting of Families, was mentioned a few times by activists.
“Pope Francis, you’re a good man, but if you want to be a great man, you must condemn, in the strongest terms, the system of white supremacy,” said Dr. Anthony Monteiro, a scholar and activist. “Pope Francis, you have the moral power to save lives, your voice carries weight,” added Dr. Monteiro, who called Ms. McKenna’s death a “horrible act of racist and white supremacist terror.”
Dr. Monteiro said the video of Ms. McKenna’s torture showed “everything we need to know about the police state in this country.”
Ms. Pam Africa, a member of MOVE, called the video a “sin and a shame,” but noted long before Ms. McKenna’s torture, cops had no respect for human life.
A name or two of Ms. Africa’s family members were written on the scroll, and she described several events in which police terror consumed her livelihood, and that of her loved ones.
The most famous event is the 1985 Move Bombing, wherein the City of Philadelphia, in an effort to dislodge a bunker on the roof of MOVE’s West Philadelphia home, dropped a bomb on the residence, eventually killing 11 men, women and children.
A lesser known event is one Ms. Africa gave voice to yesterday: years ago a black matron at the roundhouse on 8th & Race snatched her sister out the cell, spread her legs open, and kicked her repeatedly until she had a miscarriage on the floor.
“When we say there are no good cops, we mean that shit,” she exclaimed.
The belief that there are no good cops is why Ms. Africa said in July of 2014 that she doesn’t teach her children to respect police officers. At the time, Ms. Africa was protesting Philadelphia police officers treatment of Mr. Darrin Manning, a teenager who claimed a white officer squeezed his testicles during a stop-and-frisk.
“If there are good cops, where the hell are they? A crime has been committed!”
Yesterday, Ms. Africa renewed that sentiment.
“What the f*ck do you when you get off from work? Do you go to your churches and speak out about what’s going on?,” asked Ms. Africa to the police who were looking on. “Dammit, if you can’t stand up here and do the right thing, get you children to do so, they don’t wear no motherf*cking blue!”
After several more speakers, the protesters marched to Love Park – where a few more speakers addressed the public and several chants broke out accompanied by a drill team – then around the Center City corridors, eventually ended up at 11th & Market Streets, where the scroll was unraveled for a ceremonial closing – Ms. McKenna’s name was once again spoken.
Other demands of the activists who took to the streets of Philadelphia last night are treatment for mental illness, not police murder. Better training and regulations for police when dealing with citizens who suffer from diminished mental health and more communication between mental health outreach workers and police.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™