Erin Kelly examines the impact of wrongful death due to mental illness and disability in the midst of the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri.
Stories have been told since the beginning of time. They are the recipes and ingredients of human existence. They shape our souls and mold our history.
In fact, if you peel back their layers, you may find courage, strength and resiliency. Some might even say that if you shine the right light on a story, it can be more powerful than a one-thousand man army.
That power can then be used to reignite a flame that may have once been put out by violence or war. Maybe it’s the flame of desire, or one that rejuvenates an entire town or city. One can never truly know unless they find the courage to start the fire that sparks the flame. In order to begin to spark that flame, however one needs to feel emotion.
We all need to feel something—whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger or fear. It’s how we come to best understand our surroundings and come to terms with life. When we understand where our strongest emotions come from, we can harness whatever power we have inside ourselves. It’s a process in which the people of Ferguson, Missouri are slowly learning to use to heal from tragedy.
A grand jury recently decided not to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown to death in August of this year. Thousands—including Brown’s mother and relatives—flooded the streets of Missouri awaiting the verdict. However, on December 8, 2014, Fox News released a report that stated an interview from a key witness was “not included” in the documents that were released to the public by the grand jury in Missouri.
While there were no comments made by officials in the article, evidence shows that logistics aren’t the only things surrounding this case that are being investigated.
A growing number of people in Missouri and surrounding areas who have a mental illness are being targeted by police. It’s speculated that nearly half the population that’s been killed since the year 2000 has suffered from some form of mental illness. This includes 23-year-old Nick Davis, who was shot and killed by police in Portland, Oregon after reportedly approaching them with a crowbar in hand.
The incident occurred two months prior to Michael Brown’s death, but it has brought a new layer of fear and uncertainty to the already shaken community in Ferguson. So much so that officials are searching for any possible links between the two. An article published this past June by ThinkProgress.org reported that Davis suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—but “was not typically a violent man.”
In the months that followed the tragic events in Ferguson, Nick Davis’ was just one person in a string of mentally ill individuals who died at the hands of police. Many died during the chaos, though most died to a severe lack of proper medical treatment and medication for the gunshot wounds they sustained. In fact, The Oregonian reported in September that Portland police have used firearms and “deadly force” in more than ten cases since 2008—with the majority of those being against the mentally ill.
Not only that, but people with disabilities—particularly those in wheelchairs—are under this deadly radar as well. Missouri police being accused of fatally shooting disabled individuals without reason or warning. Harold Braswell of The Washington Post was among the first journalists to cover the events in Ferguson from a disability-related angle. The headline of his August 25 story read:
“Why do police keep seeing a person’s disability as a provocation?”
I think that says it all. There are few in this world that make me bite my nails in anger—and the injustices that occur against the disabled are at the top of that list. The fact this particular incident is occurring during perhaps the most vile, heartless crimes against humanity to date turns my stomach inside out.
This is a double crime against humanity. It will be the ultimate testament to strength and will to see how the people of Ferguson—and the US as a whole—rebound from this. In fact, writing this piece forced me to ask myself three questions:
“Where do I really place my anger?”
“Are the things I get mad about really worth getting mad about?”
“What makes me strong?”
If anything, this whole situation should make those on the outside looking in ask themselves the same—and pray a little harder to whatever God they believe in.
Photo Credit: Mastrangelo Reino/Flickr