Americans with a mentally ill family member say they will not call 911 if the person has a emotional breakdown or begins to act out violently. New Yorkers fear their mentally ill family members will be shot and killed by police after an emotionally disturbed man was gunned down by cops this week.
Saheed Vassell was a regular fixture on the corner of Empire Blvd in Crown Heights. Vassell suffered from bipolar disorder. He was often seen walking and muttering to himself on the boulevard. He was considered harmless by everyone who knew him on the block.
“He’s polite, nice, he’s kind. He just comes and he goes,” his father said.
Police officers in the neighborhood knew he was mentally ill as well. On Wednesday, he was seen brandishing a small pipe.
Four cops responding to 911 calls about a man with a gun opened fire on Vasell when he pointed the pipe at them. He was shot nine times.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said his understanding was that Vassell had mental health issues.
Hundreds of demonstrators marched to the spot where Vassell died on Thursday. They accused the NYPD of taking target practice on black men.
Black people are acutely aware that police in America respond differently to skin color. 9 times out of 10, white men with guns are ordered to put the gun down, while black men are gunned down regardless of what they are holding in their hands.
“My husband is a brown man who struggles with bipolar disorder,” Rama Issa-Ibrahim told the NY Daily News. “I don’t feel safe calling the cops.”
“When he’s experiencing any kind of emotional distress, I don’t feel comfortable calling the cops. I don’t feel safe calling the cops.”
Mental health advocates say there have been seven incidents of emergency calls resulting in fatal encounters with police.
“It’s happening almost every month,” said Carla Rabinowitz, of Community Access, a nonprofit that provides housing and employment training to people with mental health issues.
“No other community would accept this.”
Stock photo by Steve Debenport