A Message from our President and CEO, Diane Gould:
Last week’s police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man experiencing a mental health crisis, points to the intersection of race, disability, and police violence. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley has highlighted the importance of this intersection: “I think too often the headlines fail to recognize the ways in which there has been intersectional criminalization and structural racism… so when we say Black Lives Matter, we must also state and affirm that Black disabled lives matter because a very high percentage of the lives that we have been robbed of, who have been unjustly criminalized, profiled, surveyed, lynched, brutalized and murdered, were Black disabled individuals.”
According to the Washington Post, Black Americans are killed in police fatalities at more than twice the rate of White Americans, numbers that have remained relatively unchanged from 2015 to 2020. The Ruderman Family Foundation, which advocates for the civil rights of people with disabilities, has reported that as many as half the people killed by law enforcement officers are individuals with disabilities.
We continue to see the effects of systemic racism, failures in our mental health system, and persistent stigma and oppression that leave people without resources, power, and hope. We can and must do better.
Advocates vision is for communities that are fair and just, in which everyone can thrive. A more progressive and better resourced system of care has the potential to improve the health and well-being of individuals and families and promote communities that are safer and healthier for all members—which could make police calls for mental health crises less necessary. In the face of a crisis, there could be broader availability of emergency and urgent care as alternatives to police involvement. And when the police are called upon, a clinical co-responder can help ensure a safe and supportive response, and relieve the police of the frustration and strain of being asked to respond to a range of social problems not conducive to a police response.
Progressive models of community care such as Open Dialogue, Peer Support, Crisis/Respite (The Living Room), and Peer Support Groups such as Hearing Voices—all of which we offer—are based on true partnership, deep listening, and fundamental regard for people as experts regarding their own lives. There is research behind each one of them, and for those of you interested in learning more, read this recent report from Open Excellence, formerly Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care and a partner in our Open Dialogue (known as The Collaborative Pathway) work.