Our Viewpoint: Georgia Tech — Death by cop all too familiar

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, September 27th, 2017 at 4:52 PM

In recent years, the demand for justice in America has greatly increased as certain issues are finally being brought into the light. For ages, we have looked at the justice system the wrong way.

Instead of meeting the needs of everyone, we as a country have been known to mainly meet the needs of the able-bodied white population. This causes a problem in the justice system because people view America as systemically a society made up of the wealthy white individuals, when it’s much more than that. With this in mind, our society has created the fallacy that in addition to being a wealthy white person, you may only conform to heterosexuality and your assigned gender. In addition, you must have a healthy mental state.

The problem with this ideal is quite obvious when we are now much more educated in the variety of sexualities and genders used to classify individuals. Similarly, we are more aware of the prevalence of mental illness.

When we move back to our flawed justice system, we can also see that there are a high number of police related deaths. The Washington Post has recently begun researching this issue. Their work has shown that 721 individuals have been shot and killed by police in 2017. Out of that number, 167 of those individuals suffered from mental illness.

Recently, a Georgia Tech student was fatally shot by police in an alleged suicide attempt. An officer, believed to have no training in mentally ill suspects, fired his weapon after 21-year- old Scout Schultz failed to comply with their commands.

Schultz, who was a computer engineering student and president of the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, identified as nonbinary and intersex. Non-binary (also referred to as gender fluid) is a term used for individuals who are not exclusively masculine or feminine. Intersex means that a person has biological or physiological characteristics that are not necessarily fully male or female.

Schultz preferred the pronouns “they” and “them.”

They also had a history with depression and although they seemed to be doing well, Schultz’s mother expressed that it was possible they attempted “suicide by cop.”

Suicide by cop constitutes 11 percent of all officer-related shootings, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Suicide by cop is recognized as an official form of suicide since individuals put themselves in a position to be killed by police. Many individuals, including fellow students and Schultz’s parents, questioned why police are required to handle such situations with violent force.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), Schultz’s mother, Lynne Schultz, asked why pepper spray or tasers were not used by police. According to several sources, the Georgia Tech police department is not equipped to carry nonlethal weapons.

Two students expressed their opinions regarding the protocol of the police department.

Joshua Ingersoll, an aerospace engineering student at Georgia Tech, told The Spectator that he believes officers did the right thing by following protocol. However, he does not believe they should be put in the position to follow protocol by shooting the individual.

“I think that our officers should be equipped with nonlethal tools such as tasers, which they are not,” Ingersoll said.

Fellow student Alex Schultz, a chemical and biomolecular engineering student, agreed that police deserve nonlethal options to protect themselves.

She also commented that it is important for police to be demilitarized.

“I think a good starting place GTPD can put into effect immediately is to provide nonlethal weapons, crisis intervention training, and more thorough briefing on mental illness and marginalized groups,” said Alex Schultz.

She continued by saying: “Officers need to practice understanding and confronting the biases we all carry in our minds before they are put in a high stakes situation, or one that seems that way. I believe these changes need to be made to police forces nationwide, especially because most police departments are not starting from a point as compassionate as GTPD is.”

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, only 10,000 of the 40,000 police officers in Georgia have received a form of mental health and de-escalation training over the past decade.

The past decade? From 2007 to 2017, 30,000 police officers have gone into duty without proper training to handle some of the most vulnerable of suspects.

However, according to the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Law Enforcement operations manual, officers are required to gain as much information as possible about a mentally ill individual, so when confronted with the situation, they are prepared. The document recognizes several signs to help identify a subject with mental illness. It also states that officers “should take time to evaluate the situation; not abuse or threaten the person; avoid unnecessary excitement; not become overly excited or emotional; and not lie to them.”

Information about the protocol for situations where mentally ill individuals are handling a weapon could not be found at this time.

This makes it seem as if Georgia police officers are given the ability to operate on their own terms.

Police officers need to be aware of all behaviors an individual that they encounter may be presenting. We look to our police to provide protection and service to their community. We trust our police officers with our safety. We trust that police will take care of us when control is out of our own hands.

Mental health needs to be addressed in the world of justice so that proper resources are given to individuals in need. Shooting an individual with a history of suicide attempts and mental illness is not helping the problem. That is one life that could have been saved and used as an example to further educate the importance of improving mental health services.

A life can be lost, but that doesn’t mean their voice is silenced.

Hannah Webster can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com. 

If you or a loved one is battling mental illness, it is never too late to take action. Please consider talking to someone about taking action. Our campus has a very supportive counseling center, which is free for students to utilize.

For more information regarding mental health support on campus, visit edinboro.edu/directory/offices-services/caps/.

To schedule an appointment with the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), call (814) 732-2252.

A 24-hour suicide prevention hotline is available for anyone who would like to reach out about themselves or a friend’s struggle, (800) 273-8255.

An online chat is also available at chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx. 

Tags: voices, opinion

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