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Botched police responses on domestic violence, mental health could put people in danger

Instead of getting the help they asked for, the families of Jacob Blake and Daniel Prude ended up traumatized by policing strategies that are a failure.

People marched Thursday in Rochester, New York, to call for justice in the death of Daniel Prude, a Chicago man who died after being arrested March 23 by Rochester police officers who placed a “spit hood” over his head and pinned him to the ground while restraining him.
People marched Thursday in Rochester, New York, to call for justice in the death of Daniel Prude, a Chicago man who died after being arrested March 23 by Rochester police officers who placed a “spit hood” over his head and pinned him to the ground while restraining him.
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If we can agree on anything regarding two tragic events that are roiling the nation, we can agree they started with a phone call for help.

In the case of Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black man shot seven times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two weeks ago, the call was to the police for a domestic violence complaint.

In the case of Daniel Prude, 41, a Chicago man who was visiting Rochester, New York, in March, the call was made by the man’s family to police for a mental health episode.

In both instances, the callers were in crisis mode.

Instead of getting help, these families were traumatized by policing strategies that failed.

Let’s start with Prude.

Everyone with siblings knows that calling 911 on a brother or sister is a desperate move. It is devastating when things go horribly wrong.

“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said after video of the incident was released this past week.

The shocking footage shows police officers putting a “spit hood” over his brother’s head and pinning him to the ground. He died days later.

The Monroe County, New York, medical examiner ruled Daniel Prude’s death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting physical restraint.” It also found Prude had PCP, a powerful hallucinogen, in his system.

These days, police and firefighters are equipped with Naloxone to quickly reverse the respiratory depression from an opioid overdose that can cause death. As the opioid crisis grew, so did the nation’s efforts to save lives.

But police encounters involving mental breakdowns, whether due to illness or drug use, are as dangerous as they have ever been.

Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren: “Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police, our mental health system, our society and me.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren: “Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police, our mental health system, our society and me.”
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In Rochester, Mayor Lovely A. Warren offered a heart-wrenching apology for what happened to Prude. “Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police, our mental health system, our society and me,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

Overlooked is the chilling effect these failures could have on families in crisis.

In the Kenosha shooting, a young woman who identified herself as Blake’s fiancee and the mother of the couple’s three children was nearly hysterical when she spoke to reporters after the police shooting.

“You overused it. That’s what you did. You shot him numerous times for no reason. It didn’t take all that,” said the woman, identified by WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee as Laquisha Booker.

The couple’s three children, all boys under the age of 9, were in the back seat of the van when a Kenosha police officer, Rusten Sheskey, shot Blake seven times. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down.

Antonia Drew Vann, director of The Asha Project, a domestic violence prevention program specializing in African American and culturally specific services in Milwaukee, says what happened to Blake could have wide ramifications.

“What occurred in the Blake shooting validates Black and Brown victims of intimate-partner violence who are reluctant to call police because what they want is the violence to stop,” Vann said. “They don’t want their husband, boyfriend, father or their children killed. They want the violence to stop, and they want him to be held accountable for it. What [this] does, it increases the reluctance to involve the police, which can be dangerous for the victim.”

Carmen Pitre, president and CEO of Sojourner Family Peace Center, the largest domestic-violence prevention and intervention provider in Milwaukee, agreed but parsed her words.

“You should not have to choose between making a call for your own safety and someone else getting hurt because of police intervention,” she told me.

Later, in a follow-up email, Pitre said:

“I do believe that the majority of law enforcement officers intervene in a way that is helpful for domestic-violence survivors. It is absolutely critical that we work to end police brutality, as it erodes survivors’ confidence in the systems intended to protect them.”

In the aftermath of such horrible events, police departments have to rethink their strategies for intervening in domestic-violence situations.