“We are all aware of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead. We should all be aware that these circumstances represent very, very serious problems that need addressing.” —Deborah Danner
Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old woman with schizophrenia, was shot and killed by an NYPD sergeant at her home in the Bronx in October. She wrote those words in her 2012 essay “Living with Schizophrenia.”
Her death has sparked renewed calls for increased services for people with mental illness and better police training on interactions with the mentally ill. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill has admitted that the department “failed” in its response to Danner, and Mayor de Blasio said that the department did not follow the proper procedure for interacting with people with mental illness. The focus on Danner’s mental condition and on police interactions with the mentally ill raise important concerns often underemphasized in recent discussions of police killings. However, that focus is still incomplete because Danner was not only mentally ill, she was also black.
Highlighting Danner’s race might seem unnecessary in this era of protests and town halls on race and policing. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, etc. Whether everyone agrees or not, we’ve heard it—#blackLivesMatter.
In light of the largely masculine-centered race and police brutality narrative, Columbia and UCLA Law Professor Kimberle Crenshaw has worked to highlight the stories of women of color who have been killed by police, encouraging people to #SayHerName. Others have worked to elevate the stories of trans men and women killed by police. While there is recognition of a need for an intersectional approach—a term coined by Professor Crenshaw—to analyze the ways that multiple identities may overlap to affect people’s experiences with the law, e.g., being black and a woman—there is one intersection that is still often left out: race and disability.
Why is it important to discuss police brutality in terms of race and disability?