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Proof that police can shoot and not kill?

Published: 
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

In the continuing quest to determine how well police are equipped to treat with the mentally ill, especially in crisis, nothing as yet has provided any source of comfort on the matter. No one seems to know exactly what is covered in the Police Induction Training and whether that passing classroom encounter with the issue of acute mental illness is sufficient.

It is not that we are unaccustomed to police shootings and shooting to kill—hardly, since T&T looks like a normal day of Gunfight at the OK Corral. It is about the reasoning that leads a police officer to kill rather than maim or disarm an ill person acting violently.

To my mind, it is quite possible to find alternatives to deal with an individual acting violently and wielding a broken bottle or a “two-by-four.”

While I would rather see police trained to deescalate such situations, and while I do not subscribe to tasing, I’d rather a tased mentally ill person than a dead one. A bullet should never be used where medication could be sufficient to return to calm, alive.

But the myth of violence among the mentally ill which translates to the stigma that all mentally ill people are violent may well be behind the extreme measures police have taken over the years. Often I wonder how much prejudice has to do with police actions in these killings. Are actions propelled by a discriminating and ignorant perceptual measure of the worth of the life of a person who may be considered “mad”?

As a society, we have not as yet addressed the prejudices we hold against people who are different from us. And may God help those of us who are different if we pick up a stone and throw it at the police—it is almost an assurance that such a one would meet his maker much faster than even some criminals with automatic rifles.

And on that note, a police corporal and a sergeant firing at each other, in close proximity of each other, expending 28 rounds of ammunition and one remaining alive, employed—and possibly with full pay—to tell the sordid tale of alleged infidelity and indiscipline suggests to me another picture about shooting to kill or shooting to cause injury.

I wish that one of the individuals engaging the attention of this quest I am on had an opportunity like that—to be shot at and live to tell the tale. Instead, it takes about three rounds of ammunition, on average, for police to kill a person presenting with acute mental illness.

Sheldon Sobers, 25, dead by suicide

As an institution, Costaatt holds a special place in my heart. As a former adjunct lecturer, I have some of my best memories teaching and impacting the lives of some fine young people, a large number who are still in my community of friends and associates.

So when Ornella Brathwaithe posted about Sheldon Sobers’ death on Facebook and Alette Williams followed with a stirring, unsettling expression of grief, it got my attention. I could not recall Sobers but his name seemed familiar. It turned out that he was a student in my sister Debra’s class when she lectured at Costaatt, also.

The painful thing about this suiciding is that Sobers had sought an intervention. He was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the San Fernando General Hospital, and hours after being admitted this 25-year-old man hanged himself using a piece of cloth.

The news story said Sobers “was found dead around 9.30 am at the entrance of a room near the male dormitory of the psychiatric ward.”

The story also quoted the police as saying, “He (Sobers) was a regular patient of Ward 1 (psychiatric) and because of his behaviour he could not be immediately assessed.”

That fateful Sunday before his death, Sobers was said to be displaying “unpredictable behaviour” and having been transferred to the hospital by ambulance, he was then placed in an isolated room. I do not know how long he was there “quarantined,” unpredictable and unattended but “around 9.30 am a nurse found Sobers dead.”

Gail Miller-Meade, CEO of the South West Regional Health Authority, was quoted as saying that they (SWRHA) are now investigating why Sobers was kept in an isolated place when he was displaying signs of depression and mental instability.

The SWRHA in its condolences said it “remains committed to reducing the effects of mental illnesses among the population and implored the public to seek help as early as possible.”

But Sobers sought help and was in the assumed best place for an intervention. I have so many questions for the SWRHA but for now I must follow Alice down the rabbit hole…

CAROLINE C RAVELLO is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI). Write to: mindful.tt@gmail.com

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