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The Rainbow Bridge Traveled Too Soon

I went to a memorial service on Sunday. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful service, but it’s hard to write about. It wasn’t someone I was close to, though only because we hadn’t met until recently. I liked him. I knew he was gay and that he enjoyed dancing, though he wasn’t graceful or strong. I knew he was having hard times, since he volunteered for a while at the Habitat for Humanity Restore to have something current on his resume. He was also Hispanic, and suffered from mental illness.

He died because he got drunk and upset one night and took out a decorative sword and someone called the police. Neighbors said they heard 6 or 7 shots. The police said they told him repeatedly to put down the weapon. They said they feared for their lives, though none of the articles I read or TV reports I heard claimed he was attacking the officers or any other person.

I thought of him as a skinny kid, though he was in his 20s. He always struck me as being kind and gentle. I have a very hard time imagining him, holding a sword, as a credible threat against two police officers with guns. He didn’t have either the self-confidence or grace that comes from martial arts training.

I think about the number of friends I have who have swords, people who have had them in hand while drunk and upset, and lived to see the dawn (and suffer the hangover).

I think about the fact that his neighbors reported so many shots. How many bullets can you possibly need to stop one skinny drunk guy from endangering anybody else with an antique, decorative sword? Were these police officers trained at all in de-escalating situations? Did they have any training in how to identify and deal with a person who has mental illness? Did they do anything but bark orders and shoot?

There’s so much I don’t know about what happened. I don’t even know why he was upset.

But I can’t help but think that if he had been white and straight he would still be alive today.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
msstacy13
Sep. 16th, 2015 12:45 pm (UTC)
The truly disheartening thing is the consistent inconsistency of these situations.
wyld_dandelyon
Sep. 16th, 2015 11:03 pm (UTC)
It is sadly not so inconsistent that people of color, queer people, and people with mental illness who have encounters with the police have bad outcomes. Our officers need training in dealing with all of these issues. Leaving things to random chance whether an officer has enough knowledge and holds him or herself to a higher standard than their bosses demand is causing untold tragedies.
msstacy13
Sep. 17th, 2015 12:04 am (UTC)
Well, yeah; the inconsistency of getting shot by police
is pretty consistently in favour of white folks.
robynmcintyre
Sep. 16th, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
Unsure
From what I have seen of police encounters with people with swords, most have ended badly, so I'm not sure that his not being white was as large a factor as we might think. Of more concern is the lack of training for police officers about those with mental illness. Militarization of police forces have reinforced the 'us vs them' thinking that can lead to such tragedies. Not enough has gone into training officers to be flexible in their thinking and to look for non-violent solutions.
msstacy13
Sep. 16th, 2015 10:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Unsure
I think you're right about swords being equally dangerous regardless of whiteness; I was thinking of these situations in general.
wyld_dandelyon
Sep. 16th, 2015 10:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Unsure
Swords, in the hands of someone with sword fighting skills, can be quite dangerous. In the hands of an amateur, not so much. Even in the hands of an expert, they're not a distance weapon, and a gun is.

But my wondering isn't only about what happened after the police showed up. Would he have had more resources and received better medical treatment if he were not gay, not a person of color, and so on? Statistics suggest the answer is yes. Would the person who called the cops have made different decisions if he were white and straight? Would the cops have been slower to shoot or more likely to try a non-fatal shot? Those questions are harder to answer for this particular person, but again, statistics suggest that straight white men are less likely to be in the position of a confrontation with police, and less likely to end up dead if that happens.

There's so many different points where some small thing could have led to a different outcome, and many of them are things that have infuriated me about our society for years. Not providing medical care for people who need it. Treating queer people and people of color and poor people and people with mental illness and women and people with different religions like their lives and deaths don't matter.
wyld_dandelyon
Sep. 16th, 2015 11:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Unsure
Police militarization troubles me, as has the consistent push to incarcerate more and more of our people, to allow seizure and retention of property not just as evidence or after a conviction, but upon nothing more than an officer's suspicion.

kelkyag
Sep. 16th, 2015 08:57 pm (UTC)
My sympathies on your loss.

Where to even begin addressing the issues around the young man's death ...
wyld_dandelyon
Sep. 16th, 2015 10:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there's so many different things that affected this situation and that we, as a society, need to improve on.
seekerval
Sep. 17th, 2015 10:27 am (UTC)
So sorry to read of this young man's sad situation and death. My condolences to you and his family and friends.

So many deaths that should never have happened...
wyld_dandelyon
Sep. 18th, 2015 02:28 am (UTC)
Thank you. And yeah.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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