Chronicle of a Police Murder Foretold:
The NYPD Execution of Deborah Danner & the Sick System Behind It
October 24, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Deborah Danner foresaw the possibility that she and others like her could be murdered by the police. But she was unable to prevent it.
Deborah Danner was a 66-year-old Black woman. She was bright, articulate, well-educated—and suffering from schizophrenia. On Tuesday, October 18, she had a breakdown, as she'd had before. She just needed a little bit of understanding and a little bit of help.
There were people who understood and tried to get her help. A neighbor called 911. Her sister was trying to get her to the hospital.
Then the NYDP arrived. They knew she suffered from mental illness—they'd been called to her Bronx, New York, apartment four times before. And they knew her family was trying to get her treatment. But they didn't give her understanding or help. They gave her two bullets in the chest, killing her. The only thing they came up with was a bullshit excuse for murdering her: this older woman "threatened" two armed cops with a baseball bat.
What does this needless police murder of a mentally ill person say about this entire society and system? What does it say that such murders by police go on over and over and over, decade after decade after decade? And what does it say that this system justifies them time and time again?
"Living with Schizophrenia"
Before her murder, Deborah Danner wrote poignantly in "Living with Schizophrenia" of how this system treats those suffering from mental illnesses:
Those who don't suffer believe the worst of those of us who do. We're treated with suspicion as liars who can't be trusted to control ourselves. We're asked to accept less than [our] natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I've lost several jobs because of stigma—jobs I was succeeding at... The saddest aspect of this sort of marginalization of the mentally ill is the fact that many remain untreated (the incarcerated mentally ill, the homeless mentally ill) and suffer terribly. We are all aware of the plight of the homeless mentally ill; we see them on our city streets on a daily basis—some in crisis and out-of-control, some silently suffering.
Deborah Danner also chronicled the treatment of the mentally ill at the hands of police:
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.
Referring to the 1984 NYPD killing of Eleanor Bumpurs, she continues:
Many years ago, here in NY, a very large woman named Gompers [Bumpurs] was killed by police by shotgun because she was perceived as a "threat to the safety" of several grown men who were also police officers. They used deadly force to subdue her because they were not trained sufficiently in how to engage the mentally ill in crisis. This was not an isolated incident.*
30 Years After the Police Murder of Eleanor Bumpurs
We aren't living in the Middle Ages, when humanity had no understanding of the causes of mental illness and breakdowns. We live at a time of unprecedented scientific advance, a time when there is growing understanding of mental illness and real treatments available.
Many family members and caring social work and health care professionals do what they can to desperately help these human beings, who the system has first forsaken and in many cases itself damaged.
But how has this system responded, 30 years after the police murder of Eleanor Bumpurs?
One in five adults reportedly suffers from some form of mental illness in any given year in the U.S., as do millions more children. But there's never been adequate services for the millions of mentally ill people in this society. And now, over the past several decades, as our understanding of mental illness has increased, fewer and fewer resources have been devoted by the government to address this growing and horrible problem. Instead, this system has actually closed down institutions that were supposed to take care of the mentally ill—throwing thousands and thousands of mentally ill people into the streets. And there have been no real efforts to reverse this process.
Going back as far are the 1970s, it was already becoming evident that the closing down and emptying of state mental hospitals was resulting in a big increase in the numbers of mentally ill people ending up in jails and prisons. After 40-plus years, this is even more so the case, where the overall prison population has gone from under 200,000 in 1975 to over two million today—with over 350,000 mentally ill prisoners.
What does it say about this system that there are more mentally ill people in prisons and jails than are being treated?
Or that those charged with "serving and protecting" the people repeatedly murder those in need? That the mentally ill are 16 times more likely to be killed by police than others? That we live in a society where some one in four deadly police encounters involves someone with mental illness?
A system where these killings are part of a broader epidemic of police brutality, terror, and murder targeting especially Black, Brown and Native peoples, like Deborah Danner, because this system can't profitably exploit them so has no future for them.
Who and What Will Stop This Horror and Humanely Address the Issue of Mental Illness?
In the U.S. today, millions of mentally ill people have to suffer in needless ways—left untreated, thrown into the street, put behind bars. In the first six months of 2015 alone, 125 mentally ill people were killed by police. Who and what will stop this horror and humanely address the issue of mental illness? Not this capitalist system. It hasn't, and it can't.
Really addressing the problem of mental illness and meeting this social need would clash directly with the way this system operates—where investments are, and must, be made with the aim of making a profit. This—maximizing profit—is what drives this system, NOT meeting people's needs. And these workings of the capitalist system dictate what the government can and can't do, what it spends money on, and what it doesn't. This is why, even if they wanted to, the rulers of this system can never really address the problem of mental illness. And the era of intensified global competition has required a "leaner and meaner" capitalism and the slashing of all kinds of social services—including in health care.
What will it take to bring into being a society in which people with mental illnesses can live in. caring communities? One in which the state will back up and allocate resources to efforts to enable such people to fully contribute to society? A society in which the Deborah Danners of the world are valued as precious members of society, and treated with love, compassion, and understanding?
It will take an actual revolution—nothing less. A revolution in which millions of people, led by the revcoms, meet and defeat this system's violent forces of repression and seize state power. Then a whole new society can be brought into existence, with a radically different economy based on whole different criteria, with whole different dynamics, a whole different political system, and an entirely different morality. The blueprint and scientific plan for this society exists in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, written by Bob Avakian.
As the statement issued by the New York Revolution Club says:
Over and over and over again, this system and its enforcer pigs murder innocent people. Eric Garner... Philando Castile... Alton Sterling... Keith Lamont Scott... and now Deborah Danner, a woman suffering a psychiatric crisis, who, like too many mentally ill people before her, shot dead by the police, when compassion and help are what's required. Police murder and white supremacy are built into this system. A system which needs to be overthrown at the soonest possible time—and it can be! It's Time To Get Organized for an Actual Revolution.
Get with this revolution now. Here's how.
* Eleanor Bumpurs was four months behind in her monthly rent of $98.65. Housing authorities were trying to evict her. The police went to her apartment, knowing she was mentally ill, and broke down the door. Cops claimed Eleanor Bumpurs was waving a knife, so they shot her two times with a shotgun and killed her. [back]
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