Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Supporting one another

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

These Tuesday slices are all over the map these past many months, as I seem to just fall into different topics. I guess that in itself is a 'slice of my life' these days - unsure which end is up! Today, I find myself wanting to share and discuss police response...in general yet personal terms...reflections, really. This past Sunday, I found myself mesmerized by a long article in the Washington Post written by Hannah Dreier, entitled "The worst-case scenario: Converging in a tense section of Huntsville: A white officer fresh from de-escalation training, a troubled black woman with a gun, and a crowd with cellphones ready to record" [print edition really allows for some dang long article titles - ha!] 

I invite you to come along as I take a deep dive into what this article triggered for me. Not my normal slice of life, but, hey, what's normal these days?

This is an insightful story about these times, revealing the multi-faceted problems that police officers are challenged to face, and the heightened fears for our Black citizens in these frightening situations...and, rest assured, this young woman does not lose her life but, in fact, the situation ends with her getting the medical assistance she needs. Kudos to the police officer (Thomas Parker) for his restraint, and for his courage to be profiled - warts and all - by this reporter. I was particularly struck by his honest reflections - he feels that the thing that saved the situation was an unexpected, soaking rain shower. How horrifying is that? This deep rain somehow put the psychotic young woman into a more open, receptive mental place, about being taken to the hospital.

We really need to question what we expect our police to do. Should they be responding to these situations? Are we training them appropriately for these situations? 

..a woman was ranting and slamming doors at an apartment complex. She was scaring the neighbors...
This article spoke to me because, with a few details changed, the story is something I personally experienced. Back in 1984, when I was twenty-four years old, I was supporting my mother through a psychotic break...she lived here in the D.C. area at the time, my father was out of town, and I had received a crazy phone call from her at my work (office job, in those days!) and I rushed to support her, recognizing her bipolar/schizophrenia issues. After nearly 36 hours with her, trying to de-escalate, trying to get her to swallow a sedative, she broke from me/the apartment and raged down the hall of the high-rise they lived in. I called 911, and a rapid-fire blur of actions ensued - I heard a firetruck (and feared I called the wrong number), Mom made it to the elevator bank, I tried to block her here, the elevator doors opened and two police officers jumped out, Mom looked at me with anger and called me an expletive (even in this insanity, she knew I had called 911!) and raced back towards the apartment, where I had left the door open, and I screamed "she'll go off the balcony!" and I raced after her. 

They lived on the 10th floor of the building; it was my deepest horror that she so badly wanted OUT of her skin right then, she would jump off the balcony.

Blur of a scene continues - I raced after her, got only a few feet when I was thrown up against the wall and pinned in place by a police officer, who said "You don't move." The other officer caught up with my mother and threw her down to the floor so hard, I heard the thump. She screamed as he restrained her, forcefully. The officer with me began to question me, resolved that I was not a threat, I was the one who called, and let go of me, but demanded that I stay where I was. He assisted the other officer in restraining my mother who was filled with adrenaline of mania - there is nothing like this life force, seriously. Firefighters came down the hall with a stretcher, to assist the police. Mom was lifted, restrained, pinned onto this in short order, and taken to the hospital against her will. 

Truthfully, I was and am deeply appreciative of the police that day. 

Think about the scary decisions families have to make to get their loved ones help in such times. 
Think how profoundly difficult this must be for Black families. It took me 36 hours to be convinced that I couldn't keep Mom's situation private, couldn't handle it myself - and, as a white woman, I certainly did not fear calling 911, did not fear police would hurt me. 

And, yet, in fact, the police did perceive me as a possible threat, and understandably so - they had no idea what they were stepping into, really. 

Think about the split decisions police have to make.

I know that the police did not have guns drawn when they arrived, but I remember their hands on their holsters. 

I was struck, in the Washington Post article, by how over-armed the Huntsville police were: 

outfitted with a shotgun, an AR-15 that hung next to his shoulder.

That can't possibly be the right thing to have with you when you are dealing with someone who is mentally ill.

I was also struck by the policeman's 'protocol':

Parker saw how the struggle would go, like it had gone for him so many times on these calls. [The woman] getting bounced off the concrete when he tackled here. Her limbs twisting and bruising as he wrestled her into handcuffs. And then a forced walk out to the street.

Why are handcuffs even in play in these situations? What the hell is this? There were no handcuffs with my Mom. There was a stretcher. Which is what the situation required. Why this difference in approach, between 1984 and now - is it due to where one lives? the color of one's skin? a militarization/heightened 'criminalization' of citizens in police policy?

What he didn't know, and what a social worker might have understood: Two years before, she had given birth to a stillborn son. Then she had gotten pregnant again and vowed to do all she could to keep the baby healthy, including staying off her medications so she could breastfeed. Earlier this year, she had wanted to wean the baby and get a new prescription, but that was when Alabama was shutting down in the initial days of the pandemic. When she hadn't been able to get through to the psychiatric hospital, she had tried going to the emergency room, but the doctors there just referred her back to the same phone number that no one was answering, and not long after that, the neighbors began to see her in the courtyard talking to herself about devils.

Our country must grapple with police reform. 

We absolutely must rethink our societal constructs and responses to mental illness. 

We must help each other, support one another through times of crisis.

These are very complicated issues.

It is hard to know where to even begin, but begin we must.


  1. Oh, Maureen, what a heart-wrenching, but beautiful reflective piece. Thank you so much for sharing about your experience with your mom. How difficult to go through that, but your empathy comes through because of it.

    I read this article a couple of days ago, so it was even more fascinating to read your piece. Thank you for telling your readers that she gets medical help at the end because that was a scary part when reading that article, the not knowing. Her story was heartbreaking, that she wanted to have a healthy baby and then she knew she needed to get back on her meds. Oh, my gosh...to think she could have lost her life that day.

    I appreciated how Parker recognized that this was not what he was qualified to do. I'm sure good cops would welcome defunding part of their budget to relieve them of these calls and let skilled counselors help.

  2. Appreciate your thinking on this piece and your own experience paired with it. These words are so true: "... begin we must."

  3. As I read both your story about your mom and the officer’s story, I thought about the times—1984 and now—and the profound damage to mental health care Reagan did. We’re still reaping the effects of those cuts. I can’t help but think about how embattled police forces feel but also about their complicity in how we reached this moment. It is all so complicated and overwhelming and will take time to fix. We need a return to the mental health prior to Reagan and an improvement on that.