This is a hard subject to discuss. But in the wake of a video released by the American Civil Liberties Union that shows police fatally shooting a mentally ill man in Michigan, back in 2012, it seems apropos.
Obviously, one can answer the question in a simple and straightforward manner, you shoot a mentally ill individual under the same circumstances that you shoot a criminal: when that individual puts one at risk of death or great bodily harm.
Yes, this is true. But I can’t help but to wonder if I would extend a mentally ill person more slack than I would a criminal, assuming I knew that the individual was mentally ill.
Allow me to explicate because without an example it sounds rather stupid to suggest that I’d differentiate between the two threats as at the end of the day an imminent threat is an imminent threat.
First off, a criminal with a gun or a mentally ill person with a gun are the same level of threat. All bets are off in that case, and I’m not waiting to see what happens, I’m shooting until the threat is neutralized, assuming I have the upper hand and we’re not at a standoff. What I mean is, if either a gun-toting mentally ill person or a gun-toting criminal broke into my house in the middle of the night, I’m not discriminating, both are getting shot.
Under different circumstances, like the scenario above, suppose that you’re facing a criminal with a pen knife and a mentally ill person with a pen knife. Should you give the mentally ill person more latitude — again, assuming you know that the individual suffers from a mental illness? Should you go to a greater length to de-escalate the situation? Should you be more patient? Should you be more inclined to try non-lethal force? Would you treat the threats equally?
I don’t know the correct answers to those questions, but I’m inclined to say that I’m more tolerant to the misdeeds of the mentally ill than I am of the crimes of criminals. It has to do with human volition. Maybe it’s naive of me to say this, but criminals consciously choose to break the law whereas the mentally ill may lack the faculties to discern between right and wrong, lawfully behavior and unlawful behavior, etc. For criminals, you play stupid games you win stupid prizes, so if a criminal gets shot while attempting to rob a grocery store, I have no remorse for that criminal. Maybe I should, and that shows a lack of humanity on my part. But if a mentally ill man goes off his medication, acts out because he’s overstimulated or chemically imbalanced, proceeds to grab a knife and run out onto the streets, I feel bad if he is fatally gunned down because did he really mean to grab that knife and go wild? Was it really his choice? Or was he just responding to a sudden change in his environment?
Maybe that’s just me, the way I think about bad guys and those who act badly because of a mental illness.
Now back to the video above. The ACLU presented to the Organization of American States on Monday to get it to raise awareness about the shooting of Milton Hall, 49, a mentally ill man who was armed with a penknife when he was fatally wounded by police in Saginaw, Michigan, in July of 2012. The Justice Department in February said that it failed to find “sufficient evidence of willful misconduct” on behalf of the officers.
According to the Huffington Post, ACLU attorney Mark Fancher likened the shooting to a “firing squad” and said it “not only reckless, but clearly unjust, and also grossly violated Milton Hall’s human right to life.”
Since the OAS is an inter-continental organization it has no real sway over the federal government. That said, Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, told Huffpo he hopes the hearing will serve “as a wake-up call for the desperate need to address police misconduct against the black citizens of this country.”
“The power behind these international tribunals is to draw attention to the problem and to put pressure on the United States to abide by human rights principles,” Steinberg said.
What are your thoughts? Was the shooting of Milton Hall justified?