S.F.P.D...Go Back to School

root - Posted on 19 November 2001

The death of Idriss Stelley and the case for increasing police crisis intervention training...

by Leroy F. Moore, Jr

As a college graduate, I had to take many different classes before I could walk onstage to get my degree, so why can't we hold up the same standard for the San Francisco Police Department? In the case of Idriss Stelley, the young Black man with mental illness shot more than 20 times by police on June 13 at the Sony Metreon Theater, the officers were informed that the call they were responding to was a “5150,” the police code for someone in psychiatric distress. But none of the officers involved had received crisis intervention training to prepare them to save Stelley’s life instead of taking it.

Thirty officers graduated in June from the SFPD’s first class of Police Crisis Intervention training, but only those 30 of the force’s approximately 2,000 officers — or less than 2 percent — are trained to respond correctly in a situation involving a mentally ill person. That is a frighteningly small proportion of the City’s police force, especially when you realize that one in four calls to the police regards someone in psychiatric crisis.

This is why Mesha Monge-Irizarry, Stelley’s mother, along with activists, community members, youth and people with mental illness marched into City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 4 — up to Room 263, where the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee held a special hearing to address police violence against people in psychiatric distress. It’s been almost four months since Stelley, a 4.0 college student, was killed by the SFPD. Once again, Irizarry was in front of another committee. Why is the system constantly making this grieving mother uncover her wounds from the tragic shooting of her only child when what she’s asking for is simply common sense?

“My son’s fiancé called for help for Idriss but got a firing squad instead,” Irizarry said. “The SFPD knew they were dealing with someone in psychiatric distress, but the officers involved were not adequately trained. They ran in with guns drawn, and within minutes Idriss was dead.”

She and the other activists are demanding that the City increase the number of officers receiving crisis intervention training to at least 25 percent of the police force within the next two years. As I took notes and pictures of the hearing, I wondered how many times Irizarry and her supporters will have to preach, plead and organize around something so painful?

Once again, the Idriss Stelley campaign made an intimidating space — the Board of Supervisors’ hearing room — into a warm family room. Samantha Liapes, director of Bay Area PoliceWatch, in asking for a moment of silence, called on the spirit and strength of Idriss Stelley and other people with mental illness who have been victims of police abuse. The compelling spoken word of Po' Poets of POOR Magazine echoed that of many spirits who are not at rest because there is still no justice.

“The 20 plus shots fired at Idriss Stelley are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Liapes. “Every day, because of SFPD’s negligence, people in psychiatric crisis end up in jails instead of hospitals and are beaten down or shot down instead of talked down. People in psychiatric crisis deserve help, not homicide.”

Nine representatives of various community organizations and commissions spoke about the need to increase the amount of training police receive to handle people in psychiatric crisis. Many speakers put a face on mental illness by testifying to how they feel about the shooting of Idriss Stelley. One youth spoke about the power of the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee to pass a resolution that would implement the activists’ demands and put pressure on other political leaders.

The resolution, written by a broad coalition of individuals, organizations and family members who have suffered from police mishandling of people in psychiatric distress, makes the following demands: Within the next two years, 25 percent of SFPD officers must receive Police Crisis Intervention training; within one year, at least four to five officers per shift per station must have volunteered and completed this training, enabling them to take the lead in any crisis involving someone with an altered mental status; training must continue until all police officers are trained.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano took the lead by promising that he and the committee would sign the resolution by the following Tuesday and keep the pressure on to make sure that the PCI training is implemented. Many City commissioners are lending support as well. For example, Marissa Villa Nuelle of the San Francisco Youth Commission and Carol Patterson of the Mayor’s Council on Disability both spoke from the heart about why their commissions wrote a resolution calling for an immediate and mandatory augmentation of the SFPD crisis intervention program.

With the backing of various commissions, organizations, community activists, people with mental illness and the family, friends, and girlfriend of Idriss Stelley, you would think that Mesha Irizarry would by now have learned all of the facts regarding her son's shooting, but this is not the case. She still has not been told the names of the witnesses to the shooting. You would think that after two more shootings of people with mental illness since the death of Idriss Stelley on June 13 that there would be an independent criminal investigation by now. Not true. And you would also think that the increase in police shootings of people with mental illness would spark the Department of Justice to look at these cases as violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Not true.

Last, but just as importantly, you would think that a representative from the SFPD would have come to hear what the public and Board of Supervisors are talking about and start to plan how the department could improve its treatment of the mentally ill. Once again, not true.

Leroy F. Moore Jr., a reporter for PoorNewsNetwork, is also the executive director of the Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization (DAMO).

Speech made to the Rules Committee on Mental Illness, Race, Poverty and Police

By Leroy F. Moore

Good evening. My name is Leroy F. Moore, Jr. and I’m a resident of San Francisco and Founder and Executive Director of Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization, the only organization that is for and by disabled people of color in the Bay Area and, I think, in California. I am also a staff writer for POOR Magazine and The BayView Newspaper.

My topic today is how mental illness, poverty and police brutality play a roll in the lives of people of color, especially Black men. As a Black, disabled researcher, writer and advocate of disabled people of color, I have noticed that in every arena of life—from education, employment, services industry and yes, to the mental health system—disabled people of color, especially disabled Black men, are at the bottom of the heap.

The National Council on Disability reported that over 70 percent of people with disabilities are living below the poverty line. Last year, the president and the CEO of the NAACP wrote that the national unemployment rate of African Americans with severe disabilities (including mental illness) is 85 percent. This percentage has not changed in almost ten years!

The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness reported that there are more people with disabilities, especially people with mental illness, living on our streets than ever before. All of the above, including institutionalism and more, have caused a lot of added tension, stress, depression and other physiological pressures which add to the overwhelmingly high rate of mental illness among African Americans and other people of color

People of color, especially African Americans, with mental illness have a distrustful relationship with the mental health system because of their history of being over-medicated, misdiagnosed, experimented on— the Tuskeegee Experiments— and the threats of being forcibly medicated and forcibly institutionalized. Today the last real threat to African Americans with mental illness is the increase in brutality and killings, i.e. police shootings. This issue now is to teach the Black community that we must be vocal about how the police, social service providers and even family members are educated about the needs and wants of a mentally ill person in and out of crisis.

We all know that there has been a drastic increase in police shootings of people with mental illness all over the country. However, have we noticed that over 80 percent of these shootings have involved people of color with mental illness who are poor, homeless and outside of the disabled or Black communities? Most of them are Black men. Have we noticed recently that many police nationwide have walked away with a clear record from these shootings? (Margaret L. Mitchell of Los Angeles, Eroll Shaw of Michigan and recently, Shannon Smith of Illinois)

Last but not least, the brutality committed against people with mental illness has not been on the radar screen of the Department of Justice, the department in charge of carrying out the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability laws. Mandatory training is needed across the board from the police to the justice system to the families of people with mental illness, from a culturally diverse platform.

One last point I would like to make is that in July, Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization and many other grassroots organizations held the first ever Open Forum on Senseless Crimes Against People With Disabilities. In this forum, many advocates and specialists on this topic concluded that the primary cause of unnatural death of people with mental illness is police shootings. To put the icing on the cake, the justice system—jurors, judges and lawyers—has a lack of knowledge and special training in working with people who have disabilities. We also found out that there is a state organization called the Crime Victims with Disabilities Initiative that is setting up Crime Victim with Disabilities Specialists to provide awareness training to the general public, the justice system and the police and they also will be creating a speaker bureau on this issue.

For more information contact Dan Sorensen of the Crime Victims with Disabilities Initiative of California at (916) 651-9304.

There are too many mentally ill people of color, especially Black men, who have been turned away from the system and ended up in the grave because of police shootings and other street crimes.

Please, for the mother, family, friends and supporters of Idriss Stelley, lets make sure that no more youth, adults or elders with mental illness have to suffer what Idriss and his family had to!

***Find this story and more on the San Francisco Bay View's online site at


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