A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
This week a lot of Black New Yorkers “of a certain age” are having flashbacks to a specific police shooting in 1984 when Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly Black woman was shot and killed in her apartment by police.
Ms. Bumpurs, then 66, was killed by police trying to assist in evicting her from her Bronx apartment, with the officers claiming she came at them with a knife. Now here we are 32 years later and another African-American woman, also 66, has been shot dead by police in her Bronx apartment.
Deborah Danner who reportedly suffered from mental illness her “whole life,” was shot by an officer responding to a call that she was basically flipping out. Sgt. Hugh Barry claimed that the schizophrenic woman came at him with a baseball bat and he had no choice but to shoot her dead. He could have locked her in and waited for EMT or some other unit of emergency service to handle the crisis.
It is almost a safe bet that he could have disarmed the victim without killing her. He went against NYPD protocol and reached for his revolver rather than the taser, which was also on his belt. Ms. Danner did not have to die from gunshot wounds to her stomach. Even if the officer felt he needed to use his gun he did not have to shoot to kill. He had a choice between the taser and the gun; but chose the greater of two evils.
If he felt the gun was quicker, the officer’s years of target practice would almost certainly have allowed him to temporarily disable Danner with a shot in the arm or leg. He chose deadly force over everything else. In fact, new NYPD Commissioner declared Barry “did not follow procedure;” and Mayor de Blasio declared the killing, “unacceptable.”
When relatives and neighbors call about a mentally ill person who is in the throes of a breakdown, the police always seem to show up first. They are not trained to handle mental health crises; but yet they are the first on the scene; and it usually ends badly for the victim of the disease. We need to review the policy.
New York City is one of the largest – if not the largest – cities in the world. There are thousands of people here who suffer from serious mental health issues. It is not the police’s job to take care of them. But it is also not the police’s job to kill them when in desperation, neighbors or relatives call for help handling the situation.
What Barry did seems cruel and senseless and it adds to the ongoing tension between police and the Black community. We should not have to fear the people we call for help. And yet, that is exactly what we do.
Barry had been a cop long enough (eight years) to know how to handle an older lady with an obvious mental disorder. Reportedly, this was his first fatality. It did not have to be. He had no real justification.
The mere fact that she would come at him with a bat (she was reportedly talked into putting down a pair of scissors) should have been obvious enough that she was, pardon the expression, out of her mind. She needed care and understanding; not two bullets to the torso.
People who are in their right mind don’t attack police officers with bats. But it’s a bat for crying out loud. Handle it like a flippin’ professional!
President George W. Bush once mangled the HBCU tagline, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” saying instead, “A mind is a terrible thing to lose.” This poor lady seems to have lost hers. There but for the grace of God goes anyone of us. We need to have empathy for people who are in the grips of a psychotic breakdown.
Cops seem to be trained with only the safety of their own lives in mind. Their goal for every shift is to get home safely to their families. We wish them nothing less. Many of us have cops in our families. But our lives have value as well. We want to be safe for our families too.