Words from Chasse Avenue

By Casadi Marino, LCSW, board member, Mental Health America of Oregon. Also published in The Oregonian.

I have been waiting for another man to die. I’ve asked what could be done to prevent another loss. I can look to what has taken place so far but I don’t find any answers.

A man with schizophrenia by the name of James Chasse dies from many blows by a number of officers. He committed no known crime. He tried to run away and lost his life. Aaron Campbell, a grief stricken black man who talked about suicide, is shot in the back and left to die in the street. Jack Collins, a homeless man with a mental illness and a drinking problem, is shot four times and killed after cutting on himself and refusing to drop the x-acto knife. They are referred to by labels and diagnoses: schizophrenic, a drunk, a transient, the homeless mentally ill. Their stories are not told, their lives are not prized, they are not seen in the context of their friends, family, and community. The gifts each had to share are not featured in the headline when another man is gone. Other highly aggressive actions are taken by officers such as shooting a twelve-year-old girl with a bean bag gun and jumping on some young people of color who were walking in the street.

The city is sued for Mr. Chasse’s death and plans a defense in which he is held responsible for his death given his mental health condition and how he got scared and tried to run away. Jason Renaud, a mental health advocate, decides to run for city commissioner to try to address the police issues. Jessie Jackson comes to town and the Albina Ministerial Alliance becomes active. People are cautioned not to call the police given what is likely to happen. Mr. Collins’ street friends talk about what a sweet person he was. Police leaders and spokespeople justify officer actions. They were doing what they were called upon to do. They had to kill those people as they didn’t do as they were ordered. They were scared. They protected the citizenry. Citizens express fear of a police department some refer to as a militia. Citizens begin to protest and some riot. Some more money is found for the mental health system, including a pilot police officer and mental health professional team. It seems a little too little and a little too late. There are many media reports and opinion pieces. There are community gatherings. There is frustration, anger, fear, blame, tears, and hopelessness. There are memorials.

I’ve listened to the police talk about how the populace doesn’t understand the situations and demands they face and how the mental health system does not work with them. I’ve listened to my fellow advocates and recognized the great responsibility they feel. It pains them greatly when someone they regard as one of their people is killed. I’ve listened to mental health consumers cry because they are scared. I’m scared. I’ve heard the name calling, the yelling, and the protests. It’s ugly and antagonized. People are being dehumanized. Nothing is being mended. No one is being heard. No one is being respected. No one knows what to do. Everyone is saying he doesn’t want this trauma. Everyone in some ways begins to look and sound the same.

We all wish to be safe.

We all need to be valued.

We all need to be heard.

We cannot afford to go on like this.

We are just waiting for another man to die.

One thought on “Words from Chasse Avenue”

  1. While I’m a staunch advocate for police-reform I’m left confused as to exactly what I’ve read here. This is a short list of highly publicized blunders made by the local police. Nothing is being said here that hasn’t been said, repeatedly. My expectation of a licensed, professional, social-worker, frankly, is higher. A person such as this is in a unique position to offer helpful insight. Instead this reads like a personal indictment of a system which the author simply doesn’t understand.

    The responsibility here is a direct one and it is entirely the police’s. However the citizenry bear a tremendous amount of indirect responsibility in this. Our friends and our neighbors. The fact of the matter is far more people support a police-force they feel have some ‘teeth’ in it, than do a just, fair, and less-lethal police-force. In my opinion the fear-driven near-hysteria reflected in this essay is one that many people feel and respond to. And it is precisely this fear that has us buried up to the necks in trigger happy police.

    The answer is simple. Take away their weapons. All of them. Right now. Done. Replace professional armed patrol-man with non-professional unarmed patrol-man. Retain the paramilitary divisions like SERT and SWAT and use them more sparingly. Use these last when a situation arises that can’t be safely concluded by unarmed people, then and only then. Critics decry response-times but this system has been in place for a very long time. Most patrol-man have to call in back-up in most cases, and often to deal with special circumstances. My proposal changes nothing other than the physical make-up of the various groups responding to whatever crisis.

    Policing has become too glamorous. There are those who seek out the job for other reasons than civil-service. Moreover the culture of the military transcends the military in this and is subsequently inflicted upon us via cops almost exclusively drawn from their ranks. It’s a bad recipe placing a badge and a gun on the person of a soldier. Soldiers, Airman, Sailors, and Marines are trained to treat those they view through a reticle, or over a gun-sight, as enemy. The citizens of a country simply are not the enemy of their police-force. Even the criminals.

    Police are often the lynch-pin in State’s Evidence and this is simply ridiculous. Turns out our prosecutors can’t build a case without the police. Never mind the conflict of interest that has been a scourge for centuries police are all too often the only witnesses to much of what gets prosecuted. As such a police-man’s character is paramount. This is equally ridiculous because fallible humans exist and sometimes that has nothing whatsoever to do with character. But as long as an ordinary citizen can be discriminated against when staffing our police-force while military, and ex-military, are afforded preference, there will be a problem where the police-force becomes out-of-touch with the realities of the world around them.

    A would-be police officer can’t/doesn’t experiment with drugs and alcohol. Given that the vast majority of young people do this then outlines an abnormality amongst our police-force. A state-sanctioned abnormality no-less. The fallacious logic applied is that which falsely asserts would-be police avoid these behaviors due to the fact they must one day help prosecute people for these behaviors. As if drug use, or even a past criminal record, precludes one from ever telling the truth in court, and subsequently then, never being good State’s Evidence. Utterly ridiculous. Especially consider the number of police whom eventually brake these very rules anyway.

    Police should be us. Everyday, ordinary, people with all their bumps and warts. If they can’t stand as State’s Evidence then sobeit, we’ll figure something else out. A police-man’s job should be a form of social-welfare and patrol-men should be familiar faces to us all. Instead we have a bunch of thugs living in extreme isolation from society, and indoctrinated into a violent mentality via the military, and then festooned head-to-toe in the latest weaponry; and set loose on our streets.

    We have this because of frightened people. Frightened people who interchange the notions of justice and revenge. People who revel in the suffering of others in order to reinforce the class structure in this country. People whom simply do not care as long as it is not them. As long as these attitudes dominate our electorate then there will be no end to the ways in which police will become empowered to kill us. The quickest path away from a police-state is to simply take their weapons. All of them. Right now. Dones

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