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.