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(NEW YORK) – A California mother whose son was fatally shot in 2019 by police during a mental health crisis has teamed up with local officials to create a mobile task force to help those struggling. with mental illness.
Taun Hall’s son, Miles, began showing signs of possible mental illness during his teenage years. He will later be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and as his symptoms progress, Hall becomes concerned for Miles’ safety.
The fears weren’t unfounded: People with severe, untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police, according to Treatment Advocacy Center, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit. Hall also worried about Miles as a black man, which made him three times more likely than white people to be killed by law enforcement, according to a study by Harvard researchers TH Chan. School of Public Health.
Hall contacted law enforcement in his neighborhood of Walnut Creek, an affluent suburb a few miles from San Francisco, to alert them to his son’s mental health issues. She also worked with her local mental health worker to open a channel of communication.
“I was trying to be preemptive,” Hall said. “I was trying to sort things out before there was a problem.”
Miles’ condition worsened in 2019; he began to have delusions and sometimes called himself “Jesus”. But he was 23, legally an adult, and Hall couldn’t force him to get help.
“You see your child going down a sort of mental health spiral…you can see the deterioration, but there’s nothing you can do to help.”
When Hall saw Miles’ symptoms worsening, she contacted the mental health worker she worked with to help Miles. Hall left a message for him and called the local police department’s non-emergency line, trying to alert them to Miles’ condition in case his son encountered law enforcement. “I was like, ‘OK, if they know him, they’re going to respond with care and compassion.'”
The next day, Miles was gardening with his grandmother. A neighbor lent Miles a gardening tool, a long metal rod that looked like a crowbar. Miles started walking around with the rod, calling it his “god stick”. He was walking around, saying he was Jesus, when he used the metal rod to smash a sliding glass door in the family home, Hall said.
Miles entered the house and asked Hall and her husband to leave. They did, in an effort to defuse the situation, and Hall called 911. Hall told the 911 operator that Miles had a metal rod.
About 10 minutes later, a neighbor called to tell Hall that Miles had been shot. According to police reports, officers responded to multiple calls that afternoon, not just Hall’s call.
Miles had knocked on a neighbor’s door and several residents called the police. Police footage shows officers calling Miles by name, yelling at him to “stop” as he approached them, clutching the metal rod. Despite their orders, Miles continued to advance. Next, officers fired a beanbag, intended to arrest a suspect but not cause permanent damage. When this did not stop Miles, officers shot him repeatedly with their handguns, killing him.
“The worst time of, you know, our lives was right then, right there.”
An internal investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.
In the years since her son’s death, Hall has worked with Congresswoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan to try to prevent other families from experiencing the same tragedy. Hall realized that what would have been useful to him was to have someone to call who was not the police. “We needed a different number to call. We needed a different answer.
The replacement of police with mobile response units to respond to low-level calls — like those about mental health — is happening in many cities across the country. Oakland, Calif., began testing a pilot program in April. The new task force, called MACRO – Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland – was created to provide a first response option separate from the police.
Oakland residents can access the task force by calling 911 and being connected to a special MACRO dispatch center. The working group’s interactions with the public come from what they call “on-sight” calls. These take place when the team sees someone who may be in need of help and offer basic medical care and resources.
“If someone is in need and you can see them, you can stop and help them,” said program manager Elliott Jones. “And even if you just give them a bottle of water and sit them up straight, maybe that’s more compassion they have and god knows how long.”
Each MACRO team has an EMT, a crisis response specialist and a van full of supplies. The team doesn’t just deal with low-level mental health issues. It also helps with homelessness, public intoxication, and behavioral issues, among others.
Hall worked with Bauer-Kahan on a bill to expand funding for mental health services in California and Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill in late September, blocking an 8-year roadmap to fund units crisis mobiles across California.
Accessible through the national suicide and crisis line — 988 — these services will connect users with crisis intervention specialists, counselors and peer helpers. Hall says that’s the answer that might have helped his son.
“I can never pick up a phone call,” Hall said, referring to the 911 call she made the day her son was killed. “I can never take back the officer who shot him…but I can take my pain as my goal and make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.”
If you are experiencing suicidal, substance abuse or other mental health crises, please call or text 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You will reach a qualified crisis counselor free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.
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