Bush, Pressley push bill to end police brutality against Black Americans in mental health crisis

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Congressional members aim to crack down on police brutality against Black and other minorities with legislation to address public health and safety without the involvement of law enforcement. 

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., reintroduced the People’s Response Act which intends to grant funding to community-based organizations that provide alternatives to policing when addressing public health issues plaguing Black and brown communities.  

Rep. Cori Bush / Getty

The Democratic congresswoman told reporters during Tuesday’s press conference that the act is an “affirmative approach to public safety that will save lives.” 

“We cannot achieve safety by criminalizing mental health or criminalizing substance use and homelessness,” said Bush. “We cannot achieve safety by destroying lives instead of saving them.”

Bush told theGrio that as a former nurse, she “comes from a mental health background.” She recalled patients living under bridges or having their medication “stripped from them” by law enforcement “because they were unhoused.” Having witnessed the realities of mental illness in Black and brown communities, the congresswoman said she feels an obligation “to fix” what she sees as a broken system.  

Rep. Bush said she reintroduced the People’s Response Act to ensure that “our children’s children won’t endure what we have.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who joined Bush on Tuesday to re-introduce the bill, told reporters, “For too long, policing and incarceration have destabilized families, ravaged our communities, robbing us of countless Black and brown lives.”

The congresswoman said it is time the federal government “sees and treats public safety as the public health issue that it is.” She added, “It is time we make serious investments and solutions that are rooted in community and care.”

The People’s Response Act is also co-led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Morgan McGarvey, D-Ky., Summer Lee, D-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. The bill, which was initially introduced in the House in 2021, would create a Division of Community Safety under the Department of Health and Human Services to promote public safety with the goal of eliminating police violence against Black and brown Americans. 

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 17: U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) participates in a House Financial Services Committee Hearing at the Rayburn House Office Building on May 17, 2023 in Washington, DC. The hearing was held to examine the recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The bill aims to ensure organizations provide citizens with unarmed first responders for mental health crises, violence interruption programs, housing security programs, programs for youth and families, survivors of violence and individuals leaving prison or criminal supervision. 

Bush noted that these organizations would be separate from entities such as law enforcement, immigration enforcement and child welfare services to maximize public safety.

If the bill were enacted into law, Bush believes it would reduce the number of police brutality cases against Black and brown Americans suffering from a mental health crisis. There are numerous public incidents related to mental health that have resulted in death or violence following encounters with police.

In October 2022, 20-year-old Porter Burks, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot and killed by police while experiencing a mental health crisis in Detroit, Michigan. His family called law enforcement for help. 

In March 2020, 41-year-old Daniel Prude had just undergone a mental health evaluation hours before he was suffocated by police in Rochester, New York. Prude’s brother called 911 after he expressed that Prude had suicidal thoughts and ingested PCP. The encounter turned deadly after officers restrained Prude and placed a spit bag over his head, resulting in asphyxiation.  

Daniel Prude thegrio.com
(Credit: Prude)

In July 2016, Charles Kinsey, 47, a mental health therapist for a 27-year-old autistic man, was shot in the leg by police officers in North Miami, Florida. Authorities received a call that a man threatened to shoot himself. When they arrived on the scene, the autistic patient was in the street playing with a toy while Kinsey was trying to assist him back to the facility, where he fled. Law enforcement then ordered Kinsey and his patient to lie on the ground and put their hands up. Kinsey followed the officer’s instructions; however, the officer fired his weapon three times, striking Kinsey.

The People’s Response Act aims to prevent such tragedies and bring an “end to police brutality,” Bush told reporters. 

“[The People’s Response Act] is an ode to the thousands of people who’ve died at the hands of police and to the thousands of deaths and abuses we can prevent if Congress acts,” she added.

While speaking to reporters, Pressley recalled the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020, rhetorically asking, “Remember that so-called racial reckoning at the height of some of our most high-profile instances of police brutality and murder that people said we were in the midst of?”

She continued, “I’m still waiting. We may have had an awakening, but the reckoning has not yet taken place because we have not advanced budgetary or policy solutions that are commensurate to the hurt and harm that has been caused.” 

In order for the People’s Response Act to be signed into law by President Joe Biden, it must pass in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Bush conceded that the bill could face opposition from her Republican colleagues. She told theGrio that Republican lawmakers have “an agenda that they are following, and it is not about representing all the people.”

“That’s why it’s our job to continue to push [legislation],” Bush added, “The least we can do is write a bill” that will help eliminate police brutality.”

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