Human Rights For Prisoners
"Police officers need more training to deal
with the mentally ill, and those with Down’s
syndrome. Unless these “violators” are
flashing a weapon, they should be talked
down, not shot down. Instead, those officers
think they have a license to shoot and
kill harmless and helpless people."
|Baltimorean Freddie Gray is neither the first, nor will he be the last person to die in police custody. According to a 2011 report
from the Department of Justice, 4813 people died in police custody
between 2003 and 2009 (the most recent data, reported in 2011).
However, not every state reports their data, so the number is probably
higher. A new report is scheduled to be released this year or
Many of those who die in police custody are bipolar or have other
mental health challenges. Too many officers of the law have not
been trained to deal with people with mental health problems. The
mentally ill need help, not a fatal bullet.
Tanisha Anderson had a heart condition and bipolar disorder. When
she was detained in Cleveland she was pushed and forced into a prone
position, which led to her death. Anthony Hall, unarmed and bipolar,
was an Air Force veteran. He was running through an Atlanta
street. Instead of being calmed down and clothed, he was
killed. Robert Saylor had Down’s syndrome. He was killed at
the Regal Cinema Westview Stadium in Frederick, Maryland, over a $13
movie ticket. He was handcuffed, made to lay face down on the
ground, and was asphyxiated.
Police officers need more training to deal with the mentally ill, and
those with Down’s syndrome. Unless these “violators” are flashing
a weapon, they should be talked down, not shot down. Instead,
those officers think they have a license to shoot and kill harmless and
helpless people. These deaths should be classified as police
misconduct, but these “officers of the law” rarely pay a price for
There are exceptions. In Chatham county Georgia, Matthew Ajebade,
21, had bipolar disorder. He was placed in a restraining chair,
and held in isolation. After being put in the restraining chair
he was tasered; that action ultimately led to his death. All nine
of the sheriff’s deputies who detained him involved in this incident
were fired. In Oakland, California, Johannes Mehserle spent a few
months in jail before he was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter
in the death of Oscar Grant. He was sentenced to two years in
jail, but served only eleven months, receiving time off for good
There is other abuse that too frequently goes unpunished. In
fact, inmates are so frequently raped when they are imprisoned that
Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. This
legislation mandated that the Department of Justice collect data on
sexual victimization. They measured more than 80,000 reports of
sexual activity in the 2011-2012 year.
Some of these sexual encounters were described as “consensual” but an
imprisoned person hardly has the means to withhold sex from a jailer.
Some trade sex for more food, a blanket, or a better cell. Whether
consensual or not, it is illegal for guards to engage in sexual
activity with prisoners. These guards are often neither
disciplined nor fired. What is a prisoner to do? Report the
violation and subject themselves to a different kind of abuse?
In addition to sexual abuse, prisoners are subject to the loss of their
dignity and their physical safety in many instances. Prisoners in
San Francisco were forced to fight each other (as if they were
Mandingos during slavery), for the entertainment of deputy
sheriffs. According to the San Francisco Examiner, these fights
were described by some as “little more than horseplay.” But who
wants to be thrashed in the name of horseplay?” Further, this
so-called horseplay reduces inmates to gladiators, to people who are
perceived as less than human.
Many “law enforcement officers” in San Francisco, Ferguson, and other
places document their attitudes by the text messages they send to each
other. They refer to African Americans, Latinos, and Asian
Americans using crude language to show contempt for these
populations. They treat people of color as far less than human,
and their text messages reflect that.
These killings, rapes, arranged fights and other forms of oppressive
harassment are just the tip of the iceberg. Few officers will tell the
truth about legalized human rights violations because they are
protecting their colleagues. In covering up these violations,
they contribute in the erosion of trust in some communities.
To be sure, only a small percentage of police officers violate the
human rights of prisoners. A far greater number are silent in the
face of evil. Inhumane attacks on the lives and liberties of prisoners
will stop when silent officers open their mouths and put an end to the
legalized killing and torture of prisoners.
BC Editorial Board Member Dr. Julianne Malveaux, PhD (JulianneMalveaux.com)
is the Honorary Co-Chair of the Social Action Commission of Delta Sigma
Theta Sorority, Incorporated and serves on the boards of the Economic
Policy Institute as well as The Recreation Wish List Committee of
Washington, DC. A native San Franciscan, she is the President and
owner of Economic Education a 501 c-3 non-profit headquartered in
Washington, D.C. During her time as the 15th President of Bennett
College for Women, Dr. Malveaux was the architect of exciting and
innovative transformation at America’s oldest historically black
college for women. Contact Dr. Malveaux and BC.
| is published every Thursday
David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA