My heart is heavy today and has been ever since I learned of Deborah Danner’s death. She was an elderly schizophrenic Black woman in crisis and in need of mental health professionals. Instead, police officers who were not trained to deal with the mentally ill showed up and one shot and killed her. Due to this, Deborah Danner’s name has been added to the long list of those killed by police and the mentally ill who were killed by police. Her name is also on the less well known list of Black women killed by police officers.
This tragedy in particular hits home because, in a way, she is me. I am also a Black woman in America living with mental illness. I have a personality disorder, a mood disorder, and anxiety. Untreated, I’m an erratic mess. Even with treatment I still have moments where things go awry. I live in constant fear of that one time where things go so left that I’ll need some type of emergency intervention. I know that, in that moment, my loved ones will call 911 hoping to help me. The only problem is, if police show up first, I may get a bullet instead of the help I need.
This is a fear that, I believe, most people with mental illnesses have. Especially in recent times where the number of mentally ill victims of police violence is gaining notice. I’m not sure if the number is getting larger or it’s just more people are paying attention, but it’s a concerning trend. Then there’s the worry that if we get shot, tased, beaten, choked, or whatever, will it be blamed on us and our mental illness. Will anyone even care?
That’s a lot to deal with on a daily basis. That’s a heavy burden to bear. It’ll wear anyone down eventually. Something’s gotta be done. We can’t have millions of people living in fear of those supposedly sworn to “serve and protect” us. We can’t have family members at a loss on how they’re supposed to help their mentally ill family member when they’re in need. We need something to alleviate the fear, dread, anxiety, and guilt.
Do I have all the answers? No, I do not. I do know that I am a mentally ill Black woman trying to survive in a country that would see me and those like me dead. I do know that I do not want to become a statistic. I do know that something, anything, needs to change before another one of us dies. If you want to know what Deborah Danner herself thought about living with her mental illness, she wrote an amazing essay about it. I strongly suggest you read her words. She speaks about it better than I ever could.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote from Ms Danner’s essay that really resonates with me.
I smile rarely, but I am surviving.