On Feb. 12, members and volunteers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation convened a speak out in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. They spoke with community members about ongoing police violence against people suffering mental health crises and distributed lists of free and low-fee local resources for mental health care, medical care, food and housing. Among those who attended were Donna Heyward, widow of lifelong anti-police brutality activist Nicholas Heyward Sr., and Veta Lewis, whose son Chanel was wrongfully convicted of murder and is currently serving a life sentence.
In December, Eudes Pierre, a 26-year-old Black man, was shot 10 times and killed in the neighborhood by NYPD officers. Pierre was suffering from a mental health-related episode at the time of his killing, and police knew of his struggles with mental illness as they had responded to two prior suicide attempts in 2019 and 2020. His family condemned the officers’ response — to shoot without attempting de-escalation or providing him proper care in a time of need.
Organizers at the speakout echoed this criticism and demanded the expansion of mental health services, so that those experiencing crises are given access to resources, and social workers and medical professionals are the ones who respond to mental health crises rather than armed officers.
“You can see a cop on every corner, and how many mental health workers do we have? How many therapists do we have? How many crisis prevention workers do we have? Mentally ill people are 60 times more likely to be killed by the police. Because when you give all your money to the police, you use the police to handle every problem,” said Teresse Watson, a social worker and organizer with PSL.
Other organizers similarly called into question the inflated NYPD budget compared to an overall lack of community resources — not just for mental health care.
“There is a war happening in our community. And resources for that war are going right to NYPD,” stated PSL member Kerbie Joseph. “That means our communities don’t have the resources that we need to thrive. There’s no money for education, there’s no increase in the minimum wage, there’s no money for medical care. There’s not even money for food.”
Organizers demanded justice, not only for Pierre, but for all those who had been killed by police while experiencing mental health crises, including Saheed Vassell who was killed in the same Crown Heights neighborhood in 2018, Deborah Danner in the Bronx in 2016, and Christian Hall in Stroudsburg, Penn., in 2020.
Speakers encouraged pedestrians walking by to unite and organize against the system of capitalism that disproportionately kills working-class and mentally ill people of color, and instead, for a system of socialism that prioritizes the care and safety of the people.
Jackie Kindall, another PSL member, urged those listening, “We need a mass movement that brings together the people of Black and Brown communities, who are constantly on the front lines of state violence!”