January 18, 2016 11:35 AM
Tonight, Rise Up Georgia and Black Lives Matter activists will begin camping out at the DeKalb County courthouse in Decatur, awaiting the decision of a grand jury looking into the police shooting of Anthony Hill last year.
It’ll be 19 degrees tonight on the courthouse steps, with a high of 41 on Tuesday. It will be raining most of the week. It will be uncomfortable. It will look uncomfortable. In a sense, it’s the antithesis of hashtag activism.
I first heard about this protest at a talk by activist Shaun King at Agnes Scott College last week. King, a former class president at Morehouse who now writes for the New York Daily News as a justice columnist, grew to prominence chronicling one high profile police shooting after another through social media last year.
He’s questioning that, now.
“I operated under the impression that if I made the injustice known, that justice would be done,” he said. “And I was wrong. … It’s not good enough. I thought it would do a lot more than it has done.”
The frankness of that admission startled me. But so do the numbers.
The Guardian’s meticulous count of deaths attributed to police last year topped out at 1134. A disproportionate number of those deaths were of young black men, even accounting for higher crime rates in the black population.
“Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police,” according to The Guardian’s count. “Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.”
The Washington Post’s coverage of police shootings last near noted that about a quarter of all police-involved deaths had some connection to a mental health crisis, just like that of Anthony Hill’s shooting death.
DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen killed Air Force veteran Anthony Hill in March. Hill was having a bipolar mental health episode, and had disrobed, running around naked — and unarmed — in an apartment complex. Olsen killed Hill two minutes after responding to the 911 call.
No police officer involved in a fatal shooting last year has been convicted of a crime yet, King noted.
While activists want Olsen held accountable for Hill’s death, they’re also looking for systemic changes to police responses, said Nelini Stamp, an organizer with Rise Up Georgia. The movement wants this demonstration to be the start of a long-term conversation that ends with changes to how DeKalb County police respond to mental health crisis, she said.
“Mobile crisis units are not enough,” she said. “Our immediate goal is to put pressure on the DA for an indictment, and we want to say that there’s a bigger fight that people can participate in.”
She is working to present a draft ordinance to the county, requiring crisis intervention training for police and a shift of resources away from jail and into treatment of mental health disorders.
“Las Vegas and San Antonio have models that work,” she said. “Police don’t want to be in this position.”