Protests shook the streets of Lancaster and areas of Philadelphia after the police shooting of 27-year-old Ricardo Munoz on September 13th. Munoz had been battling with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for years and was suffering a mental health crisis at his family home.
Munoz had been exhibiting verbal aggressiveness and his sister, Rulenniss Munoz, dialed a crisis hotline number for help and to get him committed. The hotline recommended calling the police in case Munoz became violent or more aggressive. Rulennis called the non-emergency number, another family member called 9-1-1 and reported a “domestic disturbance.”
The family had warned the officers he had become mentally unstable and exhibited dangerous behavior. When police arrived, Munoz ran outside brandishing a knife and yelling. Officers respond by instantly taking out their guns. Witnesses state Munoz was obviously in no state to have understood what was happening though officers yelled for him to stop. He was shot several times and died minutes later.
Protests erupted directly after news had come out about the shooting, calling for a need to defund the police and require mental health officials to respond to mental health crises. Family and protesters say excessive force escalated the situation and could have been prevented if the city had sent the proper responders. Instagram and Twitter users claim a taser or non-lethal weapon could have stopped Munoz without taking his life. Ricardo Munoz’s family agrees with protesters. They see this as an example of why police departments need specialized training for behavior and mental health issues. An officer should not be responsible for carrying out the job of a mental health professional without specific training.
In Philadelphia and most major cities of the UK, individuals suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are over 16 times more likely to be killed by police. Untreated mental health victims are even more likely to experience police violence. Studies show in more than 60% of these situations, officers have ignored or not paid attention to the previous warnings or explanations of their issues and behaviour. In Pennsylvania, those suffering with psychological disorders are not given proper help unless they are a danger to themselves and/or others. This means Ricardo couldn’t have received proper help unless he exhibited dangerous behaviour although that is exactly what killed him.
Many argue an officer with six months of training and no psychiatric experience should not be called to help in crises. In the past, the city has refused to update their protocols and hotlines but now that seems close to change. Protestors, and Munoz's family, and all cops are bad (ACAB) antagonists alike have adopted the phrase: “mental illness is not cause for execution.”