March 20, 2015

It all happens so suddenly. Jason Harrison’s mother walks out of her front door past the police officers who knocked calmly and ask how she’s doing. She had called for help to take her son who lives with schizophrenia to a local hospital.

Her son follows behind her, twiddling a small screwdriver in his hands.

“Drop that for me,” says one of the officers say. He says it three more times.

“Jay!” his mother yells. “Jay!” She can feel what’s about to happen. “Jay!” She screams, “Don’t shoo–!”

The ‘-t’ is muffled by the distorting echo of gunshots. Five of them.

Five bullets fired into the chest of Jason Harrison.

As the graphic video continues, you see Jason bleed to death on the driveway of his home. And you hear the tormented screams and sobs of his mother in the background. Her pain constricts my own throat and I clinch my jaw to prevent the tears welling in my eyes from beginning to roll down my face.

I understand her agony; I live uncomfortably close to that pain. My son lives with schizophrenia, and while right now he is doing well, I know that he’s always walking a tightrope. Meds stop working, he could stop taking meds—he could freefall back into psychosis.

It’s happened before. And I suspect it’ll happen again.

I imagine something similar may have happened in Jason’s life and his mother, needing help to get him to the hospital, called 911. That’s what we’ve been told to do. We’ve been told that the police are there to serve and protect. Help is coming. Instead, we now witness their tragedy in the video.

I don’t know why the police shot, but I do know that it could have been my son, my screams.

After seeing Jason die, I don’t know how to feel safe calling 911. I know mental illness is complicated. There are times when symptoms could be mistaken for willful actions. There is often anger, frustration and confusion. There are breaks with reality. If you don’t even know what you’re seeing, it can be frightening. Even if you do, it still can be.

Despite these realities, we love our sons and daughters. Today I can’t honestly tell you if I think it’s safer calling the police or trying to handle a difficult and potentially dangerous situation myself. I want to be able to trust those men and women, but from videos like this I know they aren’t any more trained or prepared to handle these situations than I am.

How many more senseless tragedies must happen before we say enough is enough? How many more of our children need to die?

This is what happens when an ill-equipped, broken system relies on people with guns to handle a psychiatric crisis. There needs to be more training. There needs to be more understanding. What we have now is unacceptable. This situation is what’s crazy and it makes me mad as hell.

A mother cannot lose her son because we don’t care enough about finding a better solution.

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