Natasha McKenna: why we need the Black Lives Matter movement

The Black Lives Matter movement does not only demand justice for African Americans. The organization is working to show how our current political system does not bring justice to many groups of people in this country, including people with mental illness.

There are an uncountable number of cases in America where a person with mental illness is put in a jail instead of a hospital where they can receive proper treatment. This places prison guards in positions they are not trained for, and this has often proved fatal.

Natasha McKenna was 14 when diagnosed with schizophrenia (she was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and depression in the following years). On Jan. 26, the 37-year-old entered a Bestway Grocery store in Alexandria, Va. wearing a hospital gown and asked to use a telephone. McKenna used the telephone to call the police and report that she had been assaulted that day; this was responded to with an officer coming and taking McKenna to the Fairfax County Jail.

McKenna spent seven days in jail, full of mental health episodes and abuse at the hands of officers. The officers admitted to this abuse, claiming that they were protecting themselves and that McKenna’s actions were comparable to male inmates who were on drugs — McKenna was 5 foot 3 inches and weighed 130 pounds.

On Jan. 27, Ms. McKenna had an ordeal with officers when she covered the door to her cell with paper, her blanket and her sheet. An officer pulled the blanket from her food slot, resulting in a cut her finger, which was previously amputated at the tip; McKenna later claimed this was merely just an old wound reopening.

On Jan. 31 McKenna took action again, placing her mattress in front of the door to her cell. When officers tried to remove the mattress, McKenna slipped out of her cell, and in a struggle with officers she was struck multiple times after trying to “bite and scratch” officers. This struggle ended in McKenna being placed in a restraint chair.

After seven days of ordeals like these, officers at the jail realized McKenna needed to be in a mental hospital where she could receive correct treatment for her illness, rather than abuse. In the mental hospital she would not have stood out, and trained officials could have handled her like any other patient. In a jail, McKenna was viewed as aggressive and incompliant, and her outbreaks could only be met with brute force.

On Feb. 3, five officers dressed in biohazard gear pulled McKenna from her cell and began to shackle her legs and handcuff her arms behind her back. With her fully subdued and no longer a threat to any of the officers, she then began to receive shocks of 50,000 volts from a taser. She was tased four times, for five seconds each, in under two minutes. In 10 minutes, McKenna was unconscious with no vital signs; she arrived at a local hospital with two black eyes, a bruised arm and another finger that needed amputation. After spending five days in a coma, McKenna passed away.

McKenna’s autopsy stated her cause of death as, “excited delirium.” Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said, “It was Ms. McKenna’s severe mental illness, coupled with the tremendous physical exertion she put forth over an extended period of times struggling with deputies that resulted in a cascade of lethal chemical reactions inside of her body.”

According to a Washington Post analysis of all police shooting deaths for the first six months of 2015, one-fourth of those involved people going through, “emotional or mental crisis.” The Black Lives Matter movement is trying to shed light on flaws in how police officers handle citizens. Some cases of police mistreatment are the result of officers not being properly trained. The Black Lives Matter movement does not give an unfair advantage to any group of people; it simply seeks to correct an already flawed system.

Savon Gray is a journalism sophomore.

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