An Open Letter to the Community
Dr. Eric Gayle, the Institute’s NYC Regional Medical Director, wrote this open letter in response to the charges registered to an NYPD officer that shot and killed Bronx resident, Deborah Danner last October.
A smart, bright, gifted woman died violently at the hands of the police in the Bronx last October 2016. Deborah Danner was a member of the community I have served as a family physician for the past 15 years. She was, and her family members are, contributing members of that community.
Deborah Danner did not die because she was making noise, requiring a call to the cops, and she did not die because she was black. She died because she was sick and the responding officers failed to use reason in their interaction with her. Perhaps if one of the responders had enough training and skill, she would be alive today receiving the treatment she needed. She died in a way she hoped would not be the fate of those like her with mental illness. She was known to the police. They knew her health history. And yet her fate was determined by her illness, when her faculties failed to permit her to behave in a manner that would not exacerbate the response. Her fate was sealed. She was shot dead. She hoped that the responders would understand how to interact with those who have emotional disturbance. She hoped that they would utilize responses that would be protective of both the responder and the individual. She had written an essay about this titled, Living with Schizophrenia, a few years before she died at the hands of the police. Her voice could have enriched the dialogue that helps us in our interactions with those with mental illness. Perhaps by revisiting her essay on this issue we can still learn some things that will help in future interactions with people who suffer from mental illness. I wish we had listened sooner and paid attention more.
Every day, people of color are dying in our communities, some at the hands of our neighbors, others at the hands of those charged with protecting us. We remain grief- stricken, and outraged at the senseless, violent deaths that occur with such frequency. These are public health issues which demand a defined health response. The medical community has been silent in raising the issue of this disparity in violent death, abdicating its voice under the guise that these are social issues, not medical ones. I do not agree.
Today, the police officer involved in her death faces a charge of murder. His duty was to protect her and our community. Perhaps, he was never given the tools he needed to best interact with her that would have mitigated the use of his ultimate weapon. There are lessons to be learned here and we must look to educate ourselves and the police department for future interactions with persons who may be mentally ill. It is what Ms. Deborah Danner had hoped and what she had memorialized in her essay.
Today we grieve again about the charge faced by another member of our community. Let a dialogue and education begin around the interaction, care and treatment of the mentally ill. Last month was mental health month. Our education should be year round.