The Road to Justice has Many Paths for Families of Violence and Police Brutality
Three Paths Three Families … (Part Three)
By: George Addison
My message to you is please use my story, please use my tragedy, please use my broken heart to say to yourself, `We cannot let this happen to anybody else’s child. –Ms. Sybrina Fulton, Mother of Trayvon Martin
Each year it’s not unusual to hear that a person with some form of mental illness has been killed by police. In fact, it was reported by USA TODAY in a December 2015 article, that, “people with mental illness were 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police.” It further said, “About one in four fatal police encounters involve someone with mental illness,” this according to a report by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center. Their December 2015 report entitled: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters sited the following:
Because of the disproportionate volume of contact between individuals with serious mental illness and law enforcement, reducing the likelihood of police interaction with individuals in psychiatric crisis may represent the single most immediate and practical strategy for reducing fatal police encounters in the United States.
- The risk of being killed while being approached or stopped by law enforcement in the community is 16 times higher for individuals with untreated serious mental illness than for other civilians.
- By the most conservative estimates, at least 1 in 4 fatal law enforcement encounters involves an individual with serious mental illness. When data has been rigorously collected and analyzed, findings indicate as many as half of all law enforcement homicides end the life of an individual with severe psychiatric disease.
- The arrest-related death program operated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics within the US Department of Justice is the only federal database that attempts to systematically collect and publish mental health information about law enforcement homicides. The program was suspended in 2015 because the data available to the agency was not credible enough to report. READ MORE.
In March of 2016 the Ruderman Family Foundation released a white paper that examined the media coverage of Law Enforcement use of Force and Disability. In the White Paper the Ruderman Family Foundation made the following statements:
Disability is the missing word in media coverage of police violence.
“Disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers. Disabled individuals make up the majority of those killed in use-of-force cases that attract widespread attention. This is true both for cases deemed illegal or against policy and for those in which officers are ultimately fully exonerated. The media is ignoring the disability component of these stories, or, worse, is telling them in ways that intensify stigma and ableism.
When we leave disability out of the conversation or only consider it as an individual medical problem, we miss the ways in which disability intersects with other factors that often lead to police violence. Conversely, when we include disability at the intersection of parallel social issues, we come to understand the issues better, and new solutions emerge.
Our review and analysis reflects the patterns of media coverage on issues related to disability and police violence. Generally speaking, reporting on police violence against disabled people includes the date of the incident along with specific details about when and where the event occurred. Using this as our starting point, we added the reactions of law enforcement agencies and community responses to allegations of police violence as reported wherever possible.
From individual cases to a broad analysis of media representation of incidents of police violence against disabled people, we have compiled and summarized media coverage of stories about police violence and disability by year, organized the stories into various categories, and offered brief commentary on a few examples.”
On January 28, 2016, 19-year-old Christopher Kalonji was killed by a Clackamas County Sheriff’s Deputy. His death is part of an ever-growing narrative of young men with some form of mental illness being killed by policemen. His mother Irene Kalonji and his father Tony continue to fight daily to expose the truth around their son’s death and to hold those responsible accountable. Ms. Kalonji still has questions surrounding Christopher’s death which is considered by many to be a homicide and not a suicide.
She described her son, Christopher, as someone with a big heart, who loved helping and protecting others; a very smart, mature and self-educated kid with a lot of friends adding, “He was my everything and represented my hope. He had a lot of my qualities and always fought for his big brother. He really knew the Constitution and always asked me about events going on in the country; he would ask me if I knew about this or about that.”
But, the events of that January day forever changed this family, their hopes and their dreams.
She shared how that day unfolded, “Christopher was experiencing an emotional crisis that day. He was anxious and panicky over an upcoming court appearance over the improper use of a 911 call. I wrote a letter to the judge the day before court telling him my son was depressed and I didn’t think court was the appropriate thing for him, so could he please do something about this. But I never heard anything. I later found out the judge had ordered police to take Christopher into custody.”
Christopher had shared with his mom that he believed police were going to kill him. At one point he told her, “If I go to court they’ll handcuff me, I’ll go to jail and you will not know what’s happening with me.” Ms. Kalonji added, “he just started saying help me, help me, help me! He started yelling in the apartment. I had to call my husband because he had gone to work and I asked him to come home because I couldn’t handle the situation. I also called my friend thinking they could help Christopher calm down but he became more anxious.
He locked himself in his room and my friend called 911 and said we need help. When my husband came home, he went to Christopher’s door. He heard him on the phone talking to 911 saying someone’s in my home and they want to kill me. He did not recognize us so 911 called the police to our house.
Ms. Kalonji also said she told police that Christopher was having a mental crisis and would they please bring medical help and, according, to her they reportedly said,”ok we’ll call medical but we need you to step back and stay away and wait.” She also told them “don’t shoot please. My son is not crazy.. he’s just having a hard time and fears for his life. He needs medical help and they said again, “ok Ma’am and promised me mental health was on the way.”
The police separated the family. SWAT was called in and the situation quickly escalated. Ms. Kalonji went on to further say, “mental health came and began talking to Christopher while he’s sitting on the window, and they start bringing our neighbors to the office area, and suddenly we see them and they came to talk to us and asked what’s happening with our son. I tell them that today is his court day and he’s having a mental crisis right now and we need help. I tell them everything I know; we did not hide the fact about guns in the house or anything. They told us mental health was talking with him.
Two hours pass and we begin to panic and my husband said, let me talk to my son, we want to know what’s going on; let me talk to my son.
They denied my husband and everyone else the chance to talk to Christopher. Then at 11:20 am we heard three shots and I just felt something was wrong and they moved us to the bus and said they needed more information to help our son. But they lied because they didn’t inform us they shot him already.”
It was learned later that Christopher had been shot by Sgt. Tony Killinger and Deputy Lon Steinhauer, both from the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office.
The shooting was reported as a SWAT standoff and that police responded because Christopher was armed with a rifle and threatened family members. SWAT reportedly fired at least two shots into the apartment after Christopher brandished the rifle. Soon after that, he went back into the apartment and barricaded himself in the bedroom.
Tear gas was used and they charged the door to reach him. Christopher laid in his room 4 1/2 hours before he was taken to the hospital where he died as a result of his gunshot wounds. The shooting was termed as justified. It was the fourth fatal shooting of a person undergoing a mental crisis which had been classified as suicide in the state since 2012.
However, Ms. Kalonji says, “Christopher never held us hostage and did not threaten us at all. Nor do I believe that he threatened police with a rifle. It’s another untrue statement that was made through the media.”
If you would like to support efforts by Irene and her husband to get legal representation on behalf of Christopher, please contact her on Twitter @IrenesCircle also share and sign her petition at https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/justice4CK
The Kalonjis need your support. Please sign this petition which seeks the following actions:
1. Ask that an outside agency conduct a meaningful investigation into who made the decision to shoot and kill Christopher Kalonji.
2. Demand Clackamas County Police Department invest in Training, Screening, and Improved Cultural Training, as well as Bias Training.
3. Charge the two officers, Sergeant Tony Killinger and Deputy Lon Steinhauer with criminal homicide.
4. Demand that government agencies push for reform of all police departments so that all citizens feel safe and are not discriminated against.
5. Have the “Cause of Death” on Christopher’s Death Certificate changed from “Suicide” to “Homicide.”
NOTE: Many of the families fighting for justice are in need of legal assistance, housing, volunteers, advocates and financial resources. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Contact these families via twitter to learn how you can help @justiceforkeith, @nook71715, @IrenesCircle, @AntwynetteH. Learn about the power of the police association in your city and their relationships with your public officials… follow the money. Hold the line for accountability in your community. Shine the light of justice!
SOURCE: Danette Chavis
SOURCE: Danette Chavis