Disability and the Murder of Two NYPD Officers

Yesterday, Ismaaiyl Brinsley made an incendiary Instagram post, shot his girlfriend, traveled to NY area, killed two police officers, and then killed himself.

The simple narrative is that this was about Garner and Brown.  Melissa McEwan and others would like us to keep all three victims in mind, and perhaps that complicates the narrative.

In the meantime, I had a troll yelling at me for the “negro retard” who killed the police officers (said troll has since deleted his account), and so I feel it might be helpful to talk a little bit about disability and murder.

It’s likely that Brinsley was in the midst of a serious mental health crisis. I don’t have any diagnostic information (and would appreciate links). He was also a career criminal. As with all such tragedies we must apply an intersectional lens to figuring out what happened. I am just going to talk about mental health.

Here’s what we know:

On Sunday, it emerged that Mr. Brinsley might have had mental health issues.
During an August 2011 plea hearing in Cobb County, Ga., he was asked: “Have you ever been a patient in a mental institution or under the care of a psychiatrist or psychologist?”
According to a court record, he responded yes. The record did not provide any other details.

I have spent much of the last year reporting on killings and harm of people with disabilities by law enforcement. I argue that police are too quick to resort to deadly force and have made a lot of arguments about why and how to reform police strategy. Here’s what I may not have said clearly enough.

There will be places in which a person with a disability, often a psychiatric one like schizophrenia, will present a clear danger to themselves or others. At that point, police are justified in using force. The problem is – how does an officer determine the likelihood of such a threat? My #cultofcompliance argument is that police are currently too likely to interpret non-compliance as imminent threat, and so respond with force, often deadly force. People with disabilities and people of color are most often mis-identified as threats (and when they are both, really dangerously often) or handled in such a way as to increase rather than decrease the threat level.

There are no simple answers. There are, though, complex answers. I hope to talk about those complex answers a lot in the coming year.

6 Replies to “Disability and the Murder of Two NYPD Officers”

  1. Mary says:

    My thought is that Mr. Brinsley had big issues… anger being a very visible one. And that he fixated on police to create a target or outlet for his anger because of recent events. That doesn't justify his behavior, but does help explain it. And one has to wonder, if there wasn't a demonstrable pattern of police abuse of power, would he have chosen the police as the target for his feelings? I suspect if police were not visible to him as a justifiable target, he would have chosen another and acted out anyway. Still… I see a reason to clean up policing practices here. And I do feel for the two murdered policemen and their families. As far as we know, these were good cops. Another aspect of this story is that that media is pointing out that NYPD members turned their back on the mayor as a comment on the mayor's own recent public comments. That concerns me. That says something about the culture of that department being unwilling to accept criticism and adjust in response to it.

  2. Fname Lname says:

    Thank you for your well written thoughts.
    Numerous problems exist with the official narrative.
    Very few patients with active Schizophrenia would be able to plan such an elaborate scheme. This individual obtains a gun, kills his friend then somehow finds two police officers that he's able to kill and then kill himself. Even a rational individual would be hard pressed to plan this well and carry it to fruition.
    Some reporters merely regurgitate that which they hear during official briefings. I hope you'll follow this story to ascertain the actual facts. Should you be interested in information regarding mental illnesses please contact me. As a Medical Professional I'm well versed in dealing with individuals with mental illnesses and there's more to the reason for his actions than are being ascribed to Schizophrenia.
    Sincerely yours.

  3. David Perry says:

    Dear Fname Lname – Thanks. I will be watching for just that, and I am gratified to hear your sense of his diagnosis matches my own (I don't have your expertise).

    If you hear something more definitive, please let me know too.

  4. Fname Lname says:

    Most Schizophrenics have auditory hallucinations that lead to self harm. Very few Schizophrenics are homicidal, unless there are coexisting illnesses or ingestion of prescribed or non-prescribed medications.
    According to the NY TIMES story the benevolent police president stated that the blood was on the Mayor's hand because he taught his bi-racial son how to interact with Police.
    Also President Obama sent condolences to the family of the officers that were killed. It would be great if the same condolences were sent to the families of those killed or harmed by the police.
    I'm unable to locate the article of SCOTUS that stated that police do not have an obligation to stop a crime in progress. So much for protecting and serving those that pay their salary.

Leave a Reply