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New York Mayor Apologizes for Police Killing of Mentally Ill Woman, But Will Accountability Follow?

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New Yorkers are protesting yet another fatal police shooting after 66-year-old African American Deborah Danner was killed by a New York Police Department sergeant Tuesday. Danner had mental health issues, including schizophrenia. Police say she was shot and killed in her own home in the Bronx, after a neighbor called 911. When police arrived, they found Danner naked in her bedroom holding a pair of scissors. Authorities say Sergeant Hugh Barry fatally shot her after she picked up a baseball bat. Mayor Bill de Blasio said her death “should never have happened.” We get response from Shaun King, senior justice writer for the New York Daily News. “It wasn’t just a mistake,” King says. “A woman who deserved treatment and compassion was shot and killed. We’re talking about a crime.”

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StoryJul 24, 2023“Chaos & Violence”: NYC to Pay $13M to Those Attacked by Police in 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The election is just 18 days away, and, three presidential debates behind them now, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are campaigning across the country. Clinton is scheduled to spend Sunday in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she will be joined by the Mothers of the Movement—women who lost their children to police-involved incidents and gun violence, among them, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin; Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; and Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland.

AMY GOODMAN: The event comes as residents in New York protest yet another fatal police shooting. Sixty-six-year-old African American Deborah Danner was killed by a New York police officer, a sergeant, on Tuesday. Danner had mental health issues, including schizophrenia. Police say she was shot and killed in her own home in the Bronx after a neighbor called 911. When police arrived, they found Danner naked in her bedroom holding a pair of scissors. Authorities say Sergeant Hugh Barry fatally shot her after she picked up a baseball bat. This is New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: Deborah Danner, 66 years old, and known to the NYPD as someone who suffered from mental illness. And the shooting of Deborah Danner is tragic, and it is unacceptable. It should never have happened. It’s as simple as that. It should never have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Hugh Barry had been sued twice in recent years for brutality. Deborah Danner has previously expressed concern about police violence against those living with mental illness. In a 2012 essay, she wrote, quote, “We are all aware of the [all] too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead,” unquote.

For more, we are joined by Shaun King, Black Lives Matter activist, senior justice writer for the New York Daily News.

It’s great to have you with us, Shaun.

SHAUN KING: Yeah, good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this case.

SHAUN KING: Well, I’m disturbed. And so many of us, when we see Deborah Danner, think of our own mothers and grandmothers. And the possibility that, one time, in this country, somebody facing mental illness and battling through it would be shot and killed by police is disturbing, but the truth is, this happens hundreds of times every year, year in, year out, and she’s just the latest. And so, it shouldn’t have happened, that’s right, and I actually appreciate Mayor de Blasio and what he’s saying. I think he’s helped frame it as the problem that it is. But we’ve seen tough talk on police brutality in the city many times. What her family and what those of us who care about her and others want is justice. The officer should have been fired immediately. And we hope that charges will be filed, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and then we got the news that the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, has decided not to intervene as a special prosecutor in the case—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —because, supposedly, he’s only supposed to investigate fatal police shootings where the citizens are unarmed. And he’s taken the position that since she was holding a bat, supposedly, that that means that she was armed?

SHAUN KING: Yeah, I was surprised by that. And a lot of us, we’ve—you know, everybody is looking for an advocate. And a lot of us thought that he was an advocate in this situation that we could count on. And so, when he made the decision that he was kind of taking his hands off of it, I was really surprised. He’s left it now to the Bronx DA to file charges.

What happened was not just wrong. And that’s part of what bothers me about some of what Mayor de Blasio and the police commissioner have said. It’s not—it wasn’t just a mistake. A woman who deserved treatment and compassion was shot and killed. And we’re talking about a crime. At the very least, it was a negligent homicide or manslaughter. It was completely avoidable. One of us could have found a way to take her to the hospital. And so, a police officer, who’s trained, a sergeant, should have been able to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this history of brutality he had? And what actually has happened to him at this point?

SHAUN KING: Yeah, well, right now, even though he’s off of active duty, people have reported him many times. There’s even a video of him in another case of police brutality. And what we see in New York is similar to what we see in Chicago and cities all over the country, that people on the streets are suffering this violence, they do their very best to report it, and police departments and city governments are not doing what they can do to hold bad police accountable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And especially in the situation where so many times it’s the family who call the police for help with an emotionally disturbed person, and rather than either retreat from a situation or wait for specialized units to come in, or even taser the individual—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —they pull out a gun.

SHAUN KING: Yeah, and this officer had a Taser. And there were so many other ways that this could have been handled. And so, it’s at a point now where there’s really a movement of families of the mentally ill across the country saying, “I think we should no longer call 911,” that 911 is such a danger for them. And there are now hundreds of examples of people who called, thinking they were going to get medical help, only for their loved one to be shot and killed or brutalized in some other way.

AMY GOODMAN: So you wrote a 25-part series for the New York Daily News outlining 25 ways to reduce police brutality. Name some of them.

SHAUN KING: Yeah. Well, it could have been a hundred-part series, because what causes police brutality is actually incredibly complex, and there are a series of issues that we have to address. One of them, that’s very relevant for this, is that when people call 911 for medical help, they get a one-size-fits-all solution that ultimately ends with an armed officer arriving at the scene. And so, one of the solutions is, when you call 911, we need a much more nuanced, complicated system that routes a mental health call to a mental health team, that shows and maybe has support from an officer. I liken it to this. Imagine every time someone called 911 for a fire, they brought a bulldozer and said, “We’re going to bulldoze this house. It’s a danger to the neighborhood.” And that would be—although it may solve the situation in total, it would be—it would be ridiculously destructive. And that’s what mentally ill families often deal with. They need a careful, crafted solution. Instead, they get someone with their gun drawn. And it’s a terrible thing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the overall situation now with the Black Lives Matter movement, the enormous impact it’s had on the public conversation over police brutality, yet the lack of substantive reform to address the problem?

SHAUN KING: Yeah, I think that’s accurate, Juan, that the past two years—and a lot of people asked me, “Well, what has the Black Lives Matter movement achieved?” I think the past two years have achieved massive awareness of injustice in America, not just here, but people all around the world are now aware of it. And it’s easy to underestimate how difficult that was to achieve. Even though we’re having this conversation, even that the piece that we just talked about in The Intercept was released, that was difficult to achieve.

But we’re pivoting now from what does it take—now that we are all fully aware of this problem, what does it take to make this hard change possible? Some of it is typical means that we’ve used, like the federal government providing some type of sweeping legislation. I really don’t think that will work. Police brutality is highly local, with local police departments, local city governments, local laws. And there are 20,000 police departments in our country. So what we’re really talking about is 20,000 battles, 20,000 different series of reforms that have to happen. And it’s incredibly difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to talk about athletes and what they’re doing, but we’re going to go to break first. We’ll talk about Colin Kaepernick. This is Democracy Now! Our guest is Shaun King, Black Lives Matter activist, senior justice writer for the New York Daily News. Stay with us.

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Shaun King on Colin Kaepernick: He is Enormously Courageous and Has Sparked a Movement Among Athletes

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