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How a liberal Michigan town puts mental illness at the center of police reform

In mid-April, Cynthia was among a small number of community members invited by Clayton to attend one of the training sessions on managing mental health crises for law enforcement officers. by the sheriff’s office. There were 31 registered participants representing 20 Michigan communities. She wanted to know what the officers’ misperceptions about mental illness were and, more importantly, how these misperceptions were handled and corrected.

As the training streamed to her laptop on one side of the desk from her home office, she anxiously gazed at her iPad on the other side of the desk. On this screen, Anthony sat, moving uncomfortably in a Zoom Square, appearing for a virtual bail hearing related to his current drug charges.

Anthony’s lawyer argued for what he called a “humanistic” approach, focused on inpatient mental health care rather than prison. The lawyer had letters from an area mental health and addiction treatment center that had previously worked with Anthony and found a facility with a bed for him.

Justice Archie C. Brown didn’t care.

“Mr. Hamilton has also been ahead of me for the past 11 years for a lot of issues. So let’s not forget that,” said Brown, who has been appointed to 22sd Circuit Court by Republican Governor John Engler in 1999, during Bill Clinton’s crackdown on crime, and who has been elected four times since then. “Frankly, what I see from Mr. Hamilton is someone who is going to do whatever he wants. What the hell is the court going to do.

The judge refused the bond.

“I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘How can this judge work for the same county as these people who are talking about raising awareness and sensitivity to mental illness?” Cynthia said, raising her hands up. his face in exasperation.

No one knows if any other kind of PAYG system that night in 2009 would have kept Anthony out of the crosshairs of the criminal justice system. What if the response officer recognized the signs of Anthony’s mental health issues and shared them with the 911 operator? What if the 911 operator had alerted a 24-hour crisis response team who could have dispatched a qualified counselor to assist Anthony at or before the police station he went there? What if the officer had just tried to locate Anthony’s parents instead of booking him? If he had treated Anthony as in need of protection more than the trash?

There are obvious gaps in the way people with mental illness are treated in the criminal justice system, and these gaps could be addressed by reforms implemented by Clayton and others. But Cynthia knows that underlying systemic failures are pervasive and dangerous attitudes that go against the best intentions of reformers. The kind of attitudes that see a black man in a hoodie and tense. That sort of thing that assumes a kid like Anthony doesn’t live in a house with vaulted ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows in a hidden cul-de-sac. The kind who doesn’t consider that he has parents who would drop everything anytime and pick him up, anywhere, anytime. The kind that doesn’t consider public safety to include Anthony’s safety as well.

“It is not politically correct to be a racist in Ann Arbor. So I guess I’ve lived most of my life with rose-colored glasses, ”explains Cynthia. “I feel hurt every day that the city where I was born and raised, that my son cannot live and breathe and feel safe in my city.”

Anthony has been in prison for almost seven months now. While awaiting his pre-trial date, the prosecutor’s office offered a plea to one of the two drug counts. Anthony doesn’t want to take it because he says it implies he’s selling drugs, which he insists he’s not. He’s also been tied to the system long enough to know that prosecutors tend to charge high fees, he told me, so they can make you plead something less. But if the prosecutor drops the charge only, Anthony says, he might have access to the diversion, which he really wants.

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