Defund the Police? CRISES Act Plots Possible Course

The bill, backed by Calif. Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, would pour funding into community organizations.

If the CRISES Act existed a year ago, Taun Hall says her son, Miles Hall, would still be alive.

“It would’ve saved my child,” Taun says. Her son Miles, a Black 23-year-old Walnut Creek resident, was killed a year ago by police in the very city he grew up in. At the time, Miles was suffering from a schizoaffective disorder-induced crisis, and Taun called 911, hoping the authorities could help her calm her son. But when police first arrived at the scene, rather than attempt to talk Hall down, they began yelling and shooting “non-lethal” bean-bags at him, according to Taun and police reports.

“They didn’t even try to de-escalate my son,” Taun says. “They came in and saw a brown-skinned African American young man, who had a bandana on his face.”

Unfortunately, Miles’ story is not uncommon in America. That’s why several Bay Area organizations like the Anti Police-Terror Project and East Bay Community Law Center Justice Teams Network, along with Calif. State Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, are co-sponsoring the CRISES Act, which stands for Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems.

If passed, the CRISES Act will fund California community organizations trained to respond to emergency situations police are normally called for. These situations include mental health or substance use disorder crises, unhoused people in dangerous situations and people suffering from domestic abuse or natural disasters.

The bill heads to the State Assembly floor for a vote at a pivotal time, and when defunding the police — once a radical idea — is now at the forefront of a national conversation about systemic racism and police brutality. Funding for the CRISES Act would come from California’s General Fund. Californians who want to show support for the CRISES Act can email Governor Gavin Newsom here.

“Law enforcement doesn’t have to be called in if you have a homeless person sleeping in a car, or sitting on the corner talking to someone,” Kamlager says. “Law enforcement doesn’t have to be called in if someone is playing their music too loudly. Law enforcement doesn’t have to be called in every single time something has gone wrong.”

With this bill, Kamlager proposes adding community-based professionals — trained in de-escalating and resolving crises — to the web of emergency response networks. Not everyone feels comfortable calling the police, and many times, bringing police into a situation can be deadly. Of over 1,000 police killings in 2019, 24 percent of those killed were Black, despite Black people only comprising 13 percent of the American population. And, numbers indicate that people with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police. Individuals at the intersections of these identities are particularly vulnerable. James Burch, a member of the Anti Police-Terror Project, can name two Black men off the top of his head who were killed by police while struggling with mental health crises in the Bay Area.

“Instead of trained professionals responding with compassion, law enforcement responded with their guns,” Burch says. Burch doesn’t believe that the current training police officers receive is enough.

For example, about 1,144 of 2,296 San Francisco Police Department officers have received 40 hours of mental health crisis intervention training, according to the SFPD. Many officers have undergone even less.

“Compare that to an organization like Mental Health First, that is staffed by trained professionals, who have made mental health their lives’ work,” Burch says. “There’s really no comparison with the amount of expertise.”

It’s the kind of organization Taun wishes she could’ve called on that fateful day. Taun always knew that Miles — a young Black man struggling with schizoaffective disorder in a very White, very affluent neighborhood — would be at risk. That’s why in the year prior, she had already established a relationship with the Walnut Creek police department and notified her neighbors of Miles’ situation, hoping that these preemptive actions would prevent a tragedy.

But as Miles’ mental health worsened, Taun says she was given no other viable alternative — there were no mental health professionals that she knew of who could come in immediately. So she called the police hoping that they would help Taun calm Miles down. If there was anyone else, any agency or any trained professional who could act as an emergency responder on Miles’ last day, she would’ve called them instead.

“People don’t understand how broken the system is,” Taun says. “You have to call the police on your child?… At that point, we’re criminalizing our loved ones.”

Grace Z. Li covers arts, culture and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com or follow her on Twitter @gracezhali.

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