Deborah Danner, a mentally ill woman of sixty-six, was behaving “irrationally” when Sgt. Hugh Barry showed up to investigate. The story ended the way far too many encounters between African-Americans and the police do – with her bleeding to death on the floor of her own home, her belly filled with bullets.
The police were well aware of Danner’s mental issues, having been called to the apartment several times in the past – but that didn’t seem to matter to Barry. A neighbor called the police after worrying about a violent argument taking place in Danner’s apartment. It turned out nobody else was there – just an old lady in serious need of some help.
Sadly, she would receive none. Danner was found holding a pair of scissors, was convinced to drop them, but then grabbed a wooden bat and moved towards the officers – which prompted Barry to shoot her twice in the torso.
He was armed with a taser, which he didn’t even think to use. Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen admitted that “it was not deployed, and the reason it was not deployed will be part of the investigation and review.” Sgt. Barry has been stripped of badge and gun and was placed on “modified duty.”
Understandably, the response from New Yorkers has been one of fury. “This elderly woman was known to the police department, yet the officer involved in this shooting failed to use discretion to either talk her down from her episode or, barring that, to use his stun gun” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr in a statement, blasting the summary execution of an elderly woman as “unacceptable.”
The president of Black Lives Matter New York, Hawk Newsome, shared similar sentiments: “America has to say enough is enough These police officers need to start using their brains and stop using their guns. People are dying and more other than not it’s black people. Black blood is running through the streets and we are receiving no justice.”
On the other hand, the refusal of police officers to even acknowledge the complaints that groups like Black Lives Matter make against the police was made appallingly clear when Ed Mullins, president of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association, decried the punishment of Sgt. Barry as “political” and said that it was “a good shooting:” “Everyone agrees that this is a good shooting. Everyone up at the scene, in the precinct, and when I say everyone, I’m going up the food chain as far as the brass goes.”
Sorry, Ed Mullins. The murder of a mentally unstable elderly woman armed with a baseball bat is not a “good shooting.” According to the Washington Post, American police have killed 771 of the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve so far this year. There is an epidemic of police killing in this nation – and this unnecessary shooting illustrates everything that is wrong with our police. Nonlethal tools that are never used and a threat from a black citizen that are immediately met with deadly force.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.