Forever loved

Thoughts for Desmond Phillips’ family, whose grief will know no end

Among my favorite children’s books is one called Love You Forever, by Robert N. Munsch. I wish I could remember who gave it to me back when I was expecting, but a lot of things during that time are a blur. I do recall reading it for the first time and thinking it was silly.

It starts out with a mother rocking her new baby, and singing to him a little lullaby: I’ll love you forever / I’ll like you for always / As long as I’m living / My baby you’ll be. The book follows along as the child grows. And in each stage, his mother sneaks into his room at night and rocks him in his sleep to her song. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that there’s a part when the mother, now an old woman, drives across town in the middle of the night, creeps into her adult son’s house, cradles him in her arms, and sings to him as he sleeps. Kind of weird, I initially thought.

After I had my son, though, I got it. Right now, Henry’s a little guy, which means he still likes to jump into bed with me and my husband on weekend mornings. He’s still snugly in the evenings before he goes down for the night. He’s officially starting elementary school next year, so I realize that type of affection may soon start to wane. Until then, I’m soaking it up.

Like the woman in the story, in my heart, he will always be my baby.

It’s through that lens that I find myself looking at the death of Desmond Phillips back in March. Desmond suffered from mental illness. He didn’t get the help he needed from medical professionals and, tragically, was shot and killed by Chico police officers during a mental health crisis. He was in the prime of his life—25 years old.

The complex circumstances surrounding his death have spurred important conversations in the community. That includes questions about local law enforcement’s competency in responding to emergency calls that involve mentally unstable citizens; the lack of resources for such members of our community; and, as the CN&R’s cover story points out, the disproportionate number of fatal encounters between those sworn to protect and serve and those with mental illness, as compared with national figures (see “A deadly mix,” by Ken Smith, page 18).

Difficult discussions on these subjects must continue if our community is to be better equipped in the future to address the needs of those with mental health issues and avoid the kind of scenarios that led to Desmond’s death. Of course, there also has to be buy-in from stakeholders—from each of our law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s Office to public and private health professionals, among others.

How to get it? For starters, we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of Desmond’s family members. Think about their grief, frustration and anger, and what it would be like to lose a loved one under similar circumstances.

On the 911 recording, moments after Chico police officers shoot Desmond, his father, David, is heard crying out, “You just killed my baby.” For anyone with kids, those words are visceral. That Desmond was a grown man will not diminish his parents’ profound sorrow. Like their love for him, it will last forever.