Lethal force

Last week, a man was shot and killed by Sacramento police near Broadway. He’d been using a baseball bat to wreak havoc, and details are still emerging, but early reports indicate that he had mental health issues.

This isn’t quite as isolated an incident as we might hope. Last month, a 17-year-old was shot and killed by a Twin Rivers police officer who was investigating possible truancy, and there have been other lethal shootings by law enforcement in recent months in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Each situation is complicated, but the overall picture that emerges is one that demonstrates a real need for more options for police. To start with, reliable access to nonlethal responses would be called for—but some of what we are seeing is the result of a loss in services for people who are already struggling. We cannot expect our law-enforcement agencies to be psychologists, social workers and caretakers for the community—when human needs are not met, all too often people wind up in conflict with the police.

We make no claims about the use of lethal force in any of these individual situations; we are confident the recent shooting will be fully investigated.

But we can’t help but point out that the current economic crisis has stretched law enforcement agencies to the edge, while at the same time exacerbating the already difficult conditions of the people with whom these officers come in contact.

No one deserves to die because they are mentally ill, and no police officer should have to choose between their own life and that of a person who might have been helped before the crisis arose.