Thursday, August 19, 2010

I called 911 yesterday one someone who hadn't really done anything wrong, and have mixed feelings about it...

I called 911 on someone yesterday. It made me feel sick with guilt for hours afterwards. Factors strengthening this guilt included that the man was young and African American and hadn't hurt anyone or broken any laws (besides jaywalking, but I'll get there in a moment). Factors mitigating my feeling of guilt included that I called the non emergency number, and told them he hadn't done anything illegal, it was the Berkeley police (as opposed to say, the Oakland police), and that the guy needed some intervention.

The more complete story: I was walking down the street when a young man approached me, stuck his hand out (for money) made some grunting sounds, and then whistled a bit. He approached several other people, several of whom were visibly shaken by the sounds he was making, how unusually dirty his clothes were, and the whole situation. OK, within the realm of normal, sort of. He then stopped in the middle of a busy intersection (Shattuck and Hearst) and walked around in circles for a bit in the street. This was ok when he had a green light, but he continued when the light changed, and caused some traffic issues. He then continued to walk down Shattuck, with occasional forays back into the street.

I was worried. Walking around in the street and ignoring traffic isn't a life choice, its a sign of mental health crisis. I did something ineffective, which was to call the men's shelter and ask if they had someone who could come pick him up. They didn't answer the phone. I called the Berkeley Police non emergency number, and told them someone was having a mental health crisis. I had been told before that Berkeley police has a mental health crisis team where they send therapists to people having mental issues, and resolve things without locking people up or anything.

Problem is, I was still calling the cops on a young black man who may actually have had something illegal on him. I felt guilty and shaken. I don't know how he felt, but I'm guessing he wasn't run over by a car, which is a great thing.

A few take home points:
1. This man probably needs long term supportive care. That does not exist in California.
2. I am writing this as if it is all about me and my feelings of guilt, which it is not.
3. My gut reaction that I should try to avoid calling the police was connected with his race. Both because I would feel worse putting a non white person in jail, and because I suspect that police, even well intentioned police, treat young black men very differently than they treat other people.