In April 2020, a police officer fatally shot a 33-year-old Black man who was carrying a baseball bat around a local superstore in Northern California. The officer later received charges for felony manslaughter. The victim’s family stated that he lived with schizophrenia and bipolar depression and had experienced a mental health crisis the day he died. Black civil rights advocates, community leaders, and a local civil rights group requested CRS consultation and facilitation services to address community members’ concerns over the impact of the shooting, allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement, and the role of race and mental illness in the incident. The victim’s death sparked community protests alleging the excessive use of force was unjustified and racially biased.
To open lines of communication and facilitate the voicing of concerns surrounding the shooting, CRS facilitated dialogues in April and May with city officials, law enforcement officials, a national civil rights organization, Black community leaders, civil rights advocates, and community organizations. During an April meeting, a police official discussed the release of the official police video that captured the sequence of events leading to the shooting to increase transparency with the community throughout the process. Meeting participants from a local civil rights group agreed to assist in rumor control by educating their members about the incident as captured on the video and clarifying any questions surrounding other videos circulating on social media.
In May 2020, CRS facilitated a virtual dialogue with city officials, law enforcement, Black community leaders, and civil rights advocates. The 40 participants identified issues, such as the need to address the trauma and mental stress on the Black community caused by the shooting, and solutions, including racial sensitivity training for the police, training for interactions with individuals suffering from a mental health crisis, and a moratorium on protests by community advocacy groups until the completion of the police investigation.
In subsequent sessions in August and September, the parties continued identifying concerns, discussed ways to improve police-community relations, and formed four sub-working groups, led by a local civil rights group, focused on: the city, including rebranding efforts and retelling the story of the community; local youth, including advising the city on youth-related topics; police reform policy; and contingency planning for responding to future protests.
In the aftermath of the facilitated dialogues surrounding the shooting of the victim, coupled with the growing tensions nationwide over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, community members began working toward longer-term changes in the city and the police department. Following the CRS-led facilitated dialogues, the city became the first in its county to implement the pilot program, the “Community Assessment Treatment and Transport Team,” or CATT, as a new county policing model. These teams of mental health crisis professionals and emergency medical technicians dispatch work alongside law enforcement and other first responders, as needed, to help individuals suffering from a mental health crisis as part of a mobile crisis response system. In addition, to continue working toward changing negative perceptions associated with the city, city officials began rebranding and updating the city’s website to highlight its positive aspects, including its history and diversity, and to retell the story of the city.