Michelle Cusseaux was a 50 year old woman living in Phoenix, Arizona. In August of 2014, police were called to take her to a mental health facility. The officers arrived and Ms. Cusseaux refused to go with them. According to the police spokesperson, “as police were opening the security door to her unit, Cusseaux was opening her front door with a claw hammer raised above her head,” (Woodfill, 2014). They were within arm’s reach, and one of the officers felt “threatened,” so he fired a single shot into her chest. She was rushed to a hospital where she died. The officer was demoted as a result – not because of any “criminal wrongdoing” – but because his actions “violated department policy” (Staff, 2016).
There will be arguments here – “He felt threatened” , “She had a weapon” – but it comes down to this: he had options, and out of the (at least) two people who were in the situation, it was only that one officer who felt “threatened” enough to open fire. Furthermore, there are conflicting reports here. A book excerpt I found, detailing police violence against “black women and women of color,” says that when the police arrived, Ms. Cusseaux was fixing her door – which is why she had a hammer – and that Ms. Cusseaux and her mother had both informed the officers that there was no weapon in the house (Ritchie, 2017). She spoke to them through the door, informing them that she didn’t trust them and that she felt like they would shoot her. Instead of backing off or trying to gain her trust, or even ask for additional help from someone trained in such matters, the officer in charge ordered the other to pick the lock and entered the home without permission. He later said that it was the look on her face that made him open fire. Her mother questioned that, asking what he saw, “A Black woman? A lesbian? He said it was just a look on her face. What look would you have on your face if the police broke into your house? Could that have been the look of fear? I would have been in fear for my life too, especially if I already felt like they were going to kill me” (Ritchie, 2017).
With this context, it becomes more than obvious that the officer in charge was either poorly trained or of the wrong temperament to be handling any sort of mental health pick ups. The fact that he was only demoted makes it painfully obvious that the people over him aren’t any better trained than him.
Next month will be the six year anniversary of Michelle Cusseaux’s death.
This is why they march.
#SayHerName | #BlackLivesMatter
Ritchie, A. (2017). Invisible No More. Excerpt here: https://lithub.com/mental-illness-is-not-a-capital-crime/
Woodfill, D.S. (August 14, 2014). Retrieved from: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2014/08/14/phoenix-officer-involved-shooting-mental-health-abrk/14085607/
Staff Writers. (April 14, 2016). Retrieved from: https://www.azfamily.com/board-upholds-demotion-of-phoenix-sergeant-in-shooting-death-of-michelle-cusseaux/article_094453ef-cb42-54f4-9c9d-1ae83db64136.html