The brutal slaying of Chinedu Okobi, a Bay area native and Nigerian-American, who was the father of a little girl, happened the afternoon of Oct. 4th, after he was pulled over by a sheriff who noticed the erratic weaving in and out of traffic.
Minutes later, the sheriff was joined by four other officers, who rushed over to assist their fallen comrade who was allegedly trying to discipline a combative suspect who was dangerously out of control.
The end result was the dead body of a Black man in his mid-thirties who we would later found out was suffering from mental challenges, and was possibly displaying those symptoms during the fatal encounter with five sheriffs — who were evidently not equipped to handle these types of cases.
Okobi was tasered to death by one of the officers, whose name will probably remain a secret until the ongoing investigation is completed and the findings are released to the public.
But we don’t have to wait ten weeks to fully grasp the tragic truth behind Okobi’s untimely death, and how the recklessness and unprofessionalism of his captors inspired the need for one of them to turn a mildly chaotic situation into a deadly one.
The weapon of choice was a non-lethal shocking device that is normally used to subdue suspects who give trained cops enough reasons to resort to that form of discipline. The use of Tasers aren’t meant to cause permanent physical damage or death, but if illegally applied multiple times, with the focus on the chest area — the results can be gruesomely irrevocable.
Okobi’s disturbing encounter with the officers that killed him, reminded me of another victim of Nigerian descent, Matthew Ajibade, who was tortured by the group of police officers who were summoned by his frantic girlfriend in late 2015 — to intervene during an unfortunate episode that left him incapacitated.
The rogue cops were warned of Ajibade’s mental illness as soon as they arrived at his home, but instead of taking that information seriously enough to garner the empathy to calm down the anxiety-ridden young man — they resorted to brutish techniques in an effort to destabilize him.
This included the excessive l use of Tasers, which continued after he was forcibly transported to the station and thrown into an isolated cell — where he was callously beaten and tasered until the breath of life left his battered body.
Both Ajibade and Okobi were Black men, who were already at a greater disadvantage due to the systemic violence exacted on the Black community — and how law enforcement cowardly adheres to the principles of White supremacy that dictates the immediate and legal extermination of people of color.
But their brutality at the hands of cops presents a murkier issue that is embedded in the complexities of how the mentally challenged have been righteously rejected and dejected by society’s assigned caregivers, who’ve relegated their welfare to unqualified law enforcers.
These enforcers don’t possess the skill set required to efficiently manage fragile dispositions that are prone to unexpected combustions.
According to the results drawn from extensive studies that are dedicated to capturing the sobering snapshot of the life-threatening vulnerability that the mentally ill face in a supposed progressive climate:
The combination of the years 2015 and 2016 produced data that confirms “nearly 500 people with mental illness were fatally shot by the police.”
That’s a shit load of victims plagued with mental deficiencies that didn’t survive their encounters with law enforcement, due to lack of training and gross negligence.
This thriving epidemic is responsible for the 2014 murder of Keith Vidal, the eighteen-year-old who was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2012, before eventually getting the accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia — a year later.
His harrowing tale plays out in a similar tone as Ajibade, with the passionate plea for help by a family member, who in this case was his inconsolable mother, who was trying to make sense of her son’s semi-threatening stance as he brandished a small screwdriver. He had never exhibited violence towards his parents, which was an indication that something was very wrong — and so when the psychiatrist recommended a 911 call to ensure that their frazzled son would be readily hospitalized — Keith’s stepfather father obliged.
Two officers and medical services responded to the desperate call, but only the officers ventured into the home nestled in a small town in North Carolina — to assess the situation. While trying to carefully coerce Keith to drop the weapon, another officer was called in for additional backup.
Officer Byron Vassey from the nearby Southport Police Department answered the call, and instinctively unleashed the temperature of hostility that swiftly turned a scene that was reasonably under control — into a volatile emergency that caused the frightened teen to run for his life.
Vassey loudly issued the order for the officer to Tase the teenager, and understandably Keith escaped into a bathroom before eventually emerging and getting tackled to the ground by the officers. During the scuffle, the overpowered teen’s stepfather tried to pry the screwdriver out of his son’s hands as the two officers battled to maintain control.
Suddenly Officer Vassey drew out his gun and proceeded to shoot the powerless teen — sprawled on the ground — in the chest.
Keith Vidal was rushed to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Vassey, who was indicted by a grand jury on “one count of voluntary manslaughter,” claimed that his actions stemmed from the fear that the “responding officers were in danger.”
But District Attorney Jon David disagreed with that assessment and expressed that to reporters after Vassey was indicted:
“After I reviewed the case I found that a crime almost certainly did take place.” “It was a ‘bad shoot.’ A grand jury has agreed.”
Two years later, in 2016, Vassey who testified that he had no prior knowledge of Keith’s mental state, was acquitted of the charge against him by a judge who didn’t find enough evidence to convict him.
Vassey’s acquittal follows the rulebook of how police officer’s fare in cases involving the fatal shooting of mentally ill suspects. The outlook overwhelmingly favors the officers who are “rarely prosecuted and even more rarely convicted.”
Regardless of the judge’s biased ruling, Keith Vidal died a senseless death at the hands of an irritated cop with a murderous streak, who entered a situation that was already being formally handled by two officers — who made the inexplicable decision to invite what turned out to be a load of trouble that escalated things to a dire end.
Keith’s bereaved mother, Mary Wilsey was able to garner a $1 million dollar settlement after filing a civil case against her son’s killer, both police departments that despatched officers to her home and the county sheriff.
Wilsey’s main complaint was meant to highlight the the failure of the Southport Police Department to properly “train and supervise its employees” for the instances that force them to engage with mentally ill individuals like her deceased son. She was forced to helplessly watch him die after tragically trusting the wrong people to help him.
“I wanted my son to get hospitalized and come home.” “Keith “did nothing wrong except be mentally ill.”
In the end both the mental health system and those who are tasked to uphold the law by “serving and protecting” the community, contributed to the death of Keith Vidal.
It’s an intolerable state of affairs when you realize that the safety of people who are harboring a mental illness can’t be guaranteed when in the presence of cops who are more likely to kill them rather than provide an escape route.
People with severe mental illnesses are killed by police in justifiable homicides at a rate nearly four times greater than the general public.
The 2016 shooting death of Alfred Olango, an African immigrant, who resided in a suburb of San Diego, resembles the sad tale of the helpless family member of a mentally challenged person, who is resigned to calling the police for the help that never quite manifests in the way that is hoped.
It was reported that some days before the deadly incident the Ugandan-born Olango, who worked at a local McDonald’s and visualized the day he would open his very own restaurant — was hit with the unexpected news of his childhood friend’s passing.
That painful confirmation may or may not have altered his mood to the point of concern for his sister who noted his increasingly “strange behavior” before finally deciding to call the police.
What ensued after the arrival of two plain-clothed officers at the home of Alfred Olango, was another illustration of what transpires when a mentally ill suspect is vulnerable to the inexperience and negligence of those who have been wrongly assigned the duty of diffusing a potentially threatening situation — involving an individual with tendencies beyond his capacity.
Both officers had Alfred within sight as he cowered in a “corner formed by a fence and an unoccupied parked truck.” As his sister approached the scene, Alfred extended both hands and pointed an object at the cops, and this prompted a barrage of bullets that left him seriously injured.
He was transported to a nearby hospital where he passed away later that day.
The El Cajon Police department defended the actions of their officers by verifying that the thirty-eight-year-old father of one had been Tasered and shot five times in reaction to the suspect not complying — and then assuming a shooting stance by holding “a handgun” that turned out to be a vape pen.
Both officers escaped the consequences of killing a mentally ill man, who wasn’t meant to be shot multiple times after enduring shock treatment from a Taser.
There are many more instances of this nature that showcase the cripplingly fateful incompetence of law enforcement officers in incidents that center around people with mental health issues — that need the calming effects of professionals as opposed to the brutality of gun violence and Taser attacks.
The recent slaying of Chinedu Okobi, who carried the double whammy of being both African-American and mentally challenged, has re-ignited the need to recognize the ongoing struggle of police departments across the nation that grapple with the how to successfully handle the mentally ill.
There is the growing need to institute mandated training programs — that successfully equip officers with the lifesaving tools that should be implemented during encounters with those who are most susceptible to systemic mistreatment.
People with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police, while the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates 15% of men and 30% women annually booked at U.S. jails have mental health problems.
The hot button topic of police brutality against Black people is a never-ending plague that has been firmly endorsed by a toxic administration that’s callously manned by a president who believes that White supremacists are “very fine people.”
And while the fight for equality for people of color who don’t deserve to be shot down or unfairly punished with lengthy jail terms for the crime of sporting darker skin, wages on with little or no progress — there’s also the urgent need to add the disheartening plight of the population who are being denied the right to exist in a society that is running of patience and resources.
Police officers are always called to handle situations involving a mentally ill person who is experiencing a crisis, even though they’re not trained or prepared for what could happen. They only understand the language of the streets that offers the reality of “kill or be killed,” and so the approach to solving problems isn’t flexible enough to infuse empathy, patience and reasonable assessment into a heightened equation.
Chinedu Okobi and all the others who suffered his fate didn’t have to die at the hands of officers who irresponsibly buckled under pressure — and lazily relied on the strong belief that their blood-stained hands would be washed clean by a judicial system that never fails them.
But there are promising training programs, that have been introduced by police departments in certain parts of the country, like Chicago, where officers “are presented a variety of live scenarios and exercises that force them to wrestle with how they would respond to tense situations.”
There has also been a national effort to galvanize more than 3,000 of the country’s almost 18,000 police departments to accept the mandate of ensuring that all their officers readily complete the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.
The expectation is that at the end of the robust program, police officers will be well-versed in “verbal deescalating skills” and will also be equipped with “scenario-based training,” that will be enhanced by the quality time spent with individuals who have survived a mental health crisis.
There’s also the “cops buddy” system that has been introduced to larger police departments in Los Angeles and San Antonio. This method of training pairs street cops with mental professionals who act as “co-responders” — assisting in the field, and bringing their much-needed expertise in cases that showcase individuals hampered by a mental health crisis.
This life-altering practice is spreading to other mid-sized departments due to the positive results that have been recorded whenever a co-responder is on hand to help deescalate situations, by monitoring and facilitating the safe delivery of individuals from active scenes to mental health facilities.
Only time will tell if these burgeoning programs will continue to expand and thrive under the direction of officials, who are in charge of maintaining the budgetary requirements that ultimately cater to these experimental objectives.
And hopefully the recent tragedy that took the life of an unarmed Black man who was mentally ill and Tasered enough times to stop his beating heart — will boost further incentives to help decrease the senseless brutality exacted on individuals who aren’t in a position to fight back.
We can’t wait any longer for the miracle to happen, and so the time for change is now!