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Calling for help shouldn’t end in death

New Zealand man Christian Glass was shot and killed by United States police on June 10 after calling emergency services for roadside assistance while having an apparent mental health crisis.

For the first time in my memory, the degree of separation between New Zealand citizens and United States police brutality has significantly reduced.

An analysis by The Washinton Post found that in at least 178 cases over three years, law enforcement killed the individuals they were called to help.

It found in the year to September 15, more than 1050 people had been shot and killed by police.

Another investigation by Radio New Zealand last March found that New Zealand police had killed 39 people since 1990.

Body camera footage showed Glass sitting in his car and surrounded by police with their guns drawn. He was too afraid to leave the vehicle.

The footage also showed officers spending more than an hour speaking to Glass within a range of aggression and calm.

Christian Glass’ mother, Sally Glass, told journalists that police often spoke of training, but it wasn’t enough.

“You know an aggressive bully is always going to be an aggressive bully, and I don’t know how you train that characteristic out.”

She urged police departments to “root out the rot, and hire people with a moral compass and a kind heart”.

From the observation of many, Glass seemed to be having a mental health crisis.

Those who need help, especially in times of crisis, should not be shot for seeking help. Phoning the police shouldn’t come with the risk of death.

In response to the shooting, one commenter on a Reddit thread said they were afraid of the police because they had mental health disorders.

“I have anxiety and a panic attack disorder, and I’m terrified if I ever have an issue with police. I’m scared I’ll have a panic attack, and they’ll shoot me.”

With New Zealand’s rate of fatal police shootings 11 times higher than the rate of police in England and Wales, according to Radio New Zealand, one could believe that brutality could be on the rise here.

However, New Zealand Police completed a trial in March last year, bringing together staff from Wellington District Police, Wellington Free Ambulance and Capital and Coast DHB, offering support to people in mental distress from a wider range of specialists.

Staff from the three organisations were sent to both police and ambulance emergency mental health callouts in the same vehicle.

The trial produced a range of benefits including a reduction in the use of powers under the Mental Health Act and less reliance on emergency departments.

New Zealand Police is yet to decide if it will roll out the response further, but it is a step in the right direction for responding to mental health crises.

Glass’ life should not have been taken so easily by someone who he was seeking help from. The footage showed no violence from Glass, he locked himself in his car with the windows up. He was not a threat.

If something like this happened in our towns there would be an uproar. We need to make sure this never happens here. We need to make sure that people facing mental health challenges are helped and protected, not killed.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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