Mother of Mohamed Bah and Supporters Call for the Removal of Police as First Responders to those in Emotional Distress on 7th Anniversary of his Death
Bah family is joined by other families who’ve lost loved ones to the police, elected officials, faith leaders, and police accountability organizations
Harlem, NY - On Wednesday, September 25, 2019, on the 7th anniversary of the NYPD killing of Mohamed Bah, his mother, Hawa Bah, other families who have lost loved ones to the police, elected officials, faith leaders, police accountability organizations, and community supporters called for an end to the use of police as first responders to those experiencing mental health crisis at a vigil in front of the apartment building in which Mohamed died.
“The system needs to change,” said Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah. “The city should not treat people who are depressed or have mental health issues like they are criminals. Mohamed was sick and I knew he needed help so I called 911 to get an ambulance to take him to the hospital. When police respond to Black and Brown people, they treat us like criminals and they make things worse if people are already in distress. If the police had not come, Mohamed would still be alive. As long as police are involved, we will have the same outcome. We need to eliminate police as first responders to people in emotional distress.”
“Police are not healthcare workers and interactions with police and the criminal justice system negatively impacts mental health,” said Justice Committee Co-Director Loyda Colon. “Using police as first responders when people need care and medical attention is illogical, ineffective and cruel. We need to envision and implement a bold, multifaceted solution rooted in an understanding that mental illness is, most often, the result of social inequity. We need real investment in our communities that traditionally been marginalized; accessible, culturally intelligent preventative care services; and a crisis response system that prioritizes dignity, safety, and self-determination for those who are experiencing emotional distress or suffering from mental illness or psychological disability.”
Hawa Bah’s demand for New York City to end police involvement in responding to mental health calls was made in the context of the continued national and local crisis of police killings of individuals experiencing mental health distress. Advocates slammed the de Blasio administration for their failure to act to end the crisis of police killings of those in emotional distress, and the more than year-long delay in releasing findings from a citywide Crisis Prevention and Response Task Force formed to change the way the city responds to mental health crises.
“Police should never be the first response when people are experiencing emotional distress or crisis,” said Communities United for Police Reform spokesperson Carolyn Martinez-Class. “As we mark seven years since Mohamed Bah was gunned down and killed by NYPD officers, we join Mrs. Bah in calling on the City to remove police from responding when individuals are in emotional distress. New Yorkers need access to quality and comprehensive mental health services, not continued expansion of policing.”
On Sept. 25, 2012, Mohamed Bah, a Muslim immigrant from Guinea, was killed by the NYPD after his mother, Hawa Bah, called 911 for an ambulance for her son, who she believed was in emotional distress and needed medical attention. Instead, the NYPD arrived first, Emergency Services Unit officers forced their way into her son’s apartment – against NYPD protocol and without a warrant – and killed him. Evidence shows that the last shot was fired at close range by NYPD ESU Officer Edwin Mateo, while Bah lay on the ground.
None of the officers involved in Mohamed’s death were held accountable for killing Mohamed or making false statements and committing other misconduct surrounding the incident, but in Nov. 2017, the jury for the Bah civil trial found Officer Mateo liable for using excessive force.
The de Blasio administration attempted to appeal the civil suit verdict, forcing Mrs. Bah and her family back into a painful legal process. Mrs. Bah and her supporters organized for a year and a half to demand the appeal be dropped and in February 2019 the City finally came to the table to settle case.
Since her son’s death, Mrs. Bah has become a steadfast voice for police accountability and reform and has been vocal about the need to remove police as first responders to those experiencing mental health crisis. At least fifteen people in emotional distress have been killed by the NYPD in the last three years* and a recent Department of Health report shows that interaction with the police have a negative impact on mental health.
“We know the NYPD relies on excessive force in these situations, which does nothing but further criminalize those who need care,” said Reem Ramadan, Arab American Association Lead Organizer. “ Its common practice for the NYPD and de Blasio administration to claim they will re-train officers in the wake of police violence, in order to shield abusive cops from public scrutiny. Training without accountability is counterproductive and a distraction. We need to completely remove the NYPD as first responders.”
"Seven years after the death of Mohamed Bah, our city is still failing in its response to people dealing with a mental health crisis, and with tragic results,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “As we lift up his name and try to bring peace and comfort to his family, we need to push for justice and for change - like investing in preventative care services and researching and developing non-police involved crisis response options as outlined in my Office's report."
“Too many New Yorkers in emotional distress or crisis have died because police are the wrong people to be first responders,” said Jews for Racial and Economic Justice Executive Director Audrey Sasson. “Our Jewish tradition reminds us to “deal justly with the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalms 82.3-4). Killing our neighbors when they’re experiencing crisis is doing the opposite. Our communities need trained mental health professionals whose work focuses on healing rather than jailing to be first responders in these cases.”
*Figure in article does not included the April 2019 NYPD killing of Kawaski Trawick.
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment.
CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.