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Taun Hall: Professionals, not police, should respond to mental health crises
Guest Commentary

Taun Hall: Professionals, not police, should respond to mental health crises

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We learned recently about the tragic loss of Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Navy veteran and Antioch resident who died after family members called 911, hoping to get him help.

Angelo had a history of anxiety and depression, and his family worried that he was behaving erratically – in part by hugging them too tightly – and that he might harm himself or others.

According to news reports, Angelo’s mother was holding him when police arrived. They took him from his mother, turned him on his stomach and handcuffed him. According to a wrongful-death claim against the city of Antioch, the police pressed their lower legs against his neck. He lost consciousness and was declared dead three days later.

Every time I hear a story like Angelo’s, I stop breathing and relive the horror of losing my own son, Miles, two years ago at the age of 23.

Miles lived with schizoaffective disorder. I did everything I could to get him help, but the complete lack of a mental health safety net left me with nowhere to turn in a crisis – except the police. For years I tried to work with the Walnut Creek Police Department to support Miles and keep him safe.

The day before Miles was killed, I called the department to alert them that he was unwell, and they should expect calls. The officer said they knew Miles and understood his mental illness. Relief washed over me: The police knew him, knew he needed help, and – I thought – knew how to help.

But the next day, when callers to 911 said Miles was behaving erratically, and carrying a metal garden tool, the police officers who responded shouted at Miles, drew their weapons, and fired.

The loss of Miles has been our biggest heartbreak. I agonize for Angelo’s family and countless others like ours – families that have experienced the desperation that comes from trying to help loved ones in crisis and realizing we have nowhere to turn.

Our national, state and local governments have failed us. They have failed to create a mental health system that gets people the care they need. In the wake of this failure, police have become our default go-to. But trying to solve a public health crisis with a law enforcement response has proven ineffective and deadly.

Twenty-five percent of all individuals killed in police-involved shootings since 2015 had a known mental illness. And longstanding racial disparities place African Americans like Miles at the greatest risk when police are called to the scene.

It is time for our government to prioritize building a mental health system that truly helps people like Miles and Angelo.

Last year, the federal government established “988” as the new 3-digit number for mental health crisis hotlines – essentially creating a new 911 for mental health crises. States are responsible for facilitating the system on a local level.

My Assemblymember, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from Orinda, has introduced Assembly Bill 988, also known as the Miles Hall Lifeline Act, to lay the groundwork for this desperately needed alternative to 911. We must urge our state representatives to support this bill.

If passed, the Miles Hall Lifeline Act will allow anyone in California who experiences severe mental health distress – or witnesses someone else in distress – to call one easy-to-remember phone number, 988, and get the appropriate help.

Callers to 988 will be connected with around-the-clock support, including mobile crisis teams that can respond to the scene with trained mental health professionals and peers rather than law enforcement.

If a 988 system had existed on that awful day in 2019, and mental health professionals had responded to Miles instead of the police, there’s a good chance he would still be alive today. It is my mission to make sure no other family has to suffer this type of loss. Let’s pass the Miles Hall Lifeline Act to finally respond to a public health crisis with a compassionate public health response.

Taun Hall of Walnut Creek is the mother of Miles Hall and founder of the Miles Hall Foundation, hallfamily@justiceformileshall.org.

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