Dear George, since you died earlier this year under the knee of a police officer in the US, much has happened that would not have happened had you not died in that tragic way. I am sad you died, and cried when I watched your niece, Brook Williams, talking about how big a loss your death was to her at the memorial service held for you. I still cry today when I watch her speak her passionate words of grief about you.
I can tell you, George, that you did not die in vain. The world is changing because of your death, and because of the massive outcry over the injustice of your death. I myself am part of a leadership group planning to introduce a new kind of service in the community of Lompoc in California that I live close to. The service is called CAHOOTS, which stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets. It started in Eugene, Oregon, in 1989, and means that when people call 911 for a mental health service, such as someone feeling suicidal, or for a welfare check because they haven’t seen a neighbor for many days, or because someone is homeless and in need of help, a special CAHOOTS van responds to the call. On that van are a nurse or medical technician, and a crisis counselor. They are not armed, but they have an enormous range of skills to respond to mental health and social crises the police are not best able to deal with. The police department in Eugene are glad to have CAHOOTS as partners, so when calls come into 911, the police only respond to crimes in progress, or where force might be needed. They don’t respond to the many calls that come in that require a social work or medical response, such as a homeless person with a non emergency medical problem.
George, I can hear the words, No Justice No Peace, echoing around the world as protesters demand justice for people of color and for the most vulnerable in our communities. I want you to know, George, that we are on the move, That old styles of policing, old styles of treating people so badly, to the point of killing them in cold blood – that those old styles are being replaced. It is not a case of de-funding the police. We need the police. But we need them to protect the public. And we need them only to do the things they are good at. They have been asked to do too much. We are re-imagining the role of the police, and putting in place first-responders who work to resolve crises in communities where empathy, and medical support are what is needed, not a show of force.
It will take a bit of time to introduce the CAHOOTS style of service in communities. In our case, we have started fundraising. It costs close to $120,000 to buy the equipment, including the van, to start the program. Then it costs close to $1.5 million to operate the program each year. That is for a 24/7 van staffed by a paid medical technician and a crisis counselor, along with support staff and a coordinator. In time, we expect the city to fund the service, but initially we anticipate it will take grants and donations to get it going. We are planning on setting up a GoFundMe page for this……stay tuned. In the meantime you can donate through our Peachenge portal
George, thinking of you.