On September 4th, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Linden Cameron was shot by police several times after a Crisis Intervention Team was called, which was supposed to help him in a mental health crisis. Linden is 13 years old and has an Asperger’s diagnosis and very bad separation anxiety, and this was the first day his mom, Golda Barton, went to work in the last year.
After I posted a news article about this on social media, I saw a lot of people comment about this story with some version of, “This parent should’ve known! Why did she call the police?”
This parent did everything she could when she called 911. She didn’t ask for the police. She told them he has Asperger’s, told them he is unarmed, and is just yelling and is upset. She specifically asked for the Crisis Intervention Team, which is supposed to be for mental health crises in the US, and said specifically that he just needs to go to a hospital to get help.
Even over the phone, Barton was told that the Crisis Intervention Team would respond by helping to de-escalate the situation using “the most minimal force possible.”
It is not the parent’s fault that a police officer immediately ran in and shot the 13-year-old, after specifying she wanted a Crisis Intervention Team to help him.
Many parents don’t have other resources, and rarely is there an emergency hotline for mental health crises that are readily available to someone in the moment, unless it was set up beforehand.
Even with all of those precautions, disclosing his disability, specifying CIT, the police still immediately ran into the house and shot Linden Cameron several times while he was running away. They then handcuffed him afterwards and refused to tell Golda Barton that her child was, in fact, still breathing.
I cannot imagine how terrifying that would be for Linden and his mother.
Stop Shooting Disabled People
This was Golda Barton’s account of the situation.
The SLCPD stated that they got a call for a “violent psych issue.” These things don’t add up. A Crisis Intervention Team should not involve police officers, especially not ones that arrive on a scene before the rest of the team, which is likely what happened in this case.
Unfortunately, currently most mental health teams in the US are required to have a police officer with them during crisis interventions. Too many disabled people and people in mental health crises have gotten shot because of the actions of police officers and their ignorance regarding the situation or someone’s disabilities.
Shouting “Get down on the ground!” to an autistic 13-year-old while he’s having a mental health crisis is one of the worst things you could do in this situation. It is likely the reason he started running away from the officer.
There are some really, really simple things police officers could do to not escalate mental health crisis situations like this, like maybe not shouting at autistic people!
But instead, the police officer shot him several times in the back, as if that were the only possible action in that moment, when a 13 year old was running away from them, unarmed.
Linden Cameron is currently in the hospital, still recovering from getting shot in the back several times. This is his Go Fund Me page for their medical bills.
To call out this injustice, please take 2 minutes to send out this pre-written email.
And sign this petition.
Police officers need to stop seeing people in mental health crises as dangerous and violent. They need to stop treating unarmed disabled people like some sort of frightening, monstrous threat.
They need to stop treating disabled people like the instant we aren’t compliant, that we don’t deserve to live. This goes double for disabled BIPOC people.
What Can Parents Do?
Advice I would currently give to parents when they are worried about their child’s mental health or when their child is having an uncontrollable meltdown:
Don’t call the police unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. Find out today the crisis intervention numbers that you can call in your area that’s not police.
It is important to note that even if you call a hotline specifically for a mental health crisis, police may still be involved. Assume police will be involved.
Instead of calling the police, learn de-escalation techniques if you can. Learn what helps your child calm down. Police will not try to understand. Police will not try to de-escalate. And police won’t care that your child is in a mental health crisis.
They will do what they have been trained to do – subdue the person, and shoot them when they feel threatened or they try to run away. Police aren’t going to quietly talk to your kid when they are stressed out or console them. They are not trained to do those things.
I know parents need more resources and help when their child is in crisis, but calling the police on a child’s mental health crisis unfortunately will often do more harm than good. There should be more mental health resources out there, especially for neurodivergent individuals, but there just isn’t. I don’t have a good solution, but I know that police involvement isn’t a solution at all.
A child yelling and stomping feet and being upset shouldn’t be cause to call the police.
Please think twice before calling the police. It could save a life.
- Autistic People Care Too Much, Research Says - November 7, 2020
- The Crossroads of Being Autistic and Queer - November 6, 2020
- $5 Million Grant Awarded to Make Autistic People Mask in Job Interviews - October 6, 2020
It saddens me that I live in a country where “don’t call the police, it might save a life,” is a reasonable piece of advice. I do appreciate that Linden’s tragedy is being given some consideration, and I cannot blame the author for being frank about a tough topic.