Family Spokesman Charges Racism in Police Shooting of Mentally Ill Black Man

“Suicide by cop” is a term law enforcement uses for situations where a person, looking to end his life, provokes police into shooting him. That’s how police in New York City describe the death of 26-year-old Eudes Pierre, a resident of Crown Heights in Brooklyn with a history of mental illness.

However, a spokesman for the Pierre family has a different take on the incident. Reverend Kevin McCall, whom The Gothamist website calls a “civil rights leader,” believes that race played a role in Pierre’s death. “I guarantee you,” McCall is quoted as saying, “if he was a white kid, he’d be alive today, but because he was a Black boy living under the de Blasio administration, he’s dead.”

According to police, Pierre called 911 at about 4:00 a.m. on his own cellphone to report a man “with a gun and a knife,” then brandished a knife at the responding officers, while holding his other hand concealed in his jacket. Police ordered Pierre to drop the knife and show his hands, but he ignored their orders and ran off toward a nearby subway station.

When Pierre emerged from the subway station, two officers attempted to subdue him with stun guns to no avail. NYPD Assistant Chief Michael Kemper said at a press conference that Pierre “ran, literally ran, at one of the officers with the knife in his hand.” One officer fired seven times, and another three times, killing Pierre. Police investigators claim they found a suicide note later at Pierre’s home.

The family admits that Pierre had mental issues, having been diagnosed years ago with bipolar disorder. However, the family believes his situation deserves an understanding. At a press conference, Pierre’s mother, Marguerite Jolivert, expressed her anger and dismay. “My son was sick,” The Gothamist reports her saying. “He had a mental disease. He didn’t deserve to be killed like an animal.”

For their part, the police say that officers had responded to two previous suicide attempts by Pierre, preventing him from jumping through a window and assisting after he had stabbed himself in the abdomen and chest.

Pierre’s shooting parallels another police shooting of a mentally disturbed Black man. In 2018, officers from the 71st precinct shot Saheed Vassell in the midst of a mental health episode. Vassell was also shot 10 times.

To be clear, we don’t think Rev. McCall meant that NYPD officers shot Eudes Pierre because he was Black. But young Black men having mental health episodes are more likely to be treated as violent threats than are young White men. It’s also clear that when it comes to public health programs — and especially mental health services — poor, inner-city, minorities get the short shrift. Mayor de Blasio might give lip service to alternative forms of intervention, but he has failed to implement programs that direct mental health resources to those in need or provide crisis intervention in place of law enforcement.

The Gothamist report cites the advocacy group Correct Crisis Intervention Today, which claims that “since 2015, at least 19 people have been killed by police while experiencing mental health emergencies.” That’s more than three a year. A lawyer for the Pierre family notes that ‘NYPD don’t kill the mentally ill’ has become a social justice slogan in New York City. The outgoing mayor didn’t listen. We fervently hope the incoming mayor will.