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Say Their Names

Michelle Cusseaux (1964 - August 14, 2014) was an African-American woman. Not too much is revealed in police reports or news articles but what is known is that she lived with mental health struggles and her mother Fran Garrett was a strong advocate for her. On August 14, 2014, in Phoenix, AZ Michelle was home when police officer, Sgt. Percy Dupra, arrived to fulfill a “pickup order” that would bring her to a mental health treatment facility. She did not trust the office and spoke to him through her door explaining her concern and noting that she would not leave her home. Michelle’s mother, Fran Garrett, told the officers that she did not have a weapon in the house and Michelle told the officers the same thing that day. Rather than give Michelle time to understand what was taking place and build trust with the officers, Officer Dupra ordered an Officer Anderson to pick the lock on her residence. Upon opening the security door, the officers saw Michelle opening her front door holding a claw hammer and the officers saw this to be a threat and responded by shooting her. Michelle was taken to a nearby hospital for her GSW to the chest and was pronounced dead shortly after. In later reports, Officer Dupra said it was the look on Michelle’s face that caused him to fear for his life because he was certain she was going to hit someone - he or the other officer - with the claw hammer.
 
Following the shooting of Michelle Cusseaux her mother organized those in her daughter’s community to demand the US Attorney’s Office investigate her daughter’s death. In October 2014 the Phoenix Police Department announced the creation of a Mental Health Advisory Board to inform the department’s policies. The department also created “mobile crisis teams and crews of behavioral-health specialists, and mandated a decreased focus on arrest in favor of providing needed services and increased supervision by trained officers when executing 'pickup orders' like the one that brought officers to Michelle Cusseaux’s home. Ultimately, the Phoenix Police Department found that Officer Dupra violated departmental use-of-force policies, and he was subsequently demoted but not prosecuted or fired.”*
 
Michelle’s story is one that has brought together those in the mental health advocacy world and those in the police reform and accountability work. These two areas of advocacy and organizing are seeking for greater care of and additional training around those experiencing a mental health crisis and how an officer is to respond. Officer Dupra did not receive charges even though he was found to have acted outside of proper protocol those seeking justice for Michelle are grateful some action was made around more informed responses to those experiencing mental health crisis. 
 
*quote pulled from Literary Hub’s July 31, 2017 article “Mental Illness is Not a Capital Crime: On the Disproportionate Impact of Police Violence on Women of Color” by Andrea J. Ritchie

Eric Garner (September 15, 1970 – July 17, 2014) was an African-American man. He was a horticulturist at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation before quitting for health reasons. Garner, who was married to Esaw Garner, has been described by his friends as a "neighborhood peacemaker" and as a generous, congenial person. He was the father of six children, had three grandchildren, and at the time of his death had a 3-month-old child.

NYPD officers approached Garner on July 17, 2014 on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes, the officers attempted to arrest Garner. When officer Daniel Pantaleo placed his hands on Garner, Garner pulled his arms away. Pantaleo then placed his arm around Garner's neck and wrestled him to the ground. With multiple officers pinning him down, Garner repeated the words "I can't breathe" 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing. Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes while the officers waited for an ambulance to arrive. Garner was pronounced dead at an area hospital approximately one hour later. The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide. Specifically, an autopsy indicated that Garner's death resulted from "[compression] of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police".

On December 4, 2014, a Richmond County grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo. On July 13, 2015, an out-of-court settlement was announced in which the City of New York would pay the Garner family $5.9 million. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges against Pantaleo under federal civil rights laws. A NYPD disciplinary hearing regarding Pantaleo's treatment of Garner was held in the summer of 2019; on August 2, 2019, an administrative judge recommended that Pantaleo's employment be terminated. Pantaleo was fired on August 19, 2019, more than five years after Garner's death.

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