United States: Detroit cops respond to mental health emergency and kill — again

Porter Burks
Police fired 38 bullets at Porter Burks in Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Ki Plummer/Facebook

Porter Burks, 20, had a psychotic episode on October 2 when his family called for help. Detroit police responded and found Burks with a pocketknife near his home.

Police claim they tried to talk down Porter, who was clearly stressed, but say he refused to drop the knife. They allege that Porter then charged the five officers, who fired 38 shots in three seconds at the young Black man, killing him.

Burks had been to hospital for psychiatric care at least twice, according to police professional standards department director Chris Graveline.

Navigating Burks' schizophrenia diagnosis had been difficult, family members said.

"The community knows Porter," Porter’s aunt, Michelle Wilson, told the Detroit Free Press. "They trusted Porter. They helped Porter. They loved Porter. He wasn't a threat to no one." She called the shooting “flat-out murder”.

The family told the Detroit police of Burks’ condition when they called for help and a mental health check. The family’s lawyer Geoffrey Fieger said that Burks suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and his psychotic episode should have been treated in the same manner as a heart attack.

Burks was known to local police.

“Most recently, on June 26, the family called Detroit police out because he was walking up and down the block, looking to fight anyone,” said Graveline.

“He was committed at that point to Sinai Grace psychological ward. Two days later, Detroit police received a call that he had escaped from that ward and was running in the traffic.”

Although the police were well aware of Porter’s conditions, the cops felt a pocketknife was a threat to their lives. Where was the stun gun or other safety tools?

Protests erupt

As with most police killings, the truth dribbles out. Protests erupted on Detroit’s west side. Family members participated.

The group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) came together on October 12 demanding justice. “We want to know the name of the cops involved, and we want them fired and jailed for murder,” activist Benjamin Royal told clickondetroit.com.

“Nobody should be bringing guns to a mental health crisis. What we really need is more mental health services, but above all, what we really need is those killer cops locked up, and their names made public, so we know who they are.”

As is typical in cop killings of Black people, police names are hidden until an internal investigation. The family is demanding the police department release their names.

Burks’ parents called for a welfare check. They did not expect a SWAT murder squad. Cops rarely shoot and massacre a white man with mental health issues. They see him as a human being.

Burks was Black. He was seen as a likely threat to the police. That false view makes the killing justifiable — legal murder, in effect.

During a media conference announcing their planned lawsuit, Fieger said: “We have what I consider to be an intolerable situation … in which a Detroit Police Department firing squad of five officers executed a clearly mentally ill young man.”

A final insult by the police, Fieger said, was to have Porter’s body handcuffed after being shot multiple times and “dumped” at the hospital.

What police video reveals

Released police video shows Burks carrying the pocketknife and wandering in the street at about 5am. The crisis intervention officer can be seen with his hand out to Burks, repeatedly asking him to put the knife down.

Burks never threatened the cops. He needed help. Fieger said the distance between them was “tremendous” — not short range as police claim, but closer to 14 metres.

Police initially told the public that officers deployed a stun gun before shooting, but on October 4, Detroit Police Chief James White told the media it is unclear whether a stun gun was actually used, reported Detroit Free Press.

"Why you can’t figure out a better way to deal with him than executing him by firing squad?” Fieger asked.