Michael Hill and Antoinette Tuff: Lesson in Crisis Intervention

On August 20, 2013, at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia
                       -- nobody died.

Tuesday, the first school shooting of the new school year

                       -- didn't happen.

It started the way these things start.  A disturbed young man went off his meds.  He decided he would die that day.  He did what others have done who wanted to die.

Suicide By Cop

It's called suicide by cop.  There are wordier ways of saying it.  But that one pretty well nails it.  It is estimated that 2% of suicides happen by the victim putting a police officer in a position so that the police officer has to shoot the victim.  Studies vary, but the largest study of officer-involved shooting incidents, by Kris Mohandie, examining the data bases of 90 police departments from 1998 to 2006, determined that 36% of police shootings were suicide by cop.  [Shootings of animals and accidental discharge were excluded.]  Compared to earlier and smaller studies, the percentage seems to be growing.

All suicides leave behind a wider circle of victims, surviving family members, first responders, even others struggling with suicidal ideation who move one step closer upon hearing of another's suicide. This kind of suicide is particularly devastating to the one[s] manipulated into assisting in the act.

The School Shooting That Didn't Happen

But something else happened on August 20.

Michael Hill is a young man with many problems.  His brother says he has been diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia, ADHD, and more.  Hill had earlier been charged with making terrorist threats for threatening to shoot his brother.  He pled guilty.

-- I don't know what that means, that threatening to kill his brother is charged as a terrorist threat, and that a mentally ill young man pled guilty to making terrorist threats.  Anyway, he was on probation and was supposed to be getting treatment.

But his Medicaid expired.  He was off his meds, because his Medicaid expired.  (Get that?  His Medicaid expired.)

He decided August 20 was the day he was going to die.

Antoinette Tuff decided otherwise.  She tells the story in this interview.  No, Michael, it is not too late. You don't have to die.

Now once the police came in, the compassion was gone and the shouting began.  Here is a recording of the 911 call, which includes the sounds of officers entering the room.  Since then, Michael evidently has been kept in seclusion in the county jail.  I don't know if he has his meds again.

Anchored in the Lord

On August 20, Michael was having a mental health crisis. He should have gone to the hospital.  He figured that out too late.  People who are having mental health crises don't always make the best choices. They pay heavy consequences for their choices.  Michael will for his.

The people around them can make better choices.  Antoinette Tuff had a gun in her face.  But she was not having a mental health crisis.  She made a good choice.  Antoinette went straight to her training.  She did what her pastor has been teaching his congregation to do.  She anchored herself in the Lord.

That phrase, anchored in the Lord, under these circumstances, reminds me of a police officer taking a stance.  From a fixed stance, balanced and grounded, one can more effectively control oneself and ones weapon.

Antoinette Tuff's weapon was compassion.  She knew Michael was hurting, and felt for him the way she feels for other hurting children. She even used the words, I love you, baby.  But more than words, she showed him.  She treated him with respect.  She called him sir.  She found common ground with him.  She told him about the trials in her own life and the possibility of a new life.

When she found out his name, the same as her mother's, she claimed they could be kin.  Of course, being a Christian, she already knew that they are.

Crisis Intervention

The police went to their training, too.  But it was training for how to handle a shooter, not a person in a mental health crisis.  Hence, the shouting.  If Antoinette had not already done her work, things would have proceeded as Michael intended when he entered the school.  He would be dead right now.  So would she.

Crisis Intervention Teams provide training to police officers and communities to recognize mental health crises and expand their options for dealing with them, so that sick people don't end up dead, and police officers don't end up traumatized by having killed somebody.  Couch cowboys may not realize this, but even if the killing is justified, police officers do not walk away from these incidents with untroubled spirits.

We sat at the breakfast table, and I wondered whether Decatur, Georgia has a crisis intervention team?  Helen answered, Sure, it's Antoinette Tuff.

We need more Antoinette Tuffs.

The state of Georgia surely needs more Antoinette Tuffs.  Its governor, like several others, has rejected an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Health Care Act.  We can expect more young men like Michael to go off their meds and to come into contact with the police, having made poor choices and in crisis.

Get Training

Not everybody belongs to a church like Antoinette Tuff's.  Those who do not know how to anchor in the Lord need some other kind of training in crisis intervention and mental illness first aid.  Our law enforcement officers certainly do.  But they need back up.  It's not going to be health care.  It's got to be the rest of us.

One Month Later

I don't know about you, but I am still caught in this story.  I have been working on this post for a month, turning it this way and that.  It fell out of the news on August 23rd, I guess because nobody died.  Maybe there will be a follow-up tomorrow, one month later.

Antoinette Tuff loved a man who put a gun in her face.  She reminded me that I, too, am a Christian and taught me to love Michael Hill.  That may seem bizarre, but there it is.

Meanwhile, another disturbed young man who didn't get the health care he needed, this time with no Antoinette Tuff in sight...  This week the outcome was different.  And the drum beats resume, claiming we can solve the problem of violence in America if only we can come up with a list of loonies.

But I want to close by going back to those two people who found another way to prevent a tragedy on August 20, 2013.  Not a shot was fired.

There is a power there.

children playing by Hannie Mein Schieringerweg Comenius Leeuwarden, used under the Creative Commons license
photo of Emergency Room by Thierry Geoffroy, used under the Creative Commons license
logo of CIT International in public domain

1 comment:

  1. WOW...didn't hear of this story. The 911 call was pretty amazing. Thank you for writing...and for loving!


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