"He was phenomenally talented"
May 2, 2022 2:42 PM   Subscribe

cw: death, police violence Last Monday, the Indianapolis Police Dept. killed Herman Whitfield III, a Black pianist and composer, while he was experiencing a mental health crisis

On April 25th, the police were called to the Whitfield residence in response to a mental health episode. Herman's father greeted them at the door, at which point the responding officers were told that Herman was experiencing a psychotic episode. Within half an hour, Herman was unresponsive on the floor and eventually pronounced dead.

This is following years worth of organizing calling for better policies around how public institutions deal with mental health crises.

Almost a decade ago, an Indiana University professor issued a report noting that tasers/stun guns can result in sudden cardiac arrest and death.

This is, of course, not the only death law enforcement in Indiana are responsible for recently (cw: death).

There has been substantive criticism over the media coverage of this story.

More on Herman:
Herman Whitfield III is a two-time winner of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Emerging African-American Composers competition as well as a past recipient of multiple ASCAPlus Awards and has, in addition to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, enjoyed performances/commissions by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis, and the Detroit Symphony Civic Sinfonia. Also a film composer, Whitfield was selected as a participant in the 2007 Aspen Music Festival and School's Film Scoring Institute.
from the Arts Council of Indianapolis

Herman Whitfield III - Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 - I. Adagio

A mildly viral video Herman produced called:
Shit Pianists Say


Meanwhile, the Indiana Attorney General has sued the national chapter of Black Lives Matter over its use of its donations.
posted by paimapi (25 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Since 2017, for example, IMPD has used specialized Mobile Crisis Assistant Teams, or MCATs, consisting of an officer trained on crisis intervention and a clinician, to respond to certain situations.

But those teams would not have been able to help in Whitfield's situation — they only operate on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
posted by meowzilla at 2:48 PM on May 2, 2022 [30 favorites]

There aren't enough swears for how angry I am right now.

. for Mr. Whitfield
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:19 PM on May 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Can’t reform this.

posted by Etrigan at 3:26 PM on May 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

posted by biogeo at 3:34 PM on May 2, 2022

Police is simply unable to cope with mental crisis, PERIOD.

One recalls the 2003 incident of SJPD / Bich Cau Thi Tran. TL;DR version: Tran, a 25-year old woman of 4'9" and 99 pounds heavy, had a series of mental health episodes prior to 2003. She has a 2 yr old and 4-yr old son with Live-in boyfriend. On the fateful day, she was reported "marching zombie like on the street", and her 4-year old had wandered into the street (outside the house) asking for mommy. Concerned neighbors called the cops. Her BF took her home. Two cops arrived, was directed by BF to kitchen, where she was either in process of grabbing (something) or already grabbed it, gestured wildly at the officers and screaming at them to get out. The two cops thought she had a cleaver, and when she appeared to charge at them a few seconds later, one fired his pistol, killing her. She was holding a Vietnamese vegetable peeler.
posted by kschang at 3:46 PM on May 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

A good friend of mine studied music at Oberlin at the same time as him. I suspect he and I were only one or two degrees of separation apart. Senseless. 911 dispatchers need to fucking stop sending cops to medical emergencies.
posted by biogeo at 3:48 PM on May 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

"Our country suffers all. How long will this go on? What is happening to us? Through our sins evil has assumed human form. God will forgive you, don't forgive yourself."
Andrey Rublyov
Russian icon painter born in the 1360s, and died between 1427 and 1430 in Moscow. He is considered to be one of the greatest medieval Russian painters of Orthodox Christian icons and frescoes.
posted by robbyrobs at 4:08 PM on May 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

911 dispatchers need to fucking stop sending cops to medical emergencies.

"If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail"
posted by meowzilla at 4:25 PM on May 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

posted by hydra77 at 4:27 PM on May 2, 2022

posted by SystematicAbuse at 4:54 PM on May 2, 2022

posted by stray at 4:59 PM on May 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seriously. What happened to the men in white coats? People were threatened with them, they were a joke, I suppose everyone was like “oh, unenlightened, that was a darker age of mental health care” but really. Did we not use to have a system that killed fewer people.
posted by Hypatia at 6:12 PM on May 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 6:15 PM on May 2, 2022

posted by pt68 at 6:20 PM on May 2, 2022

posted by eirias at 6:31 PM on May 2, 2022

posted by Soap_and_Bathetic at 7:30 PM on May 2, 2022

posted by subdee at 7:34 PM on May 2, 2022

Seriously. What happened to the men in white coats? People were threatened with them, they were a joke, I suppose everyone was like “oh, unenlightened, that was a darker age of mental health care” but really. Did we not use to have a system that killed fewer people.

I'm fairly certain it started with Ronald Reagan closing down the mental hospitals in California when he was Governor, and then it spread across much of the country.

We still have mental hospitals here in WA, but they are far too few and are far too institutional. But you can be involuntarily committed here, from what I understand. I don't think that is the case across the country.
posted by hippybear at 8:10 PM on May 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Horrible. Sickening.

This has been bringing up a scary memory. A few years back when I was in a production of Macbeth. A cast mate, a sweet, lovely young Black man studying for his BFA at a local university, suffered a psychotic break onstage during a rehearsal. It was terrifying to witness. Luckily, some of his friends in the cast were able to convince him to let them drive him to the hospital. I shudder to think what might have happened if the police had been called instead.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:21 PM on May 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

We failed you in the worst way, Mr. Whitfield, and I'm so sorry.
posted by praemunire at 11:41 PM on May 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

What happened to the men in white coats?

They killed Black people too. Generally, but not exclusively, in different ways, and then they and the police and the reporters would all cluck their tongues and say “What a pity that he had a gun a knife the drug-fueled strength of 10 men” or “What a pity that he committed suicide on the way to the hospital at the hospital just after we released him from the hospital” and all of the (white) people (who matter)’s stories agreed on the matter and lined up perfectly in every detail, why, almost word-for-word, and maybe a few people would object but no one would listen to them, after all they’re related to the dead person and therefore must be biased and anyway these things just happen, anyway on to some other story, what a singular tragedy that doesn’t really say anything about the whole system, anyway on to some other story, but somehow also happens all the time anyway so it can’t really be helped, after all, you know how those people can be, ANYWAY. ON TO SOME. OTHER. STORY.
posted by Etrigan at 3:33 AM on May 3, 2022 [10 favorites]

Just this past weekend, my wife and I found our neighboring street blocked by a large group of police cars. The police had an African-American man on the ground in handcuffs. I learned from neighbors who were watching with their cell phones out that the man had been attacked by a group of teenagers, and for some reason the police apprehended him when he yelled at the responding officer.

For this, at least a dozen police officers responded in at least half as many vehicles. There's no telling how things may have gone if a crowd of witnesses hadn't gathered, and even so, the police have killed in full view of witnesses before. Several officers said that the man matched the description of a robbery suspect, but the officers basically ignored the reports of myself and others that the gang of teenagers that instigated everything were spotted driving away from the scene, notwithstanding that if they were intent on causing harm, knowing that a half dozen or more police cars were tied up apprehending one man would be the perfect time for it.

A paddy wagon also showed up, but the man was taken away in an ambulance instead. I don't know what happened to him after that.

The responding officer spoke to us as things cleared up, and she seemed embarrassed at the overreaction. But the entire incident was baffling and frightening. At least the poor man survived the encounter, at least immediately.

So I am saddened and disgusted but not at all surprised that the Indianapolis police's overreaction resulted in this senseless death.

posted by Gelatin at 6:21 AM on May 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

(For clarity, I live in Indianapolis.)
posted by Gelatin at 6:51 AM on May 3, 2022


This is devastating.

As others mentioned upthread, deinstitutionalization (moving people with mental illness out of state psych hospitals and closing those facilities) has been happening since the 50's for a number of reasons (rampant human rights abuses in those facilities were brought to light in the press, psych meds became more widely available, the patients' rights and disability justice movements pushed for community based supports). While deinstitutionalization was great in theory, not a single U.S. city has actually followed through on funding the community mental health programs that were supposed to replace the psych hospitals, which is why we now have vast numbers of people with mental illness either living on the street or in jail. More info on deinstitutionalization here.

Paimapi thank you for sharing this story and including so much context/background info on the organizing efforts around defunding the police and investing in community mental health response. Thanks to decades of organizing by abolitionists and disability justice advocates, a number of cities are finally investing some $$ (not enough) into community-based mental health crisis response models (including my own city of Boston!). A number of cities have already begun implementing community-based mental health crisis response programs (importantly, this is different than co-response models which still work alongside the police). There's CAHOOTS in Seattle, CAT-911 in Southern CA, Mental Health First in Northern CA, STAR in Denver, B*HEALTH in NYC, and HEART in Cambridge, MA. If you are interested in learning more, Interrupting Criminalization has a great guide on defunding the police and implementing alternative, community-led mental health crisis response programs. Lastly, please bug your local elected officials about funding a program like this in your city/town!
posted by sleepingwithcats at 8:28 AM on May 3, 2022 [5 favorites]

posted by koucha at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2022

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