Advocate Stories, Freedom from Violence, News
Jamal Sutherland should still be alive today.
May 14, 2021
The following statement is from the ACLU of South Carolina, CAJM, Charleston Activist Network, Charleston Immigrant Coalition, Charleston BLM, Black Liberation Fund, Lowcountry Action Committee, SC4CJ, and WREN regarding the release of video of the death of Jamal Sutherland at the Al Cannon Detention Center:
Jamal Sutherland should still be alive today. The killing of Jamal Sutherland on January 5th, 2021 represents an egregious lack of regard for the human rights of mental health patients, especially those incarcerated. Jamal was not engaged in criminal behavior. He was in severe distress and was in an altered mental state due to symptoms of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. Jamal was a mental health patient at Palmetto Lowcountry Behavioral Health when officers were called to respond during an episode of mental distress. Jamal’s death speaks to the inefficacy of police training to handle mental health crises and how their presence further escalates an already delicate situation.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20.6% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (51.5 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults. Jamal Sutherland was one of these people. Jamal Sutherland was handled like an animal by correctional officers who had no regard for his altered mental state. The video of his killing revealed the inhumane conditions of the Al Cannon Detention Center, which undoubtedly aggravated Jamal’s state of mental distress. His death was a result of a policing and carceral system that systematically destroys Black lives and communities. How can we continue to allow this system— a direct descendent of the system of enslavement—to operate for increasing profit without regulation or input from the people? This is a safety issue.
Public officials have chosen to ignore the plight of the poor, the unseen, the unhoused, those lacking adequate water, food, transportation, or compassionate mental health services, in favor of maintaining systems that disenfranchise and strip personhood from Black and Brown people. Jamal’s death was the result of intentional decisions by our political leaders to turn police into a “solution” for people experiencing a mental health crisis. This must end.
Charleston County Council must prioritize funding for mental healthcare overcriminalization. We stand in solidarity with the Sutherland family and extend our unconditional support in seeking justice for Jamal, whose untimely death could have been avoided.