On Saturday night, the Georgia Tech Police Department responded to a 911 call claiming someone on campus had “a knife in his hand” and “maybe a gun on his hip.” Scout Schultz, a 21-year-old engineering student, made that call.
Mere minutes later, Schultz was fatally shot in the chest after yelling “Shoot me!” and refusing to comply with police demands. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) would later find three suicide notes in his room, and it would be revealed by Shultz’s mother that Schultz attempted suicide two years ago using a belt as a makeshift noose.
Given Schultz’s history of depression and previous bout with suicide, this seems to be an example of suicide by cop, where an individual deliberately threatens police to provoke a lethal response.
In the days following the shooting, it seemed that mental illness, depression and police training were going to be the focal point of conversation — maybe even starting a helpful dialogue on the subject. However, that changed Monday night.
Following a peaceful student vigil to remember Schultz, who was the president of Georgia Tech’s Pride Alliance, about 50 people marched on Georgia Tech’s Police Department invoking violence and rioting. This led to the now iconic-image of a police car engulfed in flames. Two police officers suffered minor injuries, and three of the protesters were arrested — only one of which was a Georgia Tech student.
Now the narrative has changed. Schultz’s memorial had been hijacked by a small group of people, which some have tied to the Antifa movement. Instead of mental illness and police training making headlines, it’s Antifa and an image of a burning cop car.
This is absolutely appalling, and all it does it distract from the very real issue of mental illness, suicide, depression and their relation to fatal police shootings, which is more common than you might think.
According to The Washington Post’s database for police shootings, mental illness plays a part in approximately one-fourth of people fatally shot by police since Jan. 2015. This includes 656 people, with Schultz being the second most recent name added to that list. Since Sept. 16, there’s already been another one.
In 2017 alone, 160 fatal police shootings have been mental illness related. Four of those shootings have taken place in Georgia, which has had 21 fatal police shootings so far in 2017.
With the spotlight that’s currently on police brutality and potentially unnecessary police action, mental illness often gets lost in the shuffle. On Tuesday evening, it was revealed that Tyler Beck, the police officer who fired the shot that killed Schultz, never received crisis intervention training. This training is meant to specifically deal with situations such as mental illness and suicide.
WSB-TV reporter Mark Winne also reported that only 22 of the 89 Georgia Tech police officers received this training. Considering the large portion of police shootings that tie back to mental illness, it’s shocking this training isn’t required by every officer given a badge and a gun.
Guns actually don’t play a large part in this dilemma, at least regarding those suffering from mental illnesses. In the Washington Post’s database for police shootings in 2017, only about 45.6 percent of people with a mental illness who were fatally shot were carrying a firearm. This contrasts to approximately 59.3 percent of those without a mental illness or unknown.
This trend applies to Schultz’s death as well. Schultz wasn’t armed with a gun and only carried a multipurpose tool that featured a knife. This brings up questions regarding nonlethal tactics, such as pepper spray or tasers, the latter of which Georgia Tech Police Officers aren’t given.
This in addition to the lack of proper training for these situations can lead to unnecessary deaths, especially for those who appear to be using a cop to assist in their suicide.
This isn’t fueled by anti-police sentiment. It’s doubtful that Beck was looking for an excuse to kill Schultz, but the deck was stacked against him. That’s why this type of dialogue is so important and necessary, and that’s why violent protests only serve as distractions and excuses to shift the narrative.
Unfortunately, by doing so, it diverts us from the conversations that could actually make real, tangible changes and potentially save hundreds of lives in the future.
Correction: In a previous version of this article Scout Schultz’s name was misspelled. This has since been corrected.