On Monday (June 28), Rep. Cori Bush introduced The People’s Response Act, a new bill that seeks to prevent mentally ill people from having violent, and potentially deadly, interactions with law enforcement. According to a Washington Post database, more than one in five people killed by police are mentally ill and more than 25 percent of all people killed by police since 2015 had a mental illness. Bush’s new legislation will limit police’s response to people experiencing a mental health episode and replace officers with trained health professionals.
“When people in crisis need help, calling 911 too often becomes a death sentence,” the St. Louis Democrat wrote on Twitter. “We demand a better way forward. It’s time to respond by transforming our approach to public safety. I’m introducing The People’s Response Act.”
“We’re not just creating one federal health responders unit — we’re going to fund them in cities and towns across the country so that every community can have an alternative to police to call when they need it,” she continued. “We’re making massive investments in our communities through grant programs for community-led, health-based investments in public safety. Safety is housing. Safety is health care. Safety is education. It’s time the People’s House passes a People’s Response.”
If passed, The People’s Response Act, NBC reports, would establish a Division on Community Safety within the Department of Health and Human Services. That division will utilize non-police first responders for emergency situations that involve people with mental health issues, substance use or other health problems. The division will also work to fund research and grant programs that encourage “non-carceral, health-centered investments in public safety.”
“What this will do directly is save lives,” Bush told NBC. “What we will have done is change the culture, removing their crisis care from one that has to deal with law enforcement to one that actually works with the providers that would take care of them normally, people that understand what they’re facing.”
Prior to becoming the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress, Bush worked as a mental health nurse for over 10 years. She said her professional experience showed her the health disparities that mentally ill people face when they’re in a crisis. Activists have long called for a new emergency resource to respond to mentally ill people in crisis, especially following the officer-involved deaths of Walter Wallace Jr., Daniel Prude and many others.
“From the very beginning, my team engaged with local community groups all over the country about this legislation,” Bush said. “People would have meetings and talk about activists and policing and protests, but they wouldn’t bring the actual people on the ground to the table. So that’s something I wanted to make sure I did differently. We have people involved who were locally based in St. Louis and in other parts of the country.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Pramila Jayapal also co-sponsored the bill. It will soon head to Congress for a vote. See Rep. Bush’s tweets below.