Black in Bayonne is calling for a better police response to mental health and substance abuse crises following a recent fatal officer-involved shooting in Bayonne.
Black in Bayonne co-founder, Camille High, called for the Bayonne Police Department to meet with mental health organizations, community organizations, and the public to create better de-escalation tactics. High reiterated the need to invest in mental heath services and spread awareness of existing resources.
“There are 18,000 police agencies across the United States, each with its own culture and own perspective on police reform,” High said. “Black in Bayonne believes that it’s time to reexamine the culture of the Bayonne Police Department.”
Rinse and repeat
“There’s a negative connotation that comes with the words police reform,” High said. “I think people believe that when others are calling for police reform, they think it’s a negative thing and it’s really not. It’s just saying that it’s time to re-examine what we have. A lot of police departments have had the same training and the same policies for years. As a new age dawns, rules have to change within society.”
The activist group has met with police leadership, city officials, and the local NAACP in the past. High said it’s a good time to sit down again with the BPD, this time to discuss de-escalation tactics.
“I think this is a perfect example for the Bayonne Police Department to reexamine their training and sit down with organizations within the city, mental health services and other organizations, to see how we can do community policing and de-escalation tactics,” High said. “How can we strengthen ties between the community and the police? How can we create a better system to provide resources to those in the community?”
Spreading the word
High said one of the main goals of Black in Bayonne, in addition to infusing the culture of people of color into the city, is to provide resources to the community.
“The most important thing is making sure the public is aware of the resources that are available to the community,” High said. “This situation might have gone a different way if the mom in the situation had the resources she needed or knew that there were mental health crisis resources within Bayonne.”
A solutions to the information gap is for the the city to provide citizens with a list of mental health services.
“Arming citizens with information is crucial,” High said. “If we don’t provide the community with information, then things will stay the same.”
“If someone calls 9-1-1 for a mental health crisis or substance abuse incident, maybe we can have a possible mental health crisis unit,” High said.
According to High, Bayonne does not have many mental health resources, other than Bayonne Medical Center and Bayonne Mental Health Center. She said the city needs to invest in social programs, nonprofits, and other resources for mental health.
“We need to break the stigma that Bayonne doesn’t have the resources,” High said. “How can the city enhance those missions so that we have those programs within the community?”
High continued: “A lot of people don’t always reach out for help because they feel like they’re going to be judged or be looked at differently.”
With, not against
In the interim, High said Black in Bayonne will continue to work with the BPD and Sergeant Steven Rhodes.
“We fight for inclusivity, and that includes those experiencing substance abuse and mental health crises,” High said. “This incident didn’t just affect one person, it affected us all as a community.”
High continued: “We can condemn everybody all day. But it only takes a conversation to change perspectives.”
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