Far too many emergency calls to 911 for issues ranging from family disturbances to mental health matters to wellness checks turn deadly or result in unnecessary injuries or arrests. Police show up, situations escalate, and before long, violence or arrests break out. But Missouri Rep. Cori Bush is hoping to break that vicious and tragic cycle. Bush has introduced the new “People’s Response Act” to the House in an effort to limit the public’s interactions with police during emergency calls and save lives as a result.
Biba Adams of The Grio has reported that the bill “could transform the way American police officers work in their communities” because it “would fund community systems to respond to mental health emergencies, led by health officials rather than law enforcement.”
“According to Cori Bush’s office, the People’s Response Act would, in part, create a new public safety division within the Department of Health and Human Services to fund and coordinate research, technical assistance and grant programs that would make investments in public safety through approaches that don’t require incarceration,” Adams reported.
In addition to creating a federal first-responders unit to support states and local governments with emergency health crises, Adams reported that the People’s Response Act would also allocate $7.5 billion for state and local community-based public safety. An additional $2.5 billion will go toward hiring “emergency first responders, such as licensed social workers, mental health counselors, substance use counselors and peer support specialists.”
Prior to Bush’s career in politics, the St. Louis native was a mental health nurse for over a decade. Since becoming an elected member of the House of Representatives, she has also been an outspoken proponent of police reform. Those combined factors made her a perfect fit to serve as the lead sponsor of the new legislation.
“When Black people need help, calling 911 too often becomes a death sentence,” Bush said on Twitter while announcing the bill. “We demand a better way forward.”
When people in crisis need help, calling 911 too often becomes a death sentence.
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.
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) June 28, 2021
In an official statement released to provide further details of the bill, Bush said, “Public safety is a public health issue. It’s time our approach reflects that. The People’s Response Act will transform public safety into a system of care rather than criminalization, healing rather than incarceration and prevention rather than policing. We are safer when our communities are well funded, our people are healthy and housed, and our children have nutritious meals, excellent schools and green spaces to play in.”
“Our communities deserve a better response to mental health and substance use crises,” Bush continued. “This new Division would be tasked with creating a trauma-informed federal response unit that can be deployed to communities to support state and local governments in responding to emergency situations, substance use and mental health crises.”
Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Pramila Jayapal of Washington are the bill’s co-sponsors.
“For too long, our flawed approach to public safety has centered criminalization, surveillance and incarceration, rather than care, justice and healing,” Pressley said in a statement. “Our bill would help change that by directing the federal government to take a health-centered approach to public safety and investing in trauma-informed, community-based responses that will truly keep people safe.”
In an interview with Adams at The Grio, Scott Roberts, senior campaign director of criminal justice at Color of Change, called the newly proposed legislation “a powerful counter to the carceral-based policing system that has hurt so many communities and destroyed so many lives.”
“Public safety is a public health issue, and we must finally invest in the services that truly make us safe,” Roberts said. “We urge Congress to join Cori Bush, support this bill and work to create true safety in our communities.”
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