White Support For Black Lives Matter Is Falling : Consider This from NPR Daniel Prude died of asphyxia a week after his brother called 911 on March 23. His death was ruled a homicide. Joe Prude told NPR his brother was having a mental health crisis.

Calls like that make up an estimated 20% of police calls. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports that efforts to reform how police respond — with crisis intervention teams — have fallen short.

And as protests for racial justice have continued, public support for the Black Lives Matter movement has fallen — especially among white Americans. NPR's Brian Mann and Elizabeth Baker explain why activists say they need more support from white protesters.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.
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White Support For BLM Falls, And A Key Police Reform Effort Is Coming Up Short

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White Support For BLM Falls, And A Key Police Reform Effort Is Coming Up Short

White Support For BLM Falls, And A Key Police Reform Effort Is Coming Up Short

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On March 23, Joe Prude was worried about his brother Daniel. Daniel had a history of mental illness, so Joe sent him to a psychiatric hospital for help. They released him hours later, and Joe says there wasn't a proper evaluation. Later that night, the two brothers were talking together in Joe's home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOE PRUDE: We was laughing and reminiscing about old days, you know?

CORNISH: Joe then left the room for a moment. And when he returned, his brother Daniel was gone. Because of Daniel's mental health issues, Joe called 911.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

J PRUDE: For a person like that that you love so much to just disappear into thin air - it's like, wow. How did I lose sight of him that quick when I had my whole eye on him the whole time? And in the process, like, of me trying to figure out which way he went, you know, immediately got on the phone with 911.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANIEL PRUDE: Look.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: Get on the ground. Put your hands on your back. Behind your back.

D PRUDE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: Don't move. Don't move.

D PRUDE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: Chill out, man. Don't move, all right, man?

D PRUDE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: Just don't move.

D PRUDE: Yes, sir.

CORNISH: The video was shot from a police bodycam just after 3 a.m. as a light snow was falling in Rochester. Police approached Daniel Prude, who'd been running through the streets naked, incoherent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: Are you Daniel?

D PRUDE: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: Daniel Prude.

CORNISH: Officers put a hood over Prude's head - it's called a spit hood, actually. It's supposed to protect the officers. And here's what followed - the three officers pinned him to the ground, pressing his face into the pavement for two minutes. And Daniel Prude stopped breathing. One week later, he was taken off life support at a local hospital.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

J PRUDE: This is what the outcome - I called them for - to lynch my brother? I didn't call them to come help my brother die. I called them to come help me get my brother some help.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - when you call 911, who shows up? And what are they trained to do? A lot of police departments are asking those questions right now, but many of them are failing to come up with any new answers. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Tuesday, September 22.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. If someone needs help in a mental health or substance abuse crisis, it's often police who respond first. Those situations make up an estimated 20% of police calls. Now, they do not all end up like Daniel Prude's. In his case, a county medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, citing asphyxia due to physical restraint by police and intoxication from the drug PCP as the causes. The officers involved were suspended, and the police chief was fired.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KRYSTAL SCHULIK: We know what happened that night for Mr. Daniel Prude, and we don't want to say any more names.

CORNISH: Krystal Schulik is a drug and alcohol counselor in Rochester. She and other mental health professionals in the city are trying to change how the police respond to crisis calls. Handcuffs and hoods - no. Calm and cool talk - yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCHULIK: Change your tone of voice, your body language. Hell, you might have to get on the ground with them. Give them eye contact. All of that is so important when de-escalating such a scale of an event. He was not well.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: A lot of police departments have tried to change the way they respond to crisis calls in recent years - Rochester's included. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports on why that police department's efforts may have fallen short.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ERIC WESTERVELT: Here's the thing. Rochester police, on paper anyway, have a program that aims to de-escalate confrontations with someone in a mental health meltdown - someone just like Daniel Prude. Rochester created one of New York state's first crisis intervention teams, or CITs, in 2004. The crisis intervention team model came out of Memphis, Tenn., in the late 1980s after police shot a mentally ill man in crisis who was also intoxicated. CIT programs soon spread from Memphis to more than 2,700 police departments across the country. But some of those who've helped create the CIT model and do the trainings today say many police and sheriff departments have deeply misunderstood it.

RON BRUNO: All we have to do is give them a little training and send them out there to handle crisis situations. That's the kind of mentality, the thought process, that we have utilized for way, way too long.

WESTERVELT: That's Ron Bruno, a veteran 25-year police officer who is now executive director of Crisis Intervention Team International. The group runs trainings and works to change the dynamic between police and people in a mental health crisis. Bruno says some departments have done it right, but others see CIT training as merely a check-the-box, one-week exercise. And he says the even bigger breakdown - cities too often fail to create a program and integrate it into the wider behavioral mental health care system. Bruno says crisis teams, when done right, aim to take officers out of responding to mental health calls unless absolutely necessary because the person is actively violent.

BRUNO: We need to build community resources that can respond and take care of a crisis without having law enforcement involved. If we build a crisis response system that is non-law enforcement, we will get more people connecting before it hits that level of danger.

WESTERVELT: But today that's rarely happening. To critics, the way these crisis teams have been built is yet another example of police tinkering with reform but failing to actually make substantive change. And studies show crisis teams are not very effective. An analysis last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law concluded that police crisis intervention teams have helped to reduce arrests of people with a mental illness. But it also concluded the programs too often fail in their fundamental goal to de-escalate and reduce violence. Dr. Renee Binder at UC San Francisco co-authored the study.

RENEE BINDER: It hasn't shown any consistent reduction in the risk of mortality or death during emergency police interactions. So it has not significantly decreased the number of individuals who are killed or injured.

WESTERVELT: Former officer Ron Bruno says the moment is now ripe for departments to examine the real goal of a crisis intervention team - to turn the response over to a specially trained mobile unit. That team can be made up of mental health clinicians, medical professionals and maybe peer support specialists who've been through mental health or drug and alcohol challenges - people who can lend an empathetic ear, de-escalate and channel the person to services, not jail.

BRUNO: All I'm talking about is a non-law enforcement crisis response team. Whatever disciplines you want to make up that team, it works.

WESTERVELT: Only a few cities, including a pioneering program in Eugene, Ore., have created that kind of effective system. Rochester police would not respond to detailed questions about its crisis intervention team or whether any of the officers in the Prude case had any of that training. Last fall, five months before Prude's death, the commander of Rochester's CIT, Sergeant Steve Boily, argued that the program was working well during an interview with local ABC affiliate WHAM. But Sergeant Boily also conceded that additional training wouldn't always be enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BOILY: Some people are too ill, too angry, too violent that, no matter what training, some bad things are going to happen.

WESTERVELT: Some bad things are going to happen now echoes eerily prescient in Rochester, where the police chief has been fired and where Daniel Prude's family is still demanding answers, changes and justice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: NPR's Eric Westervelt.

As protests against police brutality continue, some American attitudes about those protests are beginning to shift. A recent Pew survey found 55% of Americans now express some support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and that's down from 67% in June. Among white Americans, the number dropped from 60% to less than half. But within the racial justice movement, many Black organizers say now is exactly the time for more support from white people, not less. Here's NPR's Brian Mann.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BRIAN MANN: On a street in Rochester, N.Y., earlier this month, police in body armor pressed forward, firing pepper balls at demonstrators. One of the protest's Black leaders shouted orders, directing white marchers to the front.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: If you're a white person, you're getting to the perimeter. You're putting your body on the [expletive] line right now. Thank you.

MANN: This dynamic is happening on streets across the U.S. Protests are diverse, but in many cities, the leadership is overwhelmingly Black. Benjamin O'Keefe is a Black political organizer in Brooklyn, where protests have continued since early June. He says it's good far more white people are embracing the Black Lives Matter movement. But it's also meant a complicated tension with white allies who he says often haven't questioned their own attitudes about race.

BENJAMIN O'KEEFE: Are you really in this? Do you really understand the stakes? Are you here for an Instagram picture, or are you here because you understand that when I walk outside every day, I have a much higher risk of not returning home because of the color of my skin?

MANN: Studies show Black Americans are roughly three times more likely to be killed during an encounter with police compared with white people. Black adults are also five times more likely to say they've been unfairly stopped by police because of their race. This is an experience white demonstrators don't share. So across the country, many Black organizers are addressing this tension, this different experience, head-on.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

CHRISTOPHER COLES: The white folks, allies, accomplices, I'm talking to y'all.

MANN: Christopher Coles, an activist in Rochester, talked to marchers through a bullhorn while a police drone hovered overhead.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

COLES: This is not a video game. For some y'all that come here, you come here because it's an elective. We come here because it's survival.

MANN: Coles voiced a concern you hear a lot among Black leaders - that white allies will march and carry signs and then go back to their lives even if nothing changes to make Black people safer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

COLES: You get to be an ally one day and just white the next. You get to live and lean on your privilege. But if you got privilege, start [expletive] spending it.

MANN: This tension isn't new. During the civil rights era, Black leaders like Charlie Cobb were often leery of white supporters, questioning their commitment and their willingness to be led.

CHARLIE COBB: We were concerned they would assume responsibilities for things we wanted young Black people to assume.

MANN: Cobb was an organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi during the 1960s. He says it worried him when white college students began arriving on buses.

COBB: Such a large number of whites coming down - thought they'd overwhelm the still-fragile roots of the grassroots movement we were trying to build.

MANN: But Cobb says Black leaders then did find ways to lead white activists, making big gains on civil rights. He thinks it's happening again now as white people take to the streets in much larger numbers.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Chanting) Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Daniel Prude.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: (Chanting) Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Daniel Prude.

MANN: Back in Rochester, Kendall Devour is one of thousands of white people across the U.S. who marched this summer for the first time, responding to the deaths of George Floyd, Daniel Prude and others. She says she's learned from Black activists, found ways to fit in.

KENDALL DEVOUR: I just think being a white ally means listening a lot. And sometimes you're going to make mistakes, but you can't get sad and cry about it. You have to just register that there's work to be done.

MANN: This conversation about race is playing out mostly among young people - Black and white - all under huge stress, exhausted and frightened after weeks of confrontation with police. Salome Chimuku, an organizer in Portland, Ore., says it's mostly working.

SALOME CHIMUKU: Whether or not it's always pretty, having these conversations is moving things forward. I think it's going well. The fact that we're still talking about it, the fact that these protests are going past a hundred days shows that it's successful.

MANN: Some cities and state legislatures have responded to these protests with modest police reforms. But many Black organizers say it's not enough. They see this moment as a major reckoning with systemic racism. One test of this movement is whether white supporters will stay with Black activists as they demand more sweeping change.

CORNISH: NPR's Brian Mann. NPR's Elizabeth Baker also contributed to that report.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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