This Lawsuit Exposes DC's Alarming Neglect of Mental Health Crises

washingtondc metro police
Zain Murdock
August 11, 2023

On behalf of nonprofit Bread for the City, the ACLU is suing Washington, DC for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act says government entities cannot deny disabled people equal access to government services and programs. 

But DC consistently sends police to respond to those with mental health disabilities.

DC has a Community Response Team (CRT) through its Department of Behavioral Health. Still, in 2022, they handled less than 1% of mental health emergencies. The lawsuit compares this to the 90% of physical health calls responded to by EMTs and paramedics. 

DC also employs 1,600 EMTs and paramedics and just 44 CRT members. And the consequences have been dangerous.

Cops have used excessive force, sidelined CRT workers, and escalated situations with counterproductive detainment. In one case, CRT arrived, but cops still chose to kill a person in crisis.

Across the country, police have deliberately targeted, dehumanized, and killed Black people in need of psychiatric support. Departments and local governments then underfund, underutilize, and stifle the impact of police alternatives designed to save lives.

The ACLU might win. They might lose. Either way, they’re spotlighting a critical perspective: instead of accepting this as the norm, it’s time to advocate for the humanization and comprehensive care that our people deserve.