On March 3, 2023, Caroline Ouko called a doctor to send a medical team for her son, 28-year-old Irvo Otieno. It wasn’t the first time.Otieno was on medication for a diagnosed mental illness, and sometimes had a flare-up.
But then a neighbor called the police, and they took him to jail instead of the hospital. Ouko never saw her son again.
For days, Ouko visited the county jail, courtroom, and hospital, trying to find Otieno. Finally on March 7, she found out where he was - Virginia’s Central State Hospital - and that he was dead.
Before his death, Ouko’s son had been in a jail cell, naked, surrounded by feces, and attacked by several deputies. And on March 6, seven police officers and three hospital workers pinned a handcuffed and shackled Otieno to the ground, fatally smothering him.
Police and prisons must be abolished. But hospitals can be violent, too. Any institution that dehumanizes and criminalizes Black people needs to be reassessed and overhauled.
“All the systems failed my son,” said Ouko. “They set a trap for him.”