This Mother Is Holding Multiple Systems Responsible For The Killing Of Her Son

candles that are lit
Zain Murdock
April 18, 2023

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.

It isn’t a coincidence that the hospital where Otieno was killed was infamous for treating "colored persons of unsound mind."  The hospital had a history of abuse and forced sterilization.

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.”