NEW YORK — Five years after New York Police Sgt. Hugh Barry shot and killed 66-year-old Deborah Danner, who suffered from schizophrenia, the police department finally began an internal disciplinary trial Oct. 5 that could result in his firing. It is structured to stretch on for weeks.
Danner’s killing was so outrageous that both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill took their distance from the cop’s actions, hoping to defuse protests that had already broken out. They say Barry ignored existing “protocols” on how to deal with mental health situations.
A security guard at the Bronx housing complex where Danner lived had called for an ambulance Oct. 18, 2016, after neighbors complained that she was screaming in the hallway, as she had during previous outbursts.
Six cops and two emergency medical technicians entered Danner’s unlocked apartment, where she was half dressed, cutting paper with a scissors. Danner demanded the cops leave and she be allowed to speak with an EMT. Barry told her she had to first put down the scissors.
When she did so, instead of letting Danner speak with the EMT, Barry tried to grab her. She got away and picked up a baseball bat. Barry shot her at least twice, with hollow-point bullets that cause maximum internal damage.
Barry went on trial for murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in 2018, but was acquitted on all counts by a judge in a nonjury trial. In New York and other states, any cop who says he feared for his life walks free.
Jennifer Danner, Deborah’s sister, settled a civil suit in the killing in 2018 after the city government agreed to pay her $2 million.
Danner’s death wasn’t the first time New York cops killed people with mental health issues, treating them as criminal elements instead of as someone who is ill and needs help. It wasn’t the last.
Danner herself, in an eloquent article she wrote about the curse of schizophrenia in 2012, spoke about the case of Eleanor Bumpurs, like Danner a Black woman in her late 60s with mental health issues. When cops came to evict Bumpurs from her apartment in a public housing project in 1984 for being late on her rent, they killed her with shotguns, claiming she was a threat because she was waving a kitchen knife.
In 2012 cops shot to death 28-year-old taxi driver and student Mohamed Bah in his own apartment. His mother, Hawa Bah, had called for help after he began acting strangely. “I called 911 to get an ambulance to take him to the hospital,” Bah said in 2017. “The police came instead. Instead of helping him, they treated him like a criminal.”
At least 12 people having a mental health crisis were killed by New York City cops since Danner’s death. One of the most recent was George Zapantis, who died after being stunned with a Taser gun seven times by cops in June 2020, even though he was unarmed.
“The cops’ role in capitalist society, like their entire criminal ‘justice’ system, is to keep workers in our place,” Willie Cotton, Socialist Workers Party candidate for public advocate, told the Militant Oct. 5. “As long as the propertied capitalist families hold power, workers will be viewed as a criminal class. Police ‘reform,’ promoted by the Democrats and Republicans alike, won’t change this essential class reality. That’s why working people need our own party, a labor party, so we can organize in our millions to take political power into our own hands.”