Mental Illness and Societal Barriers

Deborah Danner, a Trailblazer of Disability Rights and Police Reform

An image of Deborah Danner, a black woman with short black and gray hair and glasses, smiling. Behind her image, a light blue box with text: "Police were not trained sufficiently in how to engage the mentally ill in crisis..." - Deborah Danner

July 11, 2023

Trailblazer Tuesday – A reminder each week to honor the pioneers of our history, celebrate the achievements we’ve made to bring us to our present, and to remember there is still so much to do through our daily love, dedication and service. This Trailblazer Tuesday, we spotlight Deborah Danner, a catalyst to law enforcement and societal reformation; and though we still experience these tragedies today, let us remember that it is our responsibility to continue to elevate the voices of people who need to be heard to continue to drive change and the Disability Movement forward.

Deborah Danner wrote an essay that shed light on the dangerous situations faced by people with mental illness when encountering law enforcement. Four years later, Deborah was fatally shot by police during a mental health crisis she was experiencing.

Reports indicate that the police responded to a call regarding Deborah’s behavior. During a confrontation in the police interaction, Debora was shot, tragically ending her life.

In her essay, Deborah recounted her personal struggles with schizophrenia, the “curse” that plagued her life. In one passage, she explicitly addressed the dangers faced by people with mental illness when they come into contact with law enforcement. She stated, “We are all aware of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead.”

She highlighted the lack of sufficient training for officers in dealing with individuals in crisis, stressing that these incidents were not isolated occurrences.

Deborah expressed her experience of living with schizophrenia as traumatic, experiencing a “complete loss of control”. She mourned the stigma attached to mental illness, and the subsequent harm inflicted upon those who experience it.

“Those who don’t suffer believe the worst of those of us who do. We’re treated with suspicion as liars who can’t be trusted to control ourselves. We’re asked to accept less than [our] natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Her powerful words resonate with our community; her death emphasized and was catalyst to the urgent need for change. Her words continue to resound, calling for improved training and understanding within law enforcement and in society when encountering people in mental health crises.

Her story of lived experience and her tragic loss continue to inspire positive change and bring us closer to a society where compassion and support prevail over fear and misunderstanding.

Independent Living, Inc. is part of the Crisis Call Center, a connection to people who can provide telephone support, assessment and a warm connection to services, as needed. The Crisis Mobile Response Team is dispatched alongside law enforcement to connect with our community and de-escalate mental health crises.

Our Peer Support services connect with individuals through engagement, assistance in system navigation and provide ongoing support through the lens of lived experience, providing a comfortable, safe and understanding space for individuals experiencing mental health needs and substance use.

Visit our Mental Health Supports and Services webpage for an extended list of ways we strive to help people with psychiatric disabilities, including risk of homelessness, stigma, connection to supports, relationship building, self-advocacy, goal planning and achievement of independence.

Dial 311 if yourself or anyone else is experiencing a crisis or needs support. Visit the Orange County Crisis Call Center Hope Starts Here website for more information. Call, text or chat with 988 for “free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.”

Disability Rights Trailblazers, Honored and Recognized

Image of Jimmy Lebrecht with text “I had to try to adapt. I had to fit into this world that wasn’t built for me.” – Jimmy Lebrecht Jimmy Lebrecht, Crip Camp
Image of denise jacobson with text - “The ADA was a wonderful achievement. But it was only the tip of the iceberg. You can pass a law but until you can change society’s attitudes, that law won’t mean much.” – Denise Sherer Jacobson Denise Sherer Jacobson, CRip Camp
image of judy heumann with text - I wanna see a feisty group of disabled people around the world…if you don’t respect yourself and if you don’t demand what you believe in for yourself, you’re not gonna get it. Judy Heumann, Crip Camp