The video, which surfaced on Wednesday, begins with the woman inside the Detroit Receiving Hospital, who is clearly disturbed, cursing at officers before one pushes her against the wall. She can be heard spitting, but it isn't clear from the video whether she's aiming it at the officers.
Then, an officer begins punching her, dealing approximately a dozen blows before the woman is taken down a corridor out of the camera's view.
Police in Detroit "have a history of not doing well with mentally ill people, in spite of the training that they have had in dealing with mentally ill people. It's bad," Kenneth Reed of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, told Sputnik News.Detroit Police Chief James Craig called the video "troubling," and "very disturbing" at a Thursday news conference. Craig said the woman spat on hospital staff, bit a security guard twice, and tried to bite the cop who beat her before he started throwing punches. Craig declined to name the officer, who is now under criminal investigation and has been suspended without pay.
"There definitely needs to be new training methods," Reed said. "I'm sure the chief will say this: ‘We have training on how to deal with people with mental illnesses.'"
Nonetheless, Reed said it's apparent from this incident that "the training manual needs to be updated."
The coalition is calling for the officer's firing and demanding that scrutiny of him goes beyond just an investigation. "He definitely needs to be prosecuted, because that was a savage beating," Reed said.
The cop "forfeited his privilege of wearing a badge and carrying a gun and representing the Detroit Police Department and the citizens of Detroit," Reed said. "He forfeited it. We can't have people like that on the streets, because he's beating on people today; what happens if someone makes him mad next week? [He'll] pull out the gun and start shooting?"
Reed said the officer beat the woman "like she was a man in a drunken brawl at the bar." If an officer treats people like that, mentally ill or otherwise, they're "in the wrong profession," Reed added.
The activist group has videos of other people with mental illness being "abused" in that very same hospital, Reed told Sputnik News. But when they've tried to bring the footage to light, their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. "We tried to present this to the local media, and they weren't receptive in terms of doing a story on it, saying it wasn't in their interest to do so. And this was a year and a half ago," Reed said.
The new incident has brought a sudden interest to the issue of police treatment of mentally ill people, "which is a good thing," Reed said. But had the media listened to activists on the ground sooner, "it could have been prevented."
"Make no mistake about it," Reed said.
He indicated that funding for police and funding for services for people with mental illnesses have taken opposite trajectories in the past decades in Detroit.
"There was a time when we had mental health hospitals. There was a policy shift, I guess in 1989 or so, where the funding of the treatment of mental illness was taken away by the then-governor John Engler — his administration. And I guess the legislature played a large role in that as well," Reed said.
Since then, "there's been a de-emphasis on caring for the mentally ill, to the point where they closed facilities, and people who were once hospitalized were basically turned over to the streets," Reed added.
What little funding remains doesn't "rise to the level that is needed to address the issue of mental illness, and these people who suffer from this often don't get the treatment not only that they need, but what they deserve," Reed said.
As the funding for services for people with mental illnesses declined since 1989, funding for police increased through the Clinton, Bush and Obama years, he told Sputnik News.
— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) May 31, 2017
That coincided with an "uptick in violence by police officers towards people not only with mental illness that they may encounter in any given situation, but also there's an uptick in violence by police officers towards people of color in general."
Such a scenario "absolutely" makes people of color who have mental health issues particularly vulnerable to police abuse, Reed said. "We've seen it in far too many instances, where people of color who may have mental illness issues are dealt with far more harshly than people of other ethnic backgrounds."