I didn’t — until a few days ago when I saw her name on a protest sign. Unarmed, she was killed by members of the Cleveland Police Department in November, 2014. She was black. The officers were white. Say her name: Tanisha Anderson.
Does this story ring a bell? Were people outside of Cleveland taking to the streets? Possibly, it just didn’t get much coverage, like so many others. There was no viral video, little national outrage that I remember. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention.
How can so many deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers – killings of unarmed persons of color – stay virtually invisible, or not lead to major reforms? In Ms. Anderson’s case, was it because she had a mental illness? Maybe an agitated person with a mental illness, even with no weapon, gets killed by police and it’s not all that newsworthy.
I don’t know.
I do know that our country has a 400+ year history of racism. And while I am NOT anti-cop, I also know that even in the age of cell phone videos, excessive use of force by police goes unreported and that cops are protected by the well-developed structures in place.
Tanisha Anderson was having a “mental health episode” when officers responded. I personally know many people who have had these kinds of episodes, sometimes resulting in police involvement.
I think of my late friend Christine, a survivor of unspeakable abuse as a child and young adult and who experienced takedowns by police as well as staff in psychiatric hospitals. She suffered some severe injuries.
I think of Tony Robinson, unarmed, killed by police here in Madison. He was 19 years old. He was having an “episode” as well. Acting erratically. Drugs were involved. He was shot by Officer Matt Kenny seven times at close range, and no charges were filed.
For people like Tanisha and Christine and Tony – people who don’t want to hurt anyone or commit violent crimes – we need to change the response. Some communities are using crisis intervention teams that include non-police trained in helping deescalate the person. More communities need more of this approach.
Tanisha Anderson died on November 12, 2014. One of the officers kneeled on her back during a takedown move. Her death was ruled a homicide by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.
Her family eventually received a $2.25 million settlement from the city of Cleveland. The Ohio Attorney General said there would be no criminal charges brought against the police officers involved.
Some of you who read this might remember the incident, just as many of us remember victims like Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, and others. If you don’t, I’m curious: Is it because Ms. Anderson was a woman? Because she was black? Because she had a mental illness?
I hope the death of George Floyd and the massive protests it has spawned finally lead to needed structural changes. The list of black and brown people memorialized with hashtags keeps growing, so far with no real change in policing practices. It is tragic, horrifying, disgraceful.
Maybe enough of us have had enough. Maybe real change will happen. But it’s too late for Tanisha Anderson. Let’s say her name. And let’s work for change in her name.