When Police Shoot a Man Who Was Stabbing Himself

A suspect in an armed robbery is sitting alone in a police department’s interview room. He takes out a knife and begins cutting himself with it, including his neck.

You would think that the police would recognize this as a mental health crisis, a potential suicide, a situation that demands careful, nonviolent de-escalation techniques to keep everyone safe.

But on Dec. 18 in Minneapolis, officers took another approach, with disastrous results. They tried to use a Taser on 18-year-old Marcus Fischer and then they shot at him. At least one bullet hit and wounded him, leaving Marcus in critical condition.

That response to a suicide attempt is terrifying. By using force, the police made the situation so much more dangerous.

And it wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Of the 14 Minnesotans shot and killed by police officers last year, nearly half were reportedly experiencing a mental health crisis. That matches up with police data from around the country. Going through a mental health crisis puts you at higher risk for police violence.

Just this past summer, Khaleel Thompson was shot multiple times by an officer in Crystal, Minnesota. Khaleel had a history of mental illness that police in Crystal were aware of. Like Marcus, he was left in critical condition.

Marcus and Khaleel are both people of color, making them even more likely to be targets of police violence. Being Black or brown multiplies the risk for people with mental illness or disability.

Both the Minneapolis and Crystal police departments have policies that encourage de-escalation strategies designed to avoid physical confrontation unless immediately necessary. But the policies don’t cover the special considerations necessary when someone is engaging in self-harm.

It is a natural impulse to want to stop someone from hurting themselves. However, when police intervene, they too often rely on their weapons instead of empathy and negotiation. The Police Executive Research Forum recommends that departments prohibit the “use of deadly force against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves.”

In such scenarios, the forum advises police “to exercise considerable discretion to wait as long as necessary so that the situation can be resolved peacefully.” Minneapolis police officers spent less than 10 minutes trying to de-escalate the situation with Marcus. 

The Minneapolis police department is certainly not the only one failing to respond safely to mental health crises — this is a problem across the country. In the past year, police have killed people experiencing mental health crises in California, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington, among other states.

Our police departments must overhaul their training and protocols. A one-day course in de-escalation — like the one prepared for the Minneapolis Police Department — isn’t enough to prepare officers for dealing with mental health crises.

Training officers on crisis intervention should not be left to individual departments. It must be a core part of the curriculum at all police academies. Right now, police academies spend, on average, 15 times more training time on firearms and defensive tactics than on conflict management and mediation. That needs to change. The curricula must be revamped in keeping with approaches like Crisis Intervention Training and Critical Decision Model-Making, which have helped police departments that implemented them properly.

We also have to accept the limits of de-escalation and mental health training for police officers. While these strategies can improve interactions, officers aren’t the most qualified people to respond to a mental health crisis. Along with improving officer training, we must also fund alternatives to using the police to respond to mental health emergencies, like mobile crisis units and other community-based crisis services. Increased access to mental health and crisis response resources would help reduce the number of people experiencing mental health crises in the first place. There is no reason to wait for another person in crisis to be shot.

View comments (18)
Read the Terms of Use

Dr. Timothy Leary

If we legalize marijuana and let everyone smoke it all the time, every day, the police tncluded, these things would not happen, would they ?

Anonymous

Marcus Fischer looks white to me. There is a clear picture of his father in several news stories and he is definitely white with red hair - and an odd, dated, fur coat for some reason. At any rate, he had just confessed to shooting someone during a robbery attempt, was severely wounding himself with a knife, was not affected by the stun gun, and was coming at the officers still armed with the knife. Someone who continues to come at you after you hit them with a stun gun is probably on some serious drugs (like PCP). I would have shot him, too. I'm old enough to remember when PCP was popular and users were known to sometimes rip people apart and have almost super human strength. So, white, armed, dangerous, and possibly on some PCP-type substance. Besides, they didn't kill him and ended up stopping him for hurting himself more. Society might be better off without him, though, and I can say that because he is white.

Anonymous

You are couldn’t be more wrong: Marcus Fischer is black and white, was at work, not on any drugs, and there were many ppl involved in the alleged crime. He had no lawyer, and was obviously pressured into giving a confession. Many of us want to know what those MPD cops said to him, to put him in such a panic: we want the video and the audio of that “questioning” to be released to the public. What those ignorant and incompetent MPD cops did to that teenager, is inhumane.

Anonymous

This is a huge problem where I live also. I live in rural Stephenson county, Illinois. While people know and keep watch of these incidents occurring in major cities,there is absolutely no accountability in this county. People are often silenced to protect their families. If your rights are violated and you dare to speak out or sue them to try to get some justice you and your family become a target. They do this to let others know they better keep quiet and not take any sort of legal action against them. Wrongful arrests, death threats, civil and human rights violations, sexual assault, unnecessary use of excessive force, corrupt Judges, corrupt state's attorney, etc are unfortunately the norm out here.
Someone needs to look into this area and other rural areas that think no one is watching them. Another thing is voter fraud. Often no one wants to vote for officials in Freeport which is the county seat because there's only one person and sometimes no opponent. If there is an opponent citizens don't have the right to vote for them. They are intimidated to vote for "who officials and police want them to." America is not a free country. I'm not so sure it ever was. A lot of this is being brought to the world's attention today as a result of the internet. America is a police state! Be careful and watch your back. This can happen to anyone at anytime even if you don't commit a crime and have no criminal record.

Anonymous

What does it even matter if you are a person of color, if you call the police to report a crime they will most assuredly either arrest or shot you on the spot just for trying to do what's right. If a crime is committed against you and you know who did it do whatever needs to be done and keep the the killer cops wondering why you didn't call them so they couldn't kill you for defending yourself from the criminal and them(cops)

Anonymous

I so agree.

Anonymous

No-win situation, don't blame the cops on this one.

Anonymous

Stop destroying our country ACLU. You are pathetic. Just because you dont understand the reason behind things, doesnt make em wrong. I support the police!

Anonymous

You sound like a policeman yourself covering one of their own when they do wrong. Get your head out of the sand and see what is really going on. Police need to be trained to deal with these situations or call someone who is. In this instance they didn't do as they should have. He didn't need to be shot!

Anonymous

Why do you people love criminals so much? It’s sickening.

Pages

Stay Informed