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In the Poconos, calls for justice for Pa. teen fatally shot by State Police | Wednesday Morning Coffee

April 14, 2021 7:20 am

A Pennsylvania State Police Ford Interceptor (Raymond Wambsgans/Flickr)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With the eyes of the nation on Minnesota this week with the twin dramas of the ongoing criminal trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin and the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a Pennsylvania community also finds itself facing a reckoning over the use of deadly force by police.

Family and supporters of Christian Hall, an Asian-American teen fatally shot during a confrontation with the Pennsylvania State Police on an Interstate 80 overpass in the Poconos last December, say they’re launching two initiatives that they hope will lead to better outcomes in mental health emergencies than the one that ended with Hall’s death.

According to published reports, Hall, 19, was in crisis and had anonymously called 911 to report a potentially suicidal person. And “while he was carrying a realistic-looking pellet gun, dash-cam footage shows his hands raised with the weapon pointed up and away prior to being shot. The deadly use of force was ruled justified by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office,” the Pocono Record reported.

Despite that official ruling, activists say questions about Hall’s death still need to be answered. They include who gave the order to shoot and why. And why did a State Police statement say Hall “pointed his gun at troopers” when the video evidence disproves that, Treandous “T.C” Cuthbertson, of the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition, told the Pocono Record.

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

Reps. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, and Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, told supporters at a rally in Philadelphia last weekend that they’re drafting legislative language establishing a commission to “investigate the impacts of alternative approaches to armed police response” in mental health situations, the Pocono Record reported.

A spokesperson for Madden told the Capital-Star on Tuesday that the two lawmakers are continuing their work, and have not yet begun circulating the customary memo seeking co-sponsors for their proposal, which could be introduced as either a bill or a resolution.

Hall’s family have said they’re establishing a foundation in their late loved one’s name aimed at fighting racism, working on adoptee mental health, reforming how mental health issues are handled by police, and reforming juvenile justice, the newspaper reported.

According to the Pocono RecordHall was “adopted from China as a baby by Fe and Gareth Hall. During the press conference announcing the DA’s ruling on the use of force, [Monroe County] First Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso referenced Hall’s juvenile record,” which is sealed.

At that rally outside Philadelphia City Hall last weekend, Hall’s cousin, Nicole Henriquez, called for release of  “the unedited, full video,” of the moments before police shot Hall. Speakers at the rally also called for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to investigate the incident.

And while some of the officers who responded to that incident on the overpass last December had specialized mental health training, Madden told the Pocono Record that a mental health professional would have been better suited to try calm Hall before the situation tragically escalated.

On that broader question, the public agrees.

Two-thirds of likely voters in a recent poll by Data for Progress, a progressive think-tank, and The Appeala criminal justice news website, say they’d support reallocating funding that now goes to law enforcement agencies to create non-police first responders who would handle emergency calls dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse disorders, health and safety check-ins and people experiencing homelessness.

That support cuts across party lines, with 80 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of Republicans, and 60 percent of independent or third party voters saying they’d support such a change, The Appeal reported on April 8. Pollsters sampled the opinions of 1,429 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents, for an overall margin of error of 3 percent.

Across the country “momentum is building to prevent these tragedies by developing non-police programs that respond to mental health and substance use disorder crises as well as issues faced by unhoused people and more general safety checks,” pollsters wrote in an accompanying memo.

(Source: The Appeal)

Madden, the state lawmaker, told the Pocono Record that every police department should have access to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

“We can’t afford that to ensure that people with mental illness don’t get killed because they’re thinking about ending their lives?” Madden told the Pocono Record.

Hall’s parents, meanwhile, are left to pick up the pieces from their son’s death. The young man’s jacket and video game controllers remain where he last left them, the newspaper reported.

“When bullets ended my son’s life, my life ended too,” Fe HallHall’s mother said, according to the Pocono Record. “We eat our meals on the couch, staring at the TV. We cannot sit at the kitchen table or the dining room because there is an empty chair.”

As is the case with every tragedy, the Halls’ pain is uniquely their own. But their story is all-too familiar for far too many American families. It’s within the power of policymakers to break this cycle.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Pennsylvania’s cyber-charter schools saw an explosion in enrollment during the pandemic — which means school districts saw their tuition bills skyrocket, too, leading traditional public school advocates to renew their calls for the state to more closely scrutinize the cost of cyber-charters, which perennially log some of the lowest academic performance in the commonwealth. Elizabeth Hardison breaks it all down in our lead story.

Pennsylvania has joined the national pause on administering the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine. Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison have the details at the state level. And nationally, a University of Virginia immunologist, writing for The Conversationboils down what you need to know about this very important story.

As it makes its pitch for its $2 trillion infrastructure plan, the Biden administration is selling states on what they’ll gain from the massive spending package. Pennsylvania, which gets a C-minus from the administration for the state of its infrastructure, has a lot to gain. Capital-Star Washington Reporter Laura Olson, with an assist from your humble newsletter author, has the details.

During a stop in West Philadelphia on Monday, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner says the resumption of programs and services, post-pandemic, will be key to quelling an epidemic of gun violence in the city, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

And our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News introduce you to Erik Larsen, the new deputy director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Fletcher McClellan says reaching political consensus on a 9/11-style commission on the Capitol insurrection will be tough, but it’s work that must be done. And state Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller says a program that feeds hungry Pennsylvanians could be an unintended casualty of a proposed constitutional amendment seeking to trim the emergency powers of Gov. Tom Wolf and his successors.

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Elsewhere.
Philadelphia’s public schools lose more money to tax breaks than any other district in the country, the Inquirer reports.
Protesters took to the streets in Pittsburgh after the Minnesota police officer who shot Daunte Wright resigned, the Tribune-Review reports.
PennLive lists the warning signs you should look for if you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Lancaster City’s Council is calling for the ‘prompt’ creation of a county health departmentLancasterOnline reports.
The Morning Call looks at how the Johnson & Johnson pause will affect the Lehigh Valley’s expanded vaccine rollout.
Pinnacle Treatment Centers are seeking zoning approval for a methadone clinic in Luzerne County, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Some 150 protesters in Philadelphia demanded justice for Daunte Wright, WHYY-FM reports.
The lure of cash from mobile sports betting is tempting many states — including Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
Migrant children have arrived in the Erie area from the southern border, GoErie reports.
During an appearance Monday, Lt. Gov John Fetterman urged students at California University to get involved in politics, the Observer-Reporter reports.
Stateline examines how the pandemic has exacerbated tensions between states and cities
Philadelphia physician Dr. Kevin Baumlin has joined the Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate, PoliticsPA reports.
Roll Call explains how a sense of urgency has created a path to passage for AAPI hate crimes legislation in the U.S. Senate.

What Goes On.
10 a.m., 205 Ryan:
 House Labor & Industry Committee
1 p.m., 160 Cassell Road, Harleysville, Pa.: Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
5:30 p.m.:
 Reception for Dauphin County judicial candidate Jeff Engle
6 p.m.: Zoom reception for state Senate candidate Marty Flynn
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out an even $2,000 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Have a birthday coming up that you’d like noted in this space? Email me at [email protected].

Everything Delicious Dept.
Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper run down the latest in food news in the Steel City, including a new hibachi food truck … which sounds pretty fantastic.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old favorite from power-poppers Orson, from c. 2006, or thereabouts. It’s ‘No Tomorrow.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Baltimore’s losing skid continues. The Os dropped a 7-6 decision to Seattle on Tuesday.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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