Christian Hall should still be alive

by Reggie Shuford

Christian Hall walked to work, but he was studying to take his driver’s test and saving to buy a car. The future seemed bright. But on December 30, 2020, the 19-year-old was in distress and needed help.

According to his family, Christian was depressed about a recent breakup and feeling especially isolated after nine months of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On that fateful December day, state police arrived at a section of I-80 to find Christian in the midst of a mental health crisis. The police claim that they shot Christian as he brandished a gun and approached the officers. But a video filmed by a passing motorist clearly shows that Christian had his hands up and was standing still the moment that police shot and killed him.

And now, the conclusion of an investigation by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office, which was released this week, amounts to a sickening masterclass in victim-blaming and a despicable justification of yet another police killing.

A “classic suicide by cop,” say the report’s investigators. Sickening. And predictable.

Why? Why are we still allowing this madness?

Why are armed agents of the state responding to mental health crises?

Why are we relying on armed agents of the state to perform traffic stops?

Why are armed agents of the state disciplining our children at school?

Conducting wellness checks?

Cosplaying as soldiers of war in response to peaceful protests?

Like Walter Wallace, Jr. in Philadelphia, Ricardo Muñoz in Lancaster, Osaze Ozagie in State College, and far too many others with a similar story, Christian Hall was a person of color who desperately needed help. Instead, police shot him. At a time that is already so painful for Black Americans and Asian Americans, the police killing of Christian, who was of Chinese descent, was just the latest in a long year of traumas.

So what can be done?

First, we must be honest with ourselves. We must be honest about the fact that policing in the United States is rooted in the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow law. We must be honest about the fact that so-called “reforms” to policing — the use of body cameras, a more diverse police force, and anti-bias training — have not stopped and will not stop the violence wrought by police. We must be honest about the fact that organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police too often prevent meaningful accountability when police commit acts of violence. We must acknowledge these realities.

Second, we must get serious about divesting from the police and reinvesting in our communities. By taking a public health approach, mental health professionals will be the first to respond to people in crisis, not armed police officers who are often too quick to resort to violence.

A people-first approach to these and other areas of daily life means shrinking the presence and responsibilities of the police.

Christian Hall should still be alive today. Let’s honor his life by investing in people.

Reggie Shuford is the executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

We are the ACLU’s Pennsylvania affiliate, defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through litigation, advocacy, and community education and outreach.