US university police kill student suffering from depression

20 September 2017 - 11:53 By AFP
Schultz, 21, was a gay rights activist on Georgia Tech's campus, where he headed the university's Pride Alliance.
Schultz, 21, was a gay rights activist on Georgia Tech's campus, where he headed the university's Pride Alliance.
Image: philanthropy.gatech.edu

The police killing of a university student suffering from depression has sparked unrest on campus and opened another chapter in the debate over use of deadly force by American law enforcement.

Scout Schultz, a fourth-year computer engineering student in the US state of Georgia, did not pose an immediate danger to police and instead needed help, but was gunned down nonetheless, according to his family.

Schultz, 21, was a gay rights activist on Georgia Tech's campus, where he headed the university's Pride Alliance.

According to his family, Schultz did well academically, but paid a price for his dedication to his studies and his activism, spending last summer fighting bouts of depression.

On Saturday evening, Schultz left three suicide notes in his room and called the 911 emergency line, reporting a suspicious person on campus and giving his own description, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

Schultz described the person as holding a knife and possibly being armed with a gun, GBI said.

Police found Schultz outside a university residence, walking barefoot and apparently very disoriented.

An amateur video of the incident shows police ordering Schultz to drop a knife, to which the student responds: "Shoot me!"

As Schultz continues to advance, the tense confrontation ends with a gunshot fired by police, followed by the cries of the mortally wounded student.

Georgia Tech said police officers found Schultz with "a weapon" and that the student refused to drop it.

But the attorney for the family, L. Chris Stewart, said Schultz was holding a closed multi-tool and did not pose any immediate danger.

Campus unrest

"The multi-purpose tool in Scout's possession did not have the blade out. The family now wonders where the narrative came from that Scout was wielding a knife and was a danger to officers," Stewart said in a statement.

"It's tragic that as Scout was battling mental health issues that pushed them to the edge of desperation, their life was taken with a bullet rather than saved with non-lethal force," Stewart said.

The shooting is just one of many in which American police have killed mentally ill people who refused to comply with orders.

The problem persists despite the prevalence of non-lethal options such as stun guns that can still subdue a suspect without resulting in death.

Schultz's death sparked an outpouring of emotion on campus, which resulted in clashes on Monday night.

After a vigil for the slain student, "a group of approximately 50 protestors marched to the Georgia Tech Police Department. One police vehicle was damaged and two officers suffered minor injuries," the university said.

Georgia Tech instructed students to stay inside during the unrest, but later announced that "the campus has been cleared of any threats."

Schultz refused to be identified by the pronouns "he" or "she," instead preferring the gender-neutral "they," which the Pride Alliance used in a statement mourning its president's death.

"They pushed us to do more events and a larger variety events, and we would not be the organization we are known as without their constant hard work and dedication," it said.

"Scout always reminded us to think critically about the intersection of identities and how a multitude of factors play into one's experience on Tech's campus and beyond."

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