When Norfolk police shot and killed Willie Demetrius James last week, he became at least the 40th mentally ill person shot by police in Virginia since 2010. Virginia is outpacing the nation in shootings of the mentally ill, reports the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Since 2010, the mentally ill have made up about 40 percent of the 101 fatal police shootings statewide. Across the nation, the Washington Post says, about a quarter of fatal police shootings are of the mentally ill.
The Virginian-Pilot sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all 120 prosecutors (commonwealth’s attorneys) in Virginia and 50 police departments. The Pilot used that information, existing databases and news reports, to create a database of all fatal police shootings since 2010. Six of the mentally ill shot and killed by police were between the ages of 17 and 20. There were 12 mentally ill shot and killed over the age of 50. All but one were men, and police say all had weapons. As funding for mental health treatment has dried up, police have increasingly been called to deal with mentally ill people in crises. That has resulted in a corresponding increase in violent encounters with them.