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While OKCPD claims Edwards had a weapon, his family states he was having an acute mental health event, not engaging in criminal activity. In OKC, less than 15% of officers are trained in de-escalation techniques and crisis responsiveness for such calls. While the Oklahoma City Police Department webpage shows information about Crisis Intervention Training for officers, the site has not been updated in nearly a year, and the links for CIT training did not work. A phone call to the CIT liaison was not returned.
Now Bennie Edwards joins a long list of Black men killed by the police for the onerous crimes of being Black and having mental health concerns. People experiencing homelessness have more frequent encounters with the police, following an increase in criminal “loitering” laws in public areas. People with mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by police during an encounter. And in just the first 8 months of 2020, over 160 People of Color were killed by the police.
To add to his indignity at the hands of law enforcement, Bennie Edwards’ body was left exposed and uncovered for two hours. This is reminiscent of another innocent Black man who was killed by police, Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, whose body was left on the ground for four hours after his death. Some residents believed Brown’s body was meant to be a warning sign for the St Louis community.
In Oklahoma City, Bennie Edwards was recognized as a local man who often sold flowers on street corners and who was a kind and gentle soul. Local residents responded to his killing by protesting in front of City Hall, where they were then pepper-sprayed by police. Further protests are being planned by the Oklahoma City chapter of Black Lives Matter. Meanwhile, the officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation. The Oklahoma City Police chief defended the officers’ actions, stating that they had to make a quick decision in the interest of public safety.
Now Bennie Edwards joins an exhaustive list of innocent Black men and women killed by the police. Edwards’ niece Ameerah Gaines, who learned of Edwards’ death on social media, said, “Every day I wake up, somebody that looks just like me is becoming a hashtag and it’s getting out of control. Now, it’s my uncle.”