#BlackLivesMatter: Who Was Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.?

Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. had accidentally triggered his medical alert pendant early one morning five years ago. A former Marine and corrections officer, he had bipolar disorder, as well as arthritis and respiratory illness.

When the medical-alert agency did not get a response from Mr. Chamberlain, it dispatched the police to check on him. Ninety minutes later, after he had been taunted with racial slurs, according to an audiotape, and subdued by both a Taser weapon and beanbag rounds, Mr. Chamberlain, 68, was shot and killed by a bullet from an officer’s .40-caliber pistol.

“At the end, he is saying, ‘Mr. President, I can’t hold them back; they are breaking through,’” said Debra S. Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Chamberlain’s family, which has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of White Plains and the officer who fired the fatal shot.

The shooting of Mr. Chamberlain on Nov. 19, 2011, which the police say was in self-defense, came on the eve of a seeming outbreak of high-profile police shootings of black men across the United States. It also predated a growing debate about police tactics involving emotionally disturbed people.

But now the family of Mr. Chamberlain, who was black and mentally ill, will have its day in federal court next week in a newly charged environment, in which the Black Lives Matter movement has gained notice across the country and protests against the police have focused attention on how law enforcement conducts itself in African-American neighborhoods.

Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. had accidentally triggered his medical alert pendant early one morning five years ago. A former Marine and corrections officer, he had bipolar disorder, as well as arthritis and respiratory illness.

When the medical-alert agency did not get a response from Mr. Chamberlain, it dispatched the police to check on him. Ninety minutes later, after he had been taunted with racial slurs, according to an audiotape, and subdued by both a Taser weapon and beanbag rounds, Mr. Chamberlain, 68, was shot and killed by a bullet from an officer’s .40-caliber pistol.

“At the end, he is saying, ‘Mr. President, I can’t hold them back; they are breaking through,’” said Debra S. Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Chamberlain’s family, which has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of White Plains and the officer who fired the fatal shot.

The shooting of Mr. Chamberlain on Nov. 19, 2011, which the police say was in self-defense, came on the eve of a seeming outbreak of high-profile police shootings of black men across the United States. It also predated a growing debate about police tactics involving emotionally disturbed people.

But now the family of Mr. Chamberlain, who was black and mentally ill, will have its day in federal court next week in a newly charged environment, in which the Black Lives Matter movement has gained notice across the country and protests against the police have focused attention on how law enforcement conducts itself in African-American neighborhoods.

“This represents a pattern of how African-American communities have been policed in our society,” said Nada Khader, executive director of the Wespac Foundation, a nonprofit group in White Plains that says it advocates social justice. “They have been overpoliced and aggressively policed and policed in discriminatory and abusive ways, which would not be tolerated in white communities.”

The lawsuit also accuses White Plains of having failed to establish police guidelines for dealing with emotionally disturbed people, or E.D.P.s as they are known in law-enforcement parlance. Though White Plains did not have established procedures for dealing with emotionally disturbed people at the time of the shooting, New York City did. Yet even when detailed policies are present, as in New York, the police have not always succeeded in de-escalating tense situations involving mentally ill people, which have become one of the most common and fraught calls that officers respond to.

In New York City, the police respond to more than 100,000 calls about emotionally disturbed people a year. Last year, the city instituted a more in-depth training regime for officers on the issue, but so far only a fraction have received it.

While the City of White Plains has introduced new procedures since the killing of Mr. Chamberlain, some advocates say police attitudes need to change as well. Craig Gurian, executive director of the Anti-Discrimination Center, an advocacy group based in New York City, said police departments needed to recruit men and women with a proclivity for patience.

“You need someone who is able to respond immediately,” Mr. Gurian said, “but you also need someone who doesn’t feel that it’s soiling his honor or masculinity to wait for help.”

Randolph M. McLaughlin, one of Mr. Chamberlain’s lawyers and a professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, appeared confident the evidence would lead a jury to conclude that “this wasn’t a fair fight — that Mr. Chamberlain was not a threat when he was shot.”

*Excerpts taken from the New York Times.

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