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Mother of slain son advocates for alternative responses to the police

Updated: May 8

A woman opens the door to a white van, the back of her shirt reads "Behavioral Crisis Response."
Canopy Roots is working with the City of Minneapolis to provide a Behavioral Crisis Response program.

A mother who lost her son to a mental health episode that involved the police has become a champion for alternatives to police intervention. Amity Dimock says she’s advocating for tailored 911 response teams as a part of the justice she seeks for not only her son, but other “stolen lives.”

“Some people are 100% ‘abolish the police’ – I'm not. I would be, if you can show me what the alternative is going to be. The term I like is ‘appropriate response...’ A mental health situation is going to require a different response than addiction. A sexual violence situation is a different response. A medical situation is a different response to true violence, where we actually need the cops… And I'm down with them [the police] going away. But what are you going to do in place? Because I certainly still need to have somebody to call, and I can't rely on my poor neighbor to do it over there,” said Dimock.

Currently one in four fatal police encounters in the U.S. involves an individual with a mental illness. Dimock’s son, Kobe Dimock-Heisler, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police in August 2019 after his grandparents called 911 to report he had a weapon and could be of danger to himself. Dimock says it wasn’t the first time her family had to call 911 because her son was threatening to harm himself. She says when the police arrived they were asked to leave by the grandparents, who said the situation had been resolved. But Dimock says the police decided to enter anyway.

“They went in, escalated the situation and murdered my son,” claimed Dimock.

In early March Dimock’s wrongful death suit against Brooklyn Center police was dismissed, leaving her with 30 days to appeal or drop the case. 

“And so, I am currently at the position where I have to spend $50,000 that I don't actually have to appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court,’ said Dimock. “But I can't go to my grave without knowing I tried everything. They need to pay on some level. I don't even care what level it is at this point. ” 

Five people stand with fists in the air, looking at the camera.
Amity Dimock (second from right) stands with other activists for public safety reform after speaking with representatives of the Department of Justice.

Dimock says she believes if her son’s call had been met with the proper support that he might still be here. Since his death, Dimock has partnered with Katie Wright, mother of Daunte Wright (who was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Brooklyn Center police in 2021) to launch the “Kobe and Daunte No More Names Initiative.” 

Dimock and Wright are advocating for changes like those recently made by the City of Brooklyn Park. At the beginning of the year Brooklyn Park Police Department partnered with Hennepin County and North Memorial Health to launch a mental health Alternative Response Team (ART). ARTs consist of a social worker and a paramedic who can handle calls police officers may not need to respond to.

Community organization Canopy Roots does something similar with the City of Minneapolis through its Behavioral Crisis Response program. The BCR program provides unarmed, trauma-informed mental health professionals as an alternative to deal with crises that might otherwise draw the police. 

A headshot of a Black woman wearing an off-white blouse and glasses
Canopy Roots Contract Operations Manager Gina Obiri

The BRC program was launched in 2021. Canopy Roots’ Contract Operations Manager Gina Obiri says it was created with community input.

“We had over 8,000 responses to a survey that we put forward. And folks were really saying that they were not comfortable with police responding to mental health and behavioral health situations,” said Obiri. “They wanted to have mental health professionals–-people who have specialized training in these areas to respond to those instances because it's not a crime. And often when police are coming out to those, it can be treated as such. There can be unnecessary arrests. There can be forced hospitalizations when, if there were a more highly trained mental health response, it wouldn't be necessary.”

1 in 10 calls to 911 involve someone experiencing a mental health crisis. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between 2020 and 2022, 62% of the largest 50 cities in the US  developed at least one appropriate response program to offset police involvement in non-violent crises. Obiri says culturally diverse and trauma-informed response teams represent a huge step forward in restoring local reliance on – and trust in – public safety.

“We're limiting communities' contact with law enforcement to prevent situations from getting escalated, from police killings, all of that,” said Obiri. 

Dimock says initiatives like Canopy Roots’ Behavioral Crisis Response program are exactly what is needed to prevent future tragedies like the loss of her son. future tragedies like the loss of her son.

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