By Maria Decoteau
On January 27, nine Nashville Police officers murdered 37-year-old Landon Eastep, gunning him down in a fashion similar to a firing squad. The officers surrounded Eastep, who was not a suspect in any crime, in the middle of Interstate 65 as he was experiencing a mental health crisis.
Eastep’s wife, Chelesy, says that he left their house that morning after he woke up “agitated.” Eastep suffered from mental health issues and would sometimes go for walks to help decompress. Police approached Eastep as he was sitting on a guardrail along the highway, and claim that they approached him in order to give him a ride home. Eastep was not under arrest, and was unarmed. Police have tried to blame Eastep’s possession of a box-cutter at the time of the killing as playing a role in escalating the situation.
Bystander footage shows Eastep was standing in the middle of the road as officers surrounded him. The police claim Eastep then pulled a “shiny, silver object” out of his pockets, after which nine police officers began to fire indiscriminately, with an estimated 30 shots fired in the hail of bullets.
One of the officers involved, Brian Murphy, shot two more rounds after Eastep’s body already hit the ground. He is the only officer so far to have been decommissioned. Five other officers with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, identified as James Kidd, Justin Pinkleton, Sean Williams, Edin Plancic, and Sgt. Steve Carrick, have been placed on “administrative duties” while the police department conducts its own investigation. Two other officers on the scene were members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and one was an off-duty officer from Nashville suburb Mt. Juliet.
As of November 2021 Eastep and his wife had been battling eviction from their landlord, and at the time of his death Eastep was struggling to find employment after losing his job. In a press conference, his wife’s attorney shared one of Eastep’s last texts to his wife, “Hey baby, I love you. I just want to tell you good morning, and I hope you have a good day. Thank God we woke up. I love you very much. … I will always have your back and be there when times are hard or one of us is sick. I will always be there for you and just love you with all my heart.”
According to a report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than those without untreated mental illness. This trend is often cited to justify funding more mental health training for officers, or push for expanded mental health treatment generally, but neither proposal will solve the matter. The police exist as the armed enforcers of the imperialist State, to protect private property and oppress the working class and poor, and no amount of training will change this fact. Mental health workers themselves, obligated by their role in imperialist society, often call the police on the people they are ostensibly trying to help, criminalizing the mentally ill and bringing the police’s brutality further upon the people.
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