NAACP confronting issues of mental illness in an officer-involved shooting

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Today members of the community gathered for a panel discussion to take a closer look at an officer-involved shooting in Rockford.

"You know it's going to happen again. Shoot first and then ask questions," said Vicky Richard, secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

NAACP’s symposium discussed the fatal officer-involved shooting in December, killing Kerry Blake. A man whose family says struggled with mental illness all his life.

"I know that if he had to look out his house and see a street full of police officers with lights and stuff going on and bullhorns and putting smoke grenades in his house it would not have calmed him down," said Jay Ware, Chairperson, NAACP criminal justice committee.

Ware, along with representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Eliminate Racism confronted many concerns about if police handled this situation correctly.

"Why didn't they let him go to sleep? Why didn't they let his daughter say ' daddy take your medicines it will make you sleep? Nothing has gone on today that we can't solve tomorrow," Ware said.

“I can't wrap my mind around needing a SWAT time when he was unarmed," said Sue Halbrader, criminal justice committee, Eliminate Racism.

Even though many of these questions were left unanswered, NAMI did tackle the topic of mental illness and what families can do to prepare ahead of time for the possibility of this happening to their loved one.

"In general in these situations if the person would have had a caseworker that he connected with and who knew him and his family along with their situation. This incident could have really turned out differently,” said Robin Garvey, former president, NAMI.

Organizers hope this symposium sparked conversation within the community that will show city leaders what needs to be done.

"I fully expect to be able to have a good conversation with the mayor and police chief and all those kinds of people. I fully expect us to have a good comprehensive conversation as we go forward," Ware said.

The Rockford Police Department says due to the fact that the incident is under investigation by an independent agency, the Winnebago Boone County Integrity Task Force cannot comment at this time.