California’s deplorable treatment of mentally ill people of color

Anita L. Wills, Steven Taylor, African American, mental health issues, posed no threat, Officer Fletcher, Alameda County District Attorney O’Malley, gunned down in California, jails and prisons, Keith Baxter, San Joaquin County Jail, defending himself, Chinese man, Stand Your Ground, hospital, coronavirus pandemic, hospital’s actions, deplorable, infected with the coronavirus, released to the streets, social worker advocating, hospital refused, respite care, wandering the streets, Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton, pneumonia, San Joaquin County Hospital refused, citing HIPPA, anti-dumping law, SB-1152, Hospital Patient Discharge Process: Homeless Patients (2017-2018), traumatized, Saint Mary’s Shelter, violation of patient dumping laws, attacked by four people, charged with assault, no history of violence, no-bail-no-release hold “Black Bail” or a “Black Bounty”, Kyle Rittenhouse, no trial date and no bail, prison, crisis: billions of taxpayers’ dollars, society continues to scapegoat people, mother and aunt located Keith, parole office, no information, 

by Anita L. Wills

On April 20, 2020, Steven Taylor, a 33-year-old African American male, was shot and killed in a Walmart in San Leandro, Calif. Steven had mental health issues and posed no threat when the police entered the store. 

Within 40 seconds of entering the store, Officer Fletcher shot and killed Steven. Officer Fletcher has now been charged with Steven’s murder. This is a first for Alameda County District Attorney O’Malley, who has not charged any officer in the murder of any person of color. 

There are numerous cases where African Americans with mental health issues are gunned down in California. Besides being at risk for being killed by police, many of the African Americans in jails and prisons are in need of mental health care. 

One such person is Keith Baxter, who is now languishing in San Joaquin County Jail after defending himself in an attack by four individuals. California has no Stand Your Ground law that applies to African Americans. 

Recently, a Chinese man pulled a gun on an assailant who attacked an elderly person in Chinatown. He was allowed to use the Stand Your Ground law that is used almost exclusively by whites in California and America. In Keith’s situation, he was not given the right to Stand Your Ground and he wants to know why. 

On March 1, 2020, Keith Baxter, a 54-year-old African American male, entered the San Joaquin County Hospital. Keith, who lived with several other roommates in Stockton, spoke to his mother. who lived in another county. 

By the time his mother arrived to take him to the hospital, he was already there. The hospital was gearing up for the coronavirus pandemic that was just beginning. Keith was one of the first coronavirus cases there and that may be what saved his life. He spent almost two weeks in the ICU before being released by San Joaquin County Hospital. 

During his stay there he was sedated and intubated and his heart, kidneys and lungs were failing. The doctors told his family that he would probably die because his condition was deteriorating. He did not die, but the hospital’s actions after he survived were deplorable. 

Keith survived being infected with the coronavirus. His family was surprised when the social workers at the hospital stated he would be released to the streets. Later, Keith recounted how the social worker went to his hospital room and told him his family wanted nothing to do with them. 

Keith was sent to Saint Mary’s Shelter from Saint Joseph’s Hospital in violation of patient dumping laws.

Keith had been treated at this same hospital previously and had a doctor there. They had to have known that he was mentally ill. He had a social worker advocating for him and the hospital refused to talk to her about Keith’s after care.

The family asked that Keith be sent to respite care and was told by a hospital social worker that was where he would be sent. When his mother left Keith, he was getting his things together and headed for respite care. 

That is not what happened. Instead, Keith wound up wandering the streets without a cell phone or any means of contact. The driver who was supposed to take him to respite care had returned him to the hospital. 

He wandered the streets all night until someone saw him and called an ambulance, and he was sent to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton. Keith had insurance and medical coverage to pay for respite or nursing care, yet he was wandering the streets still drugged from being in the ICU and now had pneumonia. 

San Joaquin County Hospital refused to give the family any information on Keith, citing HIPPA. It was not until a social worker called that the family knew Keith was back in the hospital with COVID-like symptoms. He remained in Saint Joseph’s for over a week and was again released to the streets. 

By this time, Keith’s income was cut off and he lost the housing he had lived at for four years. His mother believed he would be in respite and they could look for a larger place to move Keith to in Alameda County. 

This is what happened, even though there is an anti-dumping law on California’s books: SB-1152, Hospital Patient Discharge Process: Homeless Patients (2017-2018). Keith actually had a home but was traumatized from being in the ICU when he was sent to the streets. 

He begged the hospital to call his family and even though the social worker at Saint Joseph’s and San Joaquin County Hospital had his mother’s contact information, they did not make the call. Believing that Keith was still in the hospital, his mother and family where shocked to learn that he had been arrested and was in the County Jail. 

Keith was sent to Saint Mary’s Shelter from Saint Joseph’s Hospital in violation of patient dumping laws. At Saint Mary’s Shelter he was attacked by four people. He fought back and, because he picked up a stick to fight them off, was charged with assault. 

He was hit in the back with a chair by one of the assailants who was not charged with assault. He fought off four people and was the only one arrested. He was also the only African American involved in the fray. Although Keith has a history of mental illness, he has no history of violence. 

He had no information as to why he was even on parole, who his officer was or how he was to proceed.

Keith is being held in the San Joaquin City Jail on a no-bail-no-release hold, although previously he had a bail of $400,000. This is what we call a “Black Bail” or a “Black Bounty.” 

Kyle Rittenhouse, a white male who shot and killed three people, has a bail of $2 million, while Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd, has a $750,000 bail. Dylann Roof had a $2 million bail after killing nine African Americans in South Carolina. These are white males who had intentions to kill and killed in front of witnesses. They were not mentally ill and fighting against four assailants. 

Keith has been in San Joaquin County Jail for almost a year with no trial date and no bail. He is intelligent and aware that they want to send him to prison. His family has a GoFundMe to secure housing for Keith once he is released. None of the four people Keith is accused of assaulting have shown up for court. 

This is a crisis: billions of taxpayers’ dollars are being used to lock up individuals while little is paid for community mental health services. It is unconscionable that this society continues to scapegoat people who are considered different, whether it is mental health, race, gender or sexual orientation. 

Update 

On March 31, 2021, Keith was released from San Joaquin County Jail at 7 a.m. with no money, resources or place to live. He called his mother in Alameda County from the jail to tell her he was being released. He told her that he did not want to stay at the jail and was going to another location.  

He found his way to a shelter and again called his mother and told her his location. It was not until the afternoon that his mother and aunt located Keith sitting outside of the shelter. 

Keith told his mother that the deputies told him to go to the parole office. They went to the parole office and it was closed, which caused him to panic. He thought they would rearrest him if he did not go to the parole office. 

He had no information as to why he was even on parole, who his officer was or how he was to proceed. Later that week his mother called the office and left a message with the office, which has not returned the call. 

The family continues to seek assistance to help Keith get on his feet and stay out of jail. His clothing, ID, bed and furniture acquired are gone. He is now couch surfing with his mother and nephew, who are looking for housing that will accommodate Keith. He has many health issues that were untreated while he was incarcerated, including mental health issues. For that reason, the GoFundMe for Keith is still accepting donations. 

#FreeThemAll #BlackLivesMatter #ThirteenthAmendment #EndPrisonIndustrialComplex

Anita Wills is a writer, author and activist in the Bay Area who wrote this piece on behalf of her son Keith Baxter. Ms. Wills is co-founder and president of Stand Up N Do Something and a policy outreach leader for Alameda County Fair Chance for Housing. She can be reached at ntawls@gmail.com.