(Warning: Some of the links used open articles that feature the graphic video of Scout Schultz’s shooting.)
I met Scout Schultz at Parkview High School about six years ago.
I was just learning about atheism and agnosticism, and I was eager to connect with other students who wanted to talk about these topics too. I excitedly joined Secular Student Alliance, ready to make friends, and that’s where I met Scout.
They were passionate, patient, good-natured and jaw-droppingly smart. They were one of the most loyal and enthusiastic members. Little did I know, Scout’s contribution to SSA was just the beginning of an incredible journey of compassion and activism.
Scout was president of Georgia Tech’s Pride Alliance and identified as non binary and intersex. They pushed the Tech and Atlanta community to create change. They were majoring in computer engineering at Georgia Tech and were already taking courses for a Master’s Degree in biomedical engineering, with plans to design biomedical devices in the future.
On Saturday night, they were shot in the heart by a police officer and pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Scout called the police to report a threatening figure on Tech’s campus; in fact, they were describing themselves. Scout didn’t have a gun, and the blade on the multi-purpose tool they carried by their side was not extended. Over the course of the confrontation with the campus police, Scout didn’t listen to commands to drop the tool, walked slowly forward and yelled, “Shoot me!”
There were four police officers with guns and one distraught student with an unextended blade. And as the family’s attorney, Chris Stewart, pointed out, the area was secure with no other students or bystanders at risk. Many of us, including Scout’s mother Lynne Schultz, are left wondering why the confrontation had to end in Scout’s death.
“Why didn’t they use some non lethal force, like pepper spray or Tasers?” she asked.
She says that Scout suffered from depression and had attempted suicide two years prior.
We don’t know what was going through Scout’s mind during the events on Saturday. We do know that rates of depression and suicide are particularly high among members of the LGBTQ community. We know that these folks face rejection, fear, shame, ridicule from coworkers, families and community members due to their identity.
According to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report, 40 percent of the respondents reported to have attempted suicide – nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. of 4.6 percent.
Even when transgender folks reach out for help, they can be met with more difficulties. The survey says that one-third of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender, such as being verbally harassed or refused treatment because of their gender identity.
Despite Scout’s history with mental illness, Scout’s mother, Lynne Schultz doesn’t believe her child was attempting a “suicide by cop.”
“People have breakdowns sometimes,” the family’s attorney, Stewart, said. “That doesn’t mean they deserve to die.”
It’s clear to me that Scout was distressed. It’s clear to me that they needed help. They needed to be heard, to be cared for and to be understood. They did not deserve to be shot.
Why wasn’t this clear to Tyler Beck, the campus police officer who shot Scout?
Apparently, Beck had not undergone Crisis Intervention Training, which trains police on how to handle mentally ill suspects. What’s more, school officials confirmed Tech’s police force do not have Tasers.
Essentially, the Georgia Tech Police Department sent an armed officer — with no nonlethal weapons — who was untrained in how to handle mental illness.
I agree with the family’s attorney, Stewart, who said Georgia Tech failed Beck. Police officers, particularly those serving a campus community, must be trained in how to help with those with mental illness. They must be equipped with nonlethal tools and tactics.
According to Duo-Wei Yang, a sophomore at Tech who wrote a piece for the AJC Get Schooled blog, there’s work to be done to make resources more available, accessible and well-known for students who are seeking help at Georgia Tech as well.
As the GBI continues to investigate this tragedy, we need to keep asking the hard questions.
Why was Beck sent, armed with only a gun, to confront a person he was unequipped to help?
Why couldn’t Scout find the mental health services they needed to prevent this tragedy?
If they did turn to these resources, why weren’t they effective?
High suicide rates for college students and members LGBTQ community are a problem across the country. The only way we can create change is by putting pressure on universities to improve their mental health services and to invest in training for their campus police.
If you need to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate:
The Trevor Project Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: ‘1-800-273-TALK (8255)’
Georgia Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225
(from Tech’s Pride Alliance)