In my moment of crisis, the police didn’t help
Content warning: This story contains textual and graphic references to suicidal ideation, substance use, and sexual assault, and depicts police violence.
Scene: A major street in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with tall, ornate buildings stretching beyond the top of the frame. The streets are empty and quiet because of COVID lockdown.
Narration: Along with the rest of the world, it seemed like 2020 was the closest I’ve gotten so far to hell. Everything around me was dark, hopeless, and painful.
Scene: A clinician’s office. The narrator is sitting, hunched over in a chair. She sits before a psychiatrist, who appears large and imposing behind his office desk.
Narration: A month ago, the Temple University psychiatrist diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. Last April, I was diagnosed with PTSD.
Scene: The night of December 9th, 2020. The narrator is a young, Black woman. She is crying as she looks at photos of friends and family.
In one photo, her father, wearing sunglasses and a cap, is taking a selfie with her younger brother. In another photo, her mother is wrapping her arms around the narrator, pictured as a child. In the third photo is a group of her friends, smiling at the camera.
Narration: I spent most of the year venting to friends and family, and felt like a burden to the people I know and love.
Narration: I was alone in my tiny campus studio apartment when I made the decision to reach out to the National Suicide Hotline.
Scene: The student picks up her smartphone. On the screen, it shows that she has dialed the National Suicide Hotline.
Scene: The room is dark. The student, dressed in plain night clothes, is sitting at the edge of her bed, holding the phone closely to her face.
Student (speaking to the person on the phone): “I want to die right now.”
Narration: [The person at the other end of the line] had the entirety of the next five months of my life in her hands.
Scene: Close-up of the woman at the call center who is talking to the student on the phone. The woman looks agitated.
Narration: She tried to get me to remove the drugs and any possible weapons from my apartment.
Scene: Close-up of the student. Tears in her eyes.
Narration: I told her I did not want to follow through with a plan. I just wanted to focus on talking about dying.
Narration: She eventually brought up the possibility of calling 911.
Scene: The narrator conjures up an image of the police, who look monstrous and aggressive.
Scene: The student, alone in her apartment, looks distressed. She is hunched over on her bed, arms wrapped around herself.
Narration: I told her it was not necessary and I did not feel comfortable with emergency workers having access to me.
She kept assuring me that no one was going to be sent to my apartment, especially not the campus police.
Scene: Outside, a police car is speeding towards the student’s apartment, sirens blaring.
Narration: I told her I didn’t trust people, and did not want strangers in my home.
The sound of the police sirens blasting from the street outside my apartment still rings in my ears.
Narration: I hear a series of loud knocks on my door.
Scene: Three cops, their backs towards the reader, are standing in front of the student’s apartment, pounding on the door. BAM!! BAM!!
Narration: I was immediately met with ten cops standing intimidatingly outside my apartment.
Scene: A large group of monstrous looking police officers are standing outside the doorway.
Scene: The police have surrounded the student, who looks small and afraid.
Narration: “Why are there so many of you?”
Narration: I am a recovering sexual assault survivor.
Scene: A flashback to when the narrator was sexually assaulted. A menacing shadow, hands reaching to grab her, looms over her.
Scene: The police are talking down to the student.
“We got a call from the suicide hotline about a student who was considering taking her life.”
Narration: I told them yes, I was feeling suicidal, but would prefer not to go to the hospital.
Scene: Closeup of the cop, looking cruel and malicious.
He says, “Well you’re going anyway.”
Scene: A closeup of the student, a terrified expression on her face.
Narration: They barged into my apartment.
They forcibly handcuffed me.
Scene: The cops enter the apartment and the student raises her arms in a cross, trying to block them, as she closes her eyes. The cops are grabbing her.
Scene: The student is restrained. She screams out for help as they begin to walk her to the police car.
Scene: Outside the apartment. It is snowing. The student, dressed only in a t-shirt and pajama pants, is being led to the Temple University police car, her head down, being treated as if she is a criminal.
Scene: The student is sitting inside the police car.
Narration: The seat inside the police car was cold and hard.
Narration: But instead of taking me to the hospital right away, for some reason, the police car didn’t move.
I was alone.
Scene: Students are gathering around the police car, whispering and gossiping.
Scene: The cops are standing around the car, by the door where the student is seated. The cops are making jokes and laughing. One of them has their hands in a cross gesture, mockingly imitating how the student tried to defend herself earlier.
Narration: The officers formed a social circle around me, and started talking and laughing about my situation. They made hand motions that imitated the ones I made when I tried to defend myself from them.
Scene: At the hospital, the student is seated at a table with the psychiatrist. She is discussing her situation with the psychiatrist and nurse.
Narration: At the hospital, I was only kept overnight. The doctors and nurses expressed frustration at the way my situation was handled.
Scene: The student is back in her apartment. She is lying in bed, crying.
Narration: For the next five months, I fell into a deeper depression and addiction to Xanax.
Scene: Temple University campus in April. It is Spring, and the trees are blooming.
Scene: A bright office, with no desk. The student is seated by an older Black woman, her new therapist. She is smiling as they converse.
Narration: I was eventually able to find a new therapist to help me process my trauma.
Scene: The student is seated at a small, round table with another student at a coffee shop. She is smiling at him demurely as they look at each other.
Narration: This summer I hit the 2-month sobriety mark, which became 3, then 4. I also met the love of my life.
Scene: The student is looking at herself in the mirror. She is smiling slightly at her reflection.
Narration: It is not impossible to heal. We are not broken.
Narration: I will never be able to wrap my head around the world’s hatred for us. We deserve love, we deserve understanding, and we deserve a system that is going to work with us, not against us.
Editor’s note: This is a true story submitted by a former student at Temple University.