Former standout Utah State college football star, and for a short time NFL hopeful, De’Von Hall stands accused of the murder of his mother. The story of Hall’s alleged murder of his mother did not make national news until it was revealed that he was a star college football player and an NFL prospect. This was the hook. It elevated Hall’s story from just another of the routine run of the mill incidences of mayhem and violence in black communities that get a line or two on the back page of a local newspaper and then are quickly forgotten. Long before news of the murder hit, Hall was more than just another anonymous black guy accused of murder. I would watch Hall each day walk down the middle of the street in front of my house slowly, in a silent, seeming perpetual daze. He always wore the same clothes and many in the neighborhood was fearful of him. I remember the horror of that night last April when a squad of sheriff deputies, ambulances and paramedics blocked off my street the night of the murder.
I stood on the front porch and watched as the paramedics wheeled his mother into the ambulance. I did not know she was a victim of violence, nor her medical/physical condition. Only later did I learn that she had been murdered. It was brutal, shocking and a jolt to us in the neighborhood. Hall clearly had severe mental health challenges that cried out for help; help that is often beyond the specialized training and resources of families who must cope with the challenge of a family member with a mental disorder the best they can. Hall, however, was no different than thousands of other black men and women who face chronic mental health challenges and desperately need help; help that’s often not forthcoming. Instead they confront an agonizing checklist of barriers: the gross lack of mental health facilities, paltry funding of treatment facilities and programs, law enforcement and courts whose hands are tied from a referral and confinement of a mentally challenged to treatment facilities, the wall of fear and denial about mental health, and even the stigma shame attached to it.
The stark figures tell the depressing tale of the magnitude of mental illness among Americans. According to The National Alliance for Mental Health, one in five have mild to severe mental challenges each year; also, one in five teens experience a severe mental disorder. The tale is grimmer for African-Americans. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. The signs of trouble are almost always there. The most extreme is suicide. More than 40,000 who suffer from mental disorders kill themselves annually. However, there are many other signs, such as chronic depression, marked personality change, excessive anxieties, prolonged depression, excessive anger, hostility, and the almost standard abuse of alcohol or drugs. These are the same warning signs among African-Americans and cause much hand wringing and major stress and frictions in African-American families trying to cope with a family member who has a severe mental disorder. In Hall’s case, the signs were there during his college football playing days, during his stints in the pros, and the years he spent aimlessly on the streets in L.A. and when he walked past my door. His family obviously did the best they could to help this deeply troubled young man.
Yet, these questions still beg answers:
Why did Hall’s coaches and agents not raise the warning bell about Hall and alert authorities that he needed medical and mental health treatment? Why was he routinely shunted from NFL team to NFL team without evaluations to determine his mental state? Why was there no attempt by the NFL or private physicians to determine if Hall suffered the effects of Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)? Why were there no intervention services available to aid the family? Why did the L.A. County Sheriff’s department not refer the family and Hall to available treatment services? These are questions that Hall, his family, and many others deserve answers too. But apart from the colossal tragedy of the family suffering and alleged brutal death that Hall caused, what happens when tragedy hits and the alleged perpetrator who suffers from a mental challenge is not a noted athletic figure or celebrity? We well know the answer. The attention, even compassion, is totally lacking. That’s not a small point, because it assures that the victims remain nameless, faceless figures. And the mental disorder that plagued the family member is chalked up to just another sad case of someone who cracked. It ends there. This didn’t happen with Hall because he was a one-time football star. With countless other families confronted with the awesome challenge of a family member suffering a mental disorder, and with few resources and places to turn for help, this sadly is where the story ends.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is an associate editor of New America Media. His forthcoming book, The Trump Challenge to Black America (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.