Michelle Shirley, black woman killed by police in California, was open about bipolarism

Michelle Shirley, black woman killed by police in California, was open about bipolarism
Source: MIc/YouTube
Source: MIc/YouTube

Before Michelle Shirley's life ended in a hail of police gunfire in California this week, she was open about her struggles with bipolar disorder. It's unclear if the officers who killed were aware of it.

Police encountered the 39-year-old Shirley on Monday after she was seen driving erratically on the wrong side of a road in Torrance, California, south of Los Angeles, KABC-TV reported. A short chase ended with Shirley's car boxed in by police cruisers; she then accelerated and rammed into a cruiser, as officers fired multiple shots into her car.

A bystander captured on the moment on video.

Shirley died in a local hospital. In life, she was outspoken about her struggles with manic bipolar disorder. As a mother of one, studying in San Diego to become a lawyer, Shirley once disclosed in a video that her illness made achieving her dreams difficult.

"If I could rewind time and go back 10 years, I would have taken my first diagnosis more seriously," she said in a 2011 video by It's Up To Us San Diego, a mental health advocacy group.

Source: YouTube

"I was active in my church. I had my own car and apartment and was working a full-time job while pulling all-nighters to keep my grades up to get into law school," Shirley said, describing a time when things were going well for her.

"But then I started sleeping less and less," she continued. "I started having an overload of creative ideas one after another and I wasn't completing any. I did strange things. One time I went out and just bought a bunch of plants and gave them away. I shaved my head."

Shirley also said that medication helped her control the illness. But family said the incident in Torrance likely meant that she was not on her meds. It was a regular occurrence for Shirley's family to receive phone calls from police informing them that she was behaving erratically or had been hospitalized after a bipolar episode.

On Tuesday, Torrance police Sgt. Paul Kranke said his department received multiple calls about a possibly intoxicated driver, according to the Daily Breeze.

"I don't know what was going through her head as she was driving or trying to get away," her mother, Debra Shirley, said in an interview with the Daily Breeze. "I can't even imagine. But why did they have to kill her?"

The Black Lives Matter Global Network and its Los Angeles chapter reacted to the shooting on social media Wednesday as Shirley's story came to light.

Shirley's mother said she believes police did not have to kill her daughter. "I feel like they paint people of color with a brush that says: 'You're disposable,'" Debra Shirley said in the Daily Breeze interview. "I really feel like police are not equipped to deal with mental illness in the field. Shoot the tires or disable the car."

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Aaron Morrison

Aaron is a Senior Staff Writer for The Movement at Mic. He covers the intersection of race, justice, politics, diversity and civil rights. He has previously written for IB TImes, Miami Herald, The Bergen Record of New Jersey and the Associated Press. Send tips to aaron@mic.com.

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