‘Mic Dispatch’ episode 6: Desmond Phillips; Sky Cubacub
David Phillips and his family sit down with ‘Mic’ in their home in Chico, California. Tarek Turkey/Mic

In this episode of Mic Dispatch, police shooting victim Desmond Phillips’ father, David Phillips, talks to Mic about the aftermath of his son’s death, and correspondent Chantel Simpson visits inclusive fashion designer Sky Cubacub in Chicago.

David Phillips, father of police shooting victim David Phillips: They shot Desmond in the face, they shot him in the mouth, they shot him in the neck. And they shot him — multiple gunshot wounds to the head. That’s what they did to my child.

Natasha Del Toro, anchor, Mic Dispatch: Imagine calling the police to help a family member who’s having a mental health crisis, then the police show up and kill him. That’s what happened to California resident David Phillips, whose son was fatally shot by police. How on earth could this call have gone so wrong? Correspondent Aaron Morrison talks to the family, and we look into how law enforcement often mishandles people with mental health disorders. But, we should warn you: What you’re about to see is very disturbing.

David Phillips: When you call medical help for your child, 15, 16 minutes later, your child laying in the living room with over 16 gunshots in him, you know, something’s wrong. Why did you have to murder him?

Aaron Morrison, correspondent: On March 17, 2017, several police officers in Chico, California, burst through the doors of David Phillips’ family home, responding to the 911 call he placed for mental crisis intervention for his son, 25-year-old Desmond Phillips. But what would happen moments after police arrived is almost unbelievable even for me, a reporter who regularly covers the fallout to police violence.

David Phillips: My son, he suffered from PTSD. The night that he was getting ready to have another mental breakdown, I called the ambulance again, like I did before.

[911 dispatcher: 911, what is your emergency?]

[David Phillips: Yes, I need a ambulance at [redacted], apartment 3.]

[911 dispatcher: What’s going on?]

[David Phillips: My son, he’s — They’ve been here before on him. He’s getting ready to have an episode. It’s mental, I guess.]

David Phillips: So they came in and they said, “Come on, you want to go up to the hospital?” And they grabbed Desmond by his arm, and when they did that, Desmond moved away. So they went outside my door, the fire department and the ambulance, and they were talking about calling the police. When Desmond heard that, Desmond locked the front door. And Desmond went in the kitchen and grabbed two kitchen knives, is what he grabbed. And I called them back and I told them, I said...

[911 dispatcher: 911, what are you reporting?]

[David Phillips: Yes, could you tell the police to step it up here? Because my son, he’s mental and he has a knife.]

[911 dispatcher: I have officers there now. You’re saying your son has a knife?]

[David Phillips: Yeah, he had a knife in his hand a minute ago.]

David Phillips: The door gets kicked in, I heard Desmond scream — from a taser. They tase Desmond, and Desmond did like this. He stiffened up and he was falling and, as he was falling, I seen Officer Fliehr put eight rounds into my son. I was right there at my bedroom door, the police officer was right next to me, and he shot — he was shooting my son so quick that his gun locked when it was empty. And I was hollering “No, no, no!”

[David Phillips: No, no, no, no.]

[911 dispatcher: Stop, stop.]

[David Phillips: No! No, don’t kill my baby!]

[911 dispatcher: Sir, I need you to stay where you are.]

[Officer: Back up, back up!]

[David Phillips: No, I told you he was a —]

[Officer: Back up, back up!]

[David Phillips: Oh God!]

[Officer: Back up!]

[David Phillips: Oh my God!]

[911 dispatcher: Sir.]

[David Phillips: Oh no!]

[911 dispatcher: I need you to stay where you are.]

David Phillips: And… man. When he fell to his death right there, I crawled to my son, he didn’t have nothing in his hand, he didn’t have nothing. I seen a police officer come from the kitchen. That’s when I knew that they had got in and after that, they kicked me and my grandsons out. They kicked us out of here.

Morrison: Out of the house?

David Phillips: Yes, they kicked us out of the house, they told us to get out and they wouldn’t let us back in. They shot Desmond in the face, they shot him in the mouth, they shot him in the neck. And they shot him — multiple gunshot wounds to the head. That’s what they did to my child.

Oqueila Phillips, Desmond Phillips’ sister: We haven’t even really had the chance to grieve, because we have to make sure that we get justice for our brother. So, that alone right there is hard.

Latisha Williams, Desmond Phillips’ sister: I’m not happy like I used to be, I’m more of a angrier person now — even work, even with people. I don’t trust people. I don’t trust white people sometimes. Every now and then I just — I don’t trust police, I’m angry. I’m an angry person. And the pain that I heard in my son’s voice when they called me and said they uncle was shot, and I’m like, “OK, is he alive?” My son went, “No, mama, I think he’s dead.” Just the pain, just right there just broke me down. I don’t know, it’s just, you know — it’s hard.

Morrison: In a press conference, the Butte County prosecutor cleared officers of wrongdoing, because he claimed they saved themselves and the family from a potentially lethal knife attack.

[Michael Ramsey, Butte County district attorney: An immediate response was necessary, and the officers used the best tools and tactics that they had available.]

Oqueila Phillips: If they’re worried about my dad and my nephews, because my brother supposedly had a knife, if they was so concerned about their well-being and their safety, they wouldn’t have shot that many shots, because my dad could’ve died and my nephews could’ve been dead as well. And the neighbors. They shot in the neighbor’s house next door. They didn’t know if they were home. They could’ve been dead, too.

David Phillips: I know that they hit Desmond more than 16 times. Like I said, the DA said 11 times Desmond was hit. The hospital says 10, the coroner’s office said 12, then we find extra bullet casings here. You know, he accounted for 17, but there’s extra bullets. There’s more than 17 bullet shells.

David Phillips, pointing to photos in his home: Oh, that was at my birthday party. My kids threw a surprise party for me. This is Desmond right there in the white, and that’s actually the shirt, one of the shirts that he was wearing when he was murdered that night. This, we went to Virginia City. I took him when they were little kids. Yeah, he was a beautiful kid, man. They just … it’s sad. And these kids here, they used to want to be police officers. I mean, they were like — to grow up, you know when you’re a kid, you say, “Well, what do you want to do when you grow up?” “I want to be a fireman or a police officer.” They don’t want to be a police officer now. They’re scared of ’em. And that’s a shame. They’re only 9 years old.

Williams: I just want them to know that they loved by their family and feel safe to walk around in the community. Kids are not — They’re taught to be racist, they’re not taught to be … you know, kids don’t know what color is until somebody teaches it to them.

Oqueila Phillips: Yeah, we don’t want our kids to live in fear.

Williams: But the truth of the matter is, the way it is, it’s like that.

Oqueila Phillips: Yeah.

Williams: So we have to keep them aware of, “This is who you are.” Stay true to who you are, but, you know, still love and respect people.

Oqueila Phillips: But stay aware of your surroundings at the same time, too.

Williams: Exactly.

David Phillips: I’m not going to stop until there is justice for Desmond. And when we do get justice for Desmond, my fight isn’t over, you know. I’m fighting for other families, but most importantly, I’m fighting for, again, some laws changed, petitions signed, you know, crisis intervention team training. I want Desmond to be proud of me, and I know that he knows his dad, his sisters, his nephews, that we’re not going to stop. He knows that we’re going to fight till the bitter end.

Del Toro: I’m here today with Dr. Erica King-Toler, who’s an assistant professor at the John J. College for criminal justice. You just watched this piece. What could have happened, what should have happened differently?

Erica King-Toler, assistant professor, John Jay College for criminal justice: When you look back over things and you go back and you try and analyze what happened, it is very difficult, because we were not there in the moment. What would happen if we just stop and assess and see what are his symptoms? What is he, what are you, what is the family observing? What is happening? And then go forward. I wonder, could the outcome have been different?

Del Toro: And what are the kinds of mental health issues that police encounter when they go — you know, they get called to go to somebody’s home?

King-Toler: So one of the things that police are often called for are domestic violence situations. But then it could be something else. In Desmond’s case, he had PTSD, where he might become frightened, because he hears a loud noise or there’s a threat of reliving an instance, which had happened to him before.

Del Toro: And what does — we talk about CIT training, which stands for crisis intervention team training — what does that training look like across the country?

King-Toler: Mental health providers go in and they work directly with law enforcement officers to help them to gain some understanding and insight about the community that they’re policing in, to help them to gain some insight into the mental health disorders that they might — and symptoms that they might come across. It’s voluntary. It’s not required. All officers are not required to participate in CIT.

Del Toro: Should they be?

King-Toler: I believe they should.

Del Toro: And do you have a sense of how often this happens, that the police get called to deal with somebody that’s having some sort of mental health crisis and then they end up — that person ends up getting shot and killed?

King-Toler: It happens more often than we can imagine. Three hundred and seventy-five people of 500 are shot by the police each year who have some sort of mental illness.

Del Toro: Three hundred and seventy-five...

King-Toler: Of 500 that are shot.

Del Toro: That’s a lot.

King-Toler: I think so.

Del Toro: So do you think as it currently stands that this training is enough to prevent an officer from using excessive or deadly force?

King-Toler: As mental health providers, we’re encouraging the police to see themselves in that person. And if you are not able to do that, then it becomes very difficult to then exercise some level of restraint if there is not a physical threat of being shot, stabbed or killed in some way.

Del Toro: Well, thank you so much. This is such a fascinating topic. And now, for our next story. Earlier this month, American Eagle revealed campaign photos for their new #AerieREAL line, which featured models living with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The British brand ASOS followed suit, designing a jumpsuit that’s made for people who use wheelchairs. Now, people are taking note because the fashion industry hasn’t always been exactly inclusive of underrepresented identities — particularly those with disabilities. Chantel Simpson traveled to Chicago to meet with the Radical Visibility Collective, who are looking to push the boundaries of inclusive fashion even further.

Sky Cubacub, designer, Rebirth Garments: Everybody has intersectional identities, but so much of the time, you have to leave one of those identities at the door. I really want to have people recognize the intersections in their own identities so that they can also empathize with folks with different kinds of intersections. When I’m working on my clothing line, I’m trying to undo the damage that society has done on their minds.

Chantel Simpson, correspondent: Sky Cubacub is the head designer of Rebirth Garments, a clothing line that caters to all genders, all sizes and all abilities. I stopped by one of their fashion shows at Hollywood Beach in Chicago.

Simpson, to Cubacub: So Sky, what should we be expecting today?

Cubacub: We’re all just going to be dancing in our clothing that I just brought for people to pick through. Usually I make outfits very specifically for each model, but this is a more looser, like, freeform show than usual.

Simpson: Rebirth Garments is the embodiment of a larger ethos that challenges society’s current definition of inclusivity.

Cubacub: Folks really desexualize folks with disabilities. “Well, there aren’t queers with disabilities because, you know, disabled folks are not sexual.” They like to infantilize disabled folks, just like regular society has infantilized many other kinds of identities in order to get power over them. I’m a queer person with disabilities. I have, like, stomach disorders. I have anxiety disorders for my whole life. So when I first started my clothing line, I thought that the ideology behind it should be just as important as the aesthetics. Making clothing for queers with disabilities, whether they’re physical or less apparent, getting to totally custom tailor it to your body and adapt it to whatever needs that you have, but also look really cute and sexy and brightly colored so that people can’t ignore you.

Simpson: Right.

Simpson (voiceover): Most of Cubacub’s garments are custom made and tailored to each wearer’s needs and desires.

Jerico Domingo, Cubacub’s friend: The process of actually starting a garment is an interview. And so Sky not only measures all their models, but they also ask, “What do you feel most comfortable in?” “What are the different parts of your body that you want to highlight, accentuate?” or, “What do you want to hide?” Also points of accessibility if like you’re in a wheelchair or something like that.

[Cubacub, to Simpson: What kinds of garments do you like to wear already?]

[Simpson: I like crop tops.]

[Cubacub: Cool, cool.]

[Simpson: I have a very short torso, so those work well for me.]

[Cubacub: Cool.]

[Simpson: I love the color blue.]

[Cubacub: Cool. cool.]

[Simpson: And I love like black-and-white patterns.]

[Cubacub: Ooh, yeah.]

[Simpson: OK.]

[Cubacub: What would affirm your gender identity most?]

[Simpson: Like more feminine touches.]

[Cubacub: Yeah, yeah.]

Cubacub: I have made stuff for folks with diabetes who wear a insulin pump, like putting little pockets or having little holes. Any of my clothing can be made with the seams on the outside for folks who have sensory sensitivities.

Simpson: After a residency at the Evanston Art Center this past March, Sky teamed up with local artists Compton Q and Vogds to launch the Radical Visibility Collective, which combines music and fashion in a way not seen before.

Vogds, musician: We just decided to make a 25-piece line and original music for that line to visually describe the garments to make it visually accessible for people with visual impairments.

Simpson: How would you describe the shows that you guys put on?

Compton Q, artist: We just want to have fun. And we want everybody to feel like they can express themselves however they want. They’re not like very, like, traditional shows where someone just walks down a runway and walks back and they’re supposed to kind of just be like a blank slate for the clothing to be on. Like you can’t not interact with what you’re wearing and the people around you.

[Cubacub: All of us line up in an order that you want to go in. So each person go out and dance for 45 seconds and then stay out —]

Domingo: We need this collective and fashion line because it’s a celebration of those on the outskirts of society. And a lot of the narratives that have been mainstream are, like, suffering or death. What Sky’s doing and what the Radical Visibility Collective is doing is that, that isn’t the only narrative. We can celebrate ourselves. We can thrive. We can survive. We can live.

Cubacub: Yay! Oh, that’s such a cute crop top on you.

It is really cute. I love it.

Cubacub: And the shorts are perfect.

Yeah.

Cubacub: Nice. Yes!

I find it hard to find clothing that fits.

Cubacub: Yeah, yeah. Visually I was like, “You’re about my size.”

Yeah.

Cubacub: Ooh, do you want an accessory?

Yes.

Cubacub: We could use this big black-and-white pattern like stole.

Simpson: Wow.

Cubacub: Yes.

Domingo: Tens across the board. Let’s go, yes, walk, walk. Gimme that ****. Gimme that, gimme that kitty cat. Gimme that, yes.

Gabriel Anaya, Cubacub’s friend: It does feel like the future when you’re around Sky. Rebirth is at the beginning of this incredible renaissance in Chicago, culturally speaking. Most people just — they don’t think that fashion is profound. But I feel like Rebirth, Sky, Radical Visibility is really adding the depth to fashion that is so necessary.

Cubacub: The main thing I want in life is that the message gets out. I don’t really care if people buy my clothing. It’s more about like, yeah, accepting queers with disabilities who are of every size.

Del Toro: And that’s it for this episode of Mic Dispatch. Please be sure to follow our show page, and you can stay up to date on all of our latest episodes. Thanks for watching, and see you next time.

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