Why is Scout dead?

Damián Reyes Rodriguez reports on the angry protests and searching questions that followed after the death of a Georgia Tech student who was shot by campus police.

Scout Schultz leads a protest at Georgia Tech (GT Progressive Student Alliance | Facebook)Scout Schultz leads a protest at Georgia Tech (GT Progressive Student Alliance | Facebook)

SCOUT SCHULTZ, a 21-year-old computer engineering major, was shot in the chest by a Georgia Tech police officer while the student was undergoing a mental health crisis at night on September 16, and died on the way to the hospital.

Scout, who was the president of Pride Alliance--the student organization dedicated to advocating for the LGBTQIA population at Georgia Tech--identified as non-binary (not falling into either "male" or "female" gender categories) and intersex, and used "they/them" pronouns. Scout had left-leaning convictions and had become more radicalized and politically active in the last year, expressing sympathy with anti-fascist organizations.

Scout's death is raising questions about the lack of resources for students who need mental health care and other support, as well as questions about why Georgia Tech police decided to shoot a student who needed help.

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ACCORDING TO reports, at 11:33 p.m., Georgia Tech police activated emergency protocols and sent a mass alert to all students warning that there was a campus emergency, and students immediately should seek shelter until further notice.

Prior to their death, Scout was roaming around the street near their dormitory on campus, before being cornered by multiple police officers. Scout reportedly was holding a multipurpose pocket tool, which contained a small blade that was not open during the standoff.

Their tragic death was recorded by witnesses, and it seems evident that the outcome was preventable.

Scout was experiencing a mental health crisis, reportedly telling the officers that surrounded them at gunpoint, "Shoot me!" What was needed was a compassionate response de-escalating the situation. Instead, police shot the student.

Information disclosed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) indicates that Scout had called 911 themselves, reporting a potentially armed suspect that matched their own physical description. The GBI also stated that officer Tyler Beck, who killed Scout, had not ever received training to deal with people in the midst of a mental health crisis. Scout's family is suing the police department, and the officer has been put on administrative leave.

In the mainstream media and social networks, Scout's death is being labeled as "suicide by cop." But this explanation leaves Georgia Tech administrators and police off the hook.

That Scout intended to provoke a disproportionately violent reaction from the cops may very well be true. But it is also true that Georgia Tech cops carry guns and not Tasers, and their emergency protocols are designed to deal with "terrorists," not students in distress--a reflection of the increasing militarization of police departments across the country in the last two decades.

It is also true that the Georgia Tech has systematically underfunded mental health resources for the student population. According to the campus Progressive Student Alliance, there is only one mental health counselor for every 2,500 students, and students are capped at 16 counseling sessions after they make it off a long waiting list.

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TWO DAYS after Scout's death, Georgia Tech's Pride Alliance and Progressive Student Alliance organized a candlelight vigil in memory of Scout.

After the vigil, more than 50 people decided to march through campus toward the Georgia Tech Police Department. A confrontation with police officers ensued, and after some arrests, protesters lighted fireworks and reportedly directed them at a police patrol van, setting it on fire.

The campus was put on lockdown again, as protesters were dispersed. Three people were arrested and now are being prosecuted for aggravated assault, inciting rioting and other charges.

Georgia Tech President "Bud" Peterson was quick to react, shifting the focus away from Scout's murder and toward the skirmishes. Peterson issued a call to close ranks to "come together and support one another" and be "grateful for our students, faculty, staff, campus leaders, and for our campus police" while condemning the "outside agitators intent on disrupting the event."

On September 21, the Progressive Student Alliance announced the beginning of a campaign called "Scout Ahead," with plans for an initial protest on October 5. At the same time, the group has issued a list of demands to the administration in three areas: mental health services, LGBTQIA resources and police reform.

These demands include increased funding for mental health programs; increased staffing for uncapped counseling services; gender-inclusive housing; gender-neutral bathrooms and facilities; name-change procedures for official documentations; specialized insurance coverage for the needs of LGBTQIA people; immediate equipment of campus police with non-lethal weapons and mandatory training for mental-health crisis response; and monthly town hall meetings with the chief of the police department.

Scout Schultz did not need to die--and Georgia Tech students are fighting to win justice for Scout and to ensure that their death can help bring much-needed change.