Protesters and Mourners Fill City Hall

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About 70 people gathered into the rows of Santa Cruz City Hall on Tuesday night to voice their opinions about the police-involved shooting of Sean Arlt on Oct. 16. Arlt was a Santa Cruz resident, father and poet who had a mental illness.

Over 30 community members, from mental health professionals to houseless individuals to mothers with children who have mental illnesses, all lined up behind the microphone to address the Santa Cruz City Council.

“We are heartbroken. We are stunned by the tragic death of Sean Arlt, a beautiful, beautiful young man who was living with a mental illness. We feel for the police also,” said Carol Williamson, president of Santa Cruz’s National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Three days prior, over 50 people gathered at a vigil for Arlt at the Santa Cruz clock tower. At City Hall, community members expressed feelings of grief and loss but also anger and frustration with both the Santa Cruz Police Department and City Council.

“The death of Sean calls for deep consideration of several questions: Is our law enforcement response to psychiatric crisis working? Is our mental health care system working?” Williamson said.

Williamson was one of many to question the functionality and transparency of city council, while many simply expressed a newfound distrust in the police, especially those like Paula LeRoy, who have children who also have a mental illness.

“It’s not really will [my daughter] have a psychotic break, but when,” LeRoy said. “Sometimes our kids are violent and we need to call in help. I’m really terrified and I don’t think I will next time.”

Many disagreed on what exactly should be done and who is to blame, but nearly all the community members in the audience clapped in agreement to grievances about the need for an increase in mental health resources throughout the city.

“I don’t know for certain whether Sean would still be with us if there was better police training, more accountability or more transparency,” said Steve Pleich, former Santa Cruz City Council candidate and chairperson of Mental Health Client Action Network, “but I do know for an absolute certainty that he would still be with us if we had more access to mental and behavioral health services in our city and in our county.”