Say Amen, somebody

4/6/2023, 6 p.m.
In delivering the eulogy for Irvo Otieno’s funeral on March 29 at Richmond’s First Baptist Church’s Chesterfield location, civil rights …

In delivering the eulogy for Irvo Otieno’s funeral on March 29 at Richmond’s First Baptist Church’s Chesterfield location, civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton promised retribution for Mr. Otieno’s death at the hands of law enforcement and Central State Hospital employees.

Mr. Otieno, who struggled with mental health challenges, was taken to the Dinwiddie County facility after first being taken into police custody in Henrico County on March 3. He then was transported to a local hospital for mental health treatment under an emergency custody order, according to the Associated Press.

Video released earlier this month showed 10 sheriff’s deputies and hospital employees piling on a handcuffed and shackled Mr. Otieno on March 6 for about 20 minutes after he was forcibly led into a hospital room, as has been reported by the Associated Press and numerous media outlets. For much of that time, Mr. Otieno, 28, was prone on the floor, pinned by a group so large it blocked the camera’s view of him at times.

In today’s Free Press, a front-page story relays the cause of Mr. Otieno’s death: he died of “positional and mechanical asphyxia with restraints,” a medical examiner’s office said earlier this week. Arkuie Williams, the administrative deputy in the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, confirmed the cause of death findings as “homicide.”

For those who attended Mr. Otieno’s funeral or watched the video of him struggling to breathe, the medical examiner’s news was no surprise. And it certainly was old news for Rev. Sharpton, who has preached at pulpits throughout this country as murders similar to Mr. Otieno’s have occurred.

Comparing the murder to a chapter in the Bible where Jesus broke through crowds that stood around debating rather than seeking resolution, Rev. Sharpton plaintively asked, “What’s wrong with ya’ll? Why are you debating if you can’t help him? Jesus would break through the debate and hold them accountable.”

Rev. Sharpton said those who tortured Mr. Otieno will be held accountable, and he cautioned Gov. Glenn Youngkin that if he aspires to run for president, he’s “got to go through Caroline,” referencing Caroline Ouku, Mr. Otieno’s mother who sought help for her son whom she has said had not taken medication for his mental health episode, which led to him being taken into custody.

“This is inexcusable ... he should have been doctored and not treated with brutality,” Rev. Sharpton said before promising there will be an “Irvo Law” and that he will return to Virginia when the case goes to court.

All 10 defendants have been granted bond and court records show pre-trial hearings in April or May.

“We’ll be here for the trial,” Rev. Sharpton said. “I’m not leaving not to come back. I want to look at the jury. I want all the ministers to go to court with us. We have to stand in Irvo’s name.”

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, introduced during the funeral as Black America’s attorney general, said an international call to action, based on Mr. Otieno’s birth in Kenya and rearing in Richmond and Henrico County, is simple.

“When Black people in America have Mental Health issues, we cannot treat them like criminal issues. When you are having a mental health crisis, you should not be relegated by the color of your skin. Irvo’s Law would be to not treat (Black) brothers and sisters like criminials or degenerates but with dignity and respect.”

Somebody say, “Amen.”