On Monday, March 15th, a Muhlenberg Township Police officer shot and killed Anjie Hughes’s father, Stephen Hughes, who had recently undergone chemotherapy treatment for 6 tumors in his brain. The treatments had a record of leaving him tired and emotional, as he was losing his vision.
“The police didn’t need to kill him,” said Hughes. “What they did to my father was completely unjustified. It’s so wrong. They forced their way into his bedroom and instead of trying to calm him down, they pulled out a gun at point blank range and murdered him.
“We’re a close-knit family, and he was a wonderful grandfather. My son hasn't stopped asking to see him,” said Hughes, who lives in Pottstown with her husband and son. Her son was one of seven grandchildren that adored Stephen. “Dad had asked to see the kids because he had another appointment coming up and knew that he’d be too weak to play with them.”
This is not the first time a health crisis has been met with police violence, noted Celine Schrier, lead organizer with Berks Stands Up. But this does not change the fact that justice must be delivered for Stephen and his family. The officers need to be held accountable and Berks County must invest into alternative response programs. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, we can look to places like Denver’s Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program to get started.
“We need to meet these situations with trained crisis intervention counselors instead of police with guns,” said Schrier. But that’s not what happened to Stephen Hughes. After receiving a call from an unidentified female, police officers on the scene responded by opening a locked door where Hughes was alone and allegedly issued demands to drop a knife. They tased him, then shot him in the chest. At this time, his family has been unable to corroborate that Stephen even had a knife at the time of the encounter.
“We rely entirely too much on police for all kinds of situations where they’re not appropriate,” said Schrier. “And this gets in the way of imagining public safety in ways that supports all of us, regardless of who we are.
“Police violence isn’t going to fade away on its own. To end this crisis we need systemic change. Berks County’s governments must move funding away from the violent policing, which has failed our communities time and again, and invest in people-focused solutions to truly protect and defend the public they are elected to serve.”
Together we must reimagine public safety as a system that includes social work, crisis intervention, and real community investment in education, housing and healthcare.
The investigation is currently in the hands of the Berks County District Attorney’s office, which has close ties to county police departments. Berks Stands Up urges the DA John T. Adams to hand off the investigation to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office to ensure officers are held to account. In addition, we are calling for the release of the initial call and all dispatch and incident time logs.
Statement Updated 3/23 to reflect new information & quote by request of the family.