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GUEST EDITORIAL: Lessons to be learned from fatal police shooting of a Georgia Tech student

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  All Georgians were disturbed by the Sept. 16 shooting of Georgia Tech student Scout Schultz by a campus police officer who apparently thought the young man was brandishing a knife in a threatening manner.

Also troubling were the riots that broke out Sept. 18 on the campus in the heart of downtown Atlanta after what began as a peaceful vigil in memory of the slain student devolved into mayhem and the torching of a police cruiser. Two officers were injured.

These awful events are not representative of Georgia Tech, one of the nation's preeminent engineering schools with a deserved reputation for academic excellence.

Indeed, Tech President G.P. "Bud" Peterson has said "outside agitators" were mainly to blame for that Monday night's unrest. Three people were arrested after the melee and charged with inciting a riot and battery of a police officer.

At the same time, Tech students should be commended for trying to promote healing after these horrific incidents. For example, Phillip Yamin, an electrical engineering major in the class of 2019, has launched an online fundraising effort on Facebook to help campus police officers who may have been affected. As of Sept. 19, the effort has raised about $2,000.

Meanwhile, a group of Tech students planned to clean up the campus the morning of Sept. 19.

A number of Tech students have gone public to urge the college to make changes to its mental health policy for students to speed up assistance for students who may be having psychological or emotional problems. That's a reasonable request that administrators should grant. The slain student had been president of Georgia Tech's Pride Alliance. Experts have said that LGVTQ college students suffer disproportionately from stress and were more likely to seek out mental health services.

By all means, better access to needed services to all students, regardless of their orientation, is a must.

Indeed, in the wake of the Tech shooting, the presidents of all colleges in Georgia should examine their mental health policies for ease of student access and to make sure their campuses remain safe.

Colleges, especially those like Tech that push for high achievement, can indirectly contribute to student stress. The parents of the slain student said their son was a perfectionist and a high-achiever, factors that could have affected his mental state.

Newly released audio reveals that the student, who attempted suicide two years ago using a belt as a makeshift noose, made a 911 call reporting a suspicious individual carrying a knife and possibly a gun. The GBI had said they found three suicide notes in the student's room.

An attorney for the family said the young man was experiencing a "mental breakdown" during the fatal encounter with police.

The parents said they plan to file suit. "Why did you have to shoot?" the slain student's father had asked. That's a legitimate question, as the initial evidence indicated no imminent danger and the knife the student was said to be carrying turned out to be a multi-purpose tool that included a small blade that was not extended. Additionally, there was no gun.

However, police officers who respond to potentially dangerous situations don't have the luxury of time. They must make snap decisions based on the facts at hand and what they see and hear. Hence, it's unfair and premature to criticize campus police. Let the GBI complete its investigation. This shooting is more evidence for supplying all police officers with body cameras to better understand the situations that officers face.

It sadly appears the student may have had a death wish. In addition to the 911 call that the student made, in a video of the incident the student can be heard telling police to shoot before one of four officers fired a fatal bullet to the chest.

The student also ignored officer's commands to stand in place, moving slowly toward the four officers who surrounded the Lilburn native.

This incident is another reason why all police officers should undergo mandatory training on how to handle suspects who may be mentally ill before being assigned to the streets.

Records show that the officer who shot Scout Schultz had been on the job for just over a year and that he had not undergone such training. That was a big miss on Tech's part.

This shooting was a tragedy that could have been prevented.

The consequences have caused considerable pain and hardship, but should also prompt actions that correct the potentially fatal lapse in mental health services so troubled individuals can get the help they need when they are suffering mental breakdowns.

Georgians should pray for the slain student, his family and for members of the Tech community. At the same time, anyone who assaults police officers or incites violence in the wake of such tragic incidents should be fully prosecuted.