Former disgrace Minneapolis police officer and now convicted murderer Derek Chauvin caused mayhem after a video surfaced of him kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, killing him in May of last year. During the trial, the murderer Chauvin’s attention-seeking lawyer raised the question of if Floyd, who was 47 at the time of his death, was suffering from a term called excited delirium. And further questions arose if some of Floyd’s yelling for his mamma, screaming as if he was in tremendous pain, was his being theatrical.
During the May video, Floyd repeatedly said he was claustrophobic and fought frantically, saying he did not want to be placed in the squad car.
Although I have never had to fight for my life the way Floyd did during my negative interactions with the police, I, however, have been pulled over, handcuffed, and placed in the backseat of a cop car—mind you, I have never been to jail or have a criminal record.
Nevertheless, I was driving in a town called Robbinsdale in Minneapolis, MN, when an officer pulled me over. He informed me that the snow on my back windshield was not thoroughly cleaned to his liking. He proceeded to place me in his squad car when he ran my driver’s license. During the process, he gave me a lecture about the importance of cleaning my windows.
Regardless, anyone who has experienced being placed in a police car’s back seat knows how confined it is. The width of each window looks closed in. There’s a cage that divides a suspect and the officer. And 99 percent of the time, the suspect’s hands are cuffed behind their back (mine were too that night). And the squad car doors (clearly) do not open from the inside. So, I can see how Floyd became hysterical.
Excited deliriumis controversial because mental health providers have not legitimized it, but rather the American College of Emergency Physicians recognized this syndrome as a medical condition and something that police officers are trained to observe.
What’s most concerning is this fictitious disorder is reserved for police officers, and this leaves the door open to their discretion when they choose to employ whatever tactics are needed (typically the chokehold). Excited delirium is associated with young adult males, primarily black men. They say this disorder’s symptoms include “aggressive behavior, extreme physical strength, hyperthermia, and recent use of a stimulant drug such as cocaine or methamphetamine.”
Author Keith Wesley, MD, wrote, “In particular, excited delirium patients will, for no known reason, strike out at objects made of glass. They display what some describe as animalistic behavior by grunting, groaning, and exhibiting strength that seems superhuman,” he said. “They aren’t actually stronger; rather, they don’t recognize the implication of…pepper spray and physical…holds. The patient exhibits confusion and disorientation. Their speech is incoherent or full of repetitive and paranoid statements.”
However, Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said during an interview. “A diverse group of neurologists wrote an article for Brookings’ How We Rise on how excited delirium is misused to justify police brutality.” Ray said, “They note that law enforcement officers are often taught that excited delirium is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress and typically associated with illicit substance use….”
In August of 2019, Elijah Jovan McClainwas a 23-year-old black man and a massage therapist who died after being placed in a chokehold by officers. He was on his way home when a citizen called the police and told them that McClain was wearing a ski mask and looked “sketchy.”
However, the caller said McClain did not present a danger and was unarmed. There were three police officers involved in the incident, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema, who all said their body cameras were knocked off during the struggle with McClain. McClain went into cardiac arrest while being transported to the hospital; he was declared brain dead days later and taken off life support.
During the investigation, photos were released showing “officers posing inappropriately and reenacting the carotid [chokehold]restraint used on McClain.” One officer resigned, and three were fired.
According to court documents, the facts showed that the officers did not have a legal basis to stop, restrain, or frisk McClain.
And then there was Manuel Ellis, who was 33 when he died on March 3, 2020, during an arrest by police officers in Tacoma, Washington. The County Sheriff’s Department said that Ellis attacked officers. However, eyewitnesses said that was not the case.
Video of the incident showed officers repeatedly punching Ellis, choking him, using a Taser, and kneeling on him. According to prosecutors, a police radio recording heard Ellis saying I “can’t breathe sir” multiple times. “Ellis was hogtied, face-down, with an officer on him, for at least six minutes. Ellis died at the scene while receiving medical aid from paramedics.”
Let’s not confuse excited delirium with a disorder called complex trauma. Criminal history or not, ongoing exposure to hearing, seeing, or having poor interactions with police officers throughout a black man’s life can lead to “persistent and cumulative” trauma.
Years ago, when I lived not that far from a park, I decided to take a walk one evening; It was in one of those neighborhoods with no sidewalk, so I was left with no choice but to walk in the street.
Within five minutes, two police cars swarmed me because they were called. I lost my cool and argued with them to the point of asking them what criminal would take a slow stroll, listening to music, after just robbing someone? I had recalled my negative interactions with police officers over the years.
After the officer checked my ID, I told them I was coming out again that night to take a walk in the same neighborhood. One of the officers said if he saw me again that night, the same would happen. I dared him and said I would make my way to the park by 8:00 pm and did just that but they never showed. And if they harassed me again, I was making a formal complaint to the higher-ups.
The moral of the story is, if police officers want to find a way to assault or kill black men, they have their playbook full of lies.
So, it doesn’t matter if we black men are experiencing excited delirium, complex trauma, PTSD, have a criminal record or not; under the right situation, a “dirty cop” will make sure we die.
And like a helpless Floyd, no matter how much we say we can’t breathe, a “bad” officer will take delight in making sure our last breath is a reminder to never cross them regardless of if it’s caught on video or not.