ACAB, now and forever

I’m always so critical of the police…maybe I should give the Central Marin Police Authority an opportunity to express their side of the story first, to be fair.

Police Chief Michael Norton declined an opportunity to be interviewed, but in an email said that his department “regrets that Bruce Frankel has elected to pursue litigation against us for an alleged improper emergency medical response to him.”

Norton added that his department “will vigorously defend itself against this meritless and factually inaccurate litigation. Unfortunately, this individual has decided to first litigate his case in the media rather than in court, where we are confident the action of our officers will be vindicated.”

Oh, dear…they are being unjustly accused, they say. Of what, you might wonder.

Bruce Frankel’s wife called for emergency help because he was having a grand mal epileptic seizure, expecting EMTs to come to the rescue. He was incoherent and flailing about. The police arrived instead (uh-oh!), repeatedly told the unresponsive man that they were there to help, and help him they did: by handcuffing him and tasing him. They charged him with resisting arrest.

I guess the police considered that a proper emergency medical response.

Every time the police are scrutinized, they look worse

I highly recommend this 3-part, thorough article about the police by Radley Balko. It’s central focus is on the Minneapolis Police Department (which is a horror) and on George Floyd, but it’s wide-ranging and indicts the corruption, racism, and brutality of police forces everywhere.

It’s a long series, and I can’t possibly do it justice, so I’ll just highlight one thing that leapt out at me. The police all around the country have resorted to a phony medical excuse for deaths in police custody. You’ll hardly believe it — it’s called excited delirium.

Excited delirium, on the other hand, posits that some people just spontaneously die during intense, high-stress interactions with police, through no fault of law enforcement. It’s also highly dubious and not supported by any major medical organization.

Over the last several decades, there’s been a concerted effort to pressure medical examiners to diagnose excited delirium when the real cause of death was positional asphyxia. This not only exonerates cops who kill, it encourages police practices that will lead to more deaths.

George Floyd’s death prompted renewed scrutiny of excited delirium and its origins. This was overdue.

The first reason to be skeptical of the condition is that it’s rarely if ever diagnosed outside a law enforcement context. If there really is a condition that causes people to die spontaneously during a mental health crisis, while under the influence of some drugs, or while panicked with no accompanying signs of medical distress, we ought to see it under other high-stress, volatile scenarios like street or bar brawls, or when people are forcibly admitted to psychiatric facilities. This just doesn’t happen.

The origin of excited delirium is shonky and steeped in bigotry. But it doesn’t involve police or police restraint. The condition was first described in the mid-1980s by Miami medical examiner Charles Wetli after a wave of black sex workers were found dead under mysterious circumstances. Because some of the women had cocaine in their system, Wetli theorized that there must be something about the physiology of black women that causes them to spontaneously die after mixing cocaine with sex.

The phrase “physiology of black women” ought to have set off alarms all over the place. Yeah, this swarm of dead black women whose bodies are littering the streets…nobody killed them. They just drop dead when mixing cocaine with sex. Yeah, that’s the ticket. File those corpses away under “natural causes”. No way they were murdered.


Despite the absurdity of Wetli’s theory, it precluded homicide as a manner of death, which made it much more difficult for police to investigate the possible murders. It wasn’t until a victim was found in a similar state as the other bodies, but had no cocaine in her system, that the city’s chief medical examiner reviewed the doctor’s work in the other cases. He found evidence of asphyxiation that Wetli had overlooked. Police eventually arrested a serial killer named Charles Henry Williams for the murders. Williams is now believed to have killed at least 32 black women through asphyxiation.

Wetli was promoted and became a medical examiner in New York, where he continued to promote ludicrous, racist theories.

You might be saying right now that George Floyd was not a woman and wasn’t having sex, so how does this relate? Well, fact-free explanations can expand without restraint.

In the absence of any accountability, Wetli continued to develop his theory in ways that proved convenient for law enforcement. He expanded excited delirium to also include black men, particularly those who die in police custody. “Seventy percent of people dying of coke-induced delirium are black males, even though most users are white,” he once said. Instead of concluding that perhaps this was because police were more likely to use excessive force against black men, Wetli added, “It may be genetic.” The diagnosis has since expanded to include “exhaustive mania,” a form of excited delirium that, conveniently, occurs in people who haven’t ingested drugs or alcohol.

If I had a nickel for every instance of a racist saying “it’s genetic”, I’d be able to buy back Twitter from Elon Musk.

Excited delirium is even more useful for the cops. In addition to making their victims conveniently drop dead while leaving the police blameless, it has several other symptoms that play into the cop’s battery of excuses.

There is no diagnostic test for excited delirium. Instead, it’s become a catch-all diagnosis based on a broad range of symptoms and behavior that could be attributed to any number of conditions — symptoms like erratic behavior, psychosis, public nudity, and, weirdly, a tendency to propel oneself through glass.

But the most absurd supposed symptoms are an imperviousness to pain and “superhuman strength.”

There are obviously some drugs that can dull a user’s sensitivity to pain. And a rush of adrenaline can prompt a person to run faster or lift more weight than they otherwise might. But the idea that excited delirium can give people near-superpowers has been incredibly harmful. The claim doesn’t merely excuse brutality, it practically demands it. It also reinforces racist tropes about the brutishness of black men.

This isn’t merely old racist nonsense from the 1980s, it was part of the MPD’s training materials at least as recently as 2021.

You know, maybe it’s not true that all cops are bad. I think you could make a good case that many of them are racist, gullible, and not very bright. They’re not intentionally evil, they’re just so damned stupid that they stumble into badness.

The ideal cop: paranoid and trigger-happy

Here’s some body cam footage from a Florida cop who was assaulted by an acorn. He hears a noise, drops and rolls and unloads a clip into his own police car, asks if he’s been hit, and gets his buddies to advance menacingly on the wounded vehicle.

It was all triggered by an acorn falling from a tree (who knows, it could have been thrown by an armed assault squirrel.) It would be comical, except for the sounds of the neighborhood citizens screaming in fear, and that they had a guy handcuffed and trapped in the backseat of the car. He’s fine, just traumatized, and the crazed cop has been fired.

Has anybody considered that maybe the cops have way too many guns? I’m not even talking about defunding the police, but just taking most of their weapons away.

All sheriffs are bad, too

They’re just cops in cowboy hats, you know. Anyway, a small town newspaper in Oklahoma left a recording device in a meeting room when various county officials had a meeting. He “wanted to prove that officials were discussing county business after the meeting had ended in violation of the state’s open-meeting law.” He got a bit more than he expected.

A small newspaper in rural Oklahoma secretly recorded what it said was an illegal public meeting where a county official talked about hanging Black people and several officials spoke of hiring hit men and digging holes for two of the newspaper’s reporters.

Them good ol’ boys were having a grand time chatting about all the crimes they wanted to commit: killing troublesome reporters, hanging black folk, all the stuff we usually just imagine rotten county officials talking about in back room meetings. They do!

Jennings: It’s like somebody wanting this job, they don’t realize, like your job. I heard it the other day, said I heard 2 or 12 people were going for sheriff. I said fuck, lets get 20. They don’t have a goddamn clue what they’re getting into. Not this day and age. I’m gonna tell you something. If it was back in the day, when that when Alan Marshton would take a damn black guy and whoop their ass and throw him in the cell? I’d run for fucking sheriff.

Sheriff: Yeah. Well, It’s not like that nomore.

Jennings: I know. Take them down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damn rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.

It’s no fair, nowadays Black people have the right to not be hanged. Makes a fella pine for the good ol’ days.

You know, these kinds of attitudes don’t just spring up out of nowhere. It says the leading citizens of that Oklahoma town have a culture that accepts casual racism and that wallows in their privilege. Fire the lot of them.

Their defense is now that it was illegal to record their conversation. They said the things, you just weren’t supposed to hear them.

At least it’s reassuring that real brave journalism still exists in small pockets around the country.

Uses of language

Once again, the cops are exposed. They beat a man to death at a traffic stop. Along the way, they also tortured the English language — but don’t get our priorities confused, they murdered a man and that’s what matters most. Part of the process of building an ‘elite’ police unit that can carry out street executions is to dehumanize potential victims and distance themselves from their actions.

The first time Memphis police described what happened between their officers and Tyre Nichols — the 29-year-old who died of his injuries after being beaten by police — they wrote that “a confrontation occurred” following a traffic stop. Nichols fled on foot, and then “another confrontation occurred.”

“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath,” reads the statement posted on the Memphis Police Department’s Twitter account the morning after Nichols was beaten on Jan. 7. “The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

Brutal video footage released Friday, an hour’s worth of clips from body-worn and mounted cameras showing police pepper-spraying, punching and kicking Nichols, underscores the disparity between what police first reported and what actually happened.

Across the country, police sometimes use passive language that can paint a very different picture from what cameras later show. Initial news releases are often based on police officers’ self-reporting, and were it not for the ubiquity of cameras in modern times, the discrepancies between those filings and the reality of a police interaction may never come to light.

See? The police apparently did nothing. A confrontation just happened. The victim complained. The victim was transported, presumably on the wings of angels. Batons apparently moved of their own accord to batter the man. The active voice is anathema when what you are actively doing is inhuman and criminal. Even in the body cam videos, the cops are trying to portray what they’re doing as wildly different from the truth.

While videos can show what police do not write in incident reports, experts also say officers could be starting to use body cameras to influence narratives. Some believed they saw that in the Nichols videos.

In the first altercation shown in the videos, multiple officers shout at Nichols to lie down, though he is already pinned to the ground from shoulders to feet. “I am,” he shouts back, desperate. During the second video, officers tell Nichols to give them his hands when an officer is already holding him by the wrist; then the body camera points away. Officers also say on film that Nichols reached for their guns and is high, neither of which the videos show, though their first traffic stop was not included in the videos because it wasn’t filmed.

All cops are bad. All cops are liars.

Here’s another infuriating example. The unit responsible for this crime is being “deactivated,” cop-speak for “we’re going to rename this group and disperse the guilty parties throughout the department,” and an officer, Major Karen Rudolph, Commander of Public Information, sat down to write a press release. She’s a professional liar, and really ought to reconsider her place in the universe.

Today, Memphis Police Officers assigned to the SCORPION Unit (Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods…

Fuck me. They gave this unit an aggressively macho name, and then invented a contrived acronym to justify it? Jesus. I bet someone was proud to have come up with that one, and they deserve to be fired for it.

…in the aftermath of the tragic death of Tyre Nichols.

“Gosh, someone died? Tragic,” says the group of thugs who murdered him. Own it, you cowards. You are disbanding a unit because they intentionally and viciously killed a civilian. You don’t get to pretend to be sad at a death you caused.

…listening intently to the family…

When has a cop ever listened to the people they abuse? Did they try listening, attentively and politely, to Tyre Nichols?

…it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION unit.

Oops. We have to sweep this one under the rug, quick. I wonder if they had listened to the community when they decided to form a unit called SCORPION that would drive around the neighborhood in unmarked cars and pull over people they didn’t like?

The officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step.

I’m sure they did. Hide the name, please, just don’t send us to prison for the violence we do.

While the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonor on the title SCORPION…

Christ. SCORPION was never a title with any honor in it. You can tell what strategy they’ve decided on, though: it was just a few bad apples who somehow ended up on the police force, serving dishonorably in an honorable unit that just happened to be named SCORPION (But look, the “P” is for “Peace”!).

For the next phrase, I’m afraid Major Karen Rudolph, Commander of Public Information, deserves to be fired, pilloried, and prohibited from ever being employed in any job involving public communication.

…it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police department take PrOacTiVE StePs iN tHe HEalIng PrOCEsS FoR AlL IMpAcTeD.

AAAAAaaargh. Where’s my red pen? Where’s my goddamn flamethrower?

You’re not going to believe this, but Major Karen tops that in the next sentence.

…to rebuild the trust that has been negatively affected by the death of Mr. Tyre Nichols.

That’s an appalling twist of the knife. The poor police department…the trust that the citizenry had in them has been damaged by the death of Tyre Nichols. It’s his fault. He shouldn’t have died and hurt our reputation.

Hey, Karen: I think that what negatively affected the trust was the savage brutality and violent tactics of the cops, not the fact that the victim died.

The passivity and displacement of blame can be traced all the way to the administration of the police. The bad apples are rotting everywhere.

Bullets are the solution to every problem

Savannah Graziano was 15 years old when her father murdered her mother and kidnapped her. An amber alert went out, and the police gave chase, which is never good. They decided the way to resolve the problem was with guns, obviously, and they had a wild west shootout with Graziano’s father, while she was in the car. At one point, Savannah saw an opportunity to escape, jumped out of the car, and ran toward the police.

So the police shot her dead.

Then they killed her father.

You know, I kind of think that in these kinds of situations the very highest priority ought to be to rescue the child, and even when the bad guy shoots first, the rescuers ought to exercise a great deal of restraint, tempting as it might be to use the only tool your feeble brain has been trained to use to solve all problems.