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BLM co-founder’s cousin dies after police repeatedly use Taser, video shows

Body-camera video from Jan. 3 shows Keenan Anderson, a 31-year-old Black man, being Tased and restrained in Venice, Calif., before later dying in the hospital. [Los Angeles Police Department]

A cousin of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors died hours after Los Angeles police repeatedly used a Taser on him and restrained him in the middle of the street following a traffic accident, according to body-camera footage released by authorities Wednesday.

The death of Keenan Anderson, a 31-year-old high school teacher and father visiting from Washington, D.C., is among a recent series of separate encounters that ended with men dying after their exchanges with Los Angeles officers. The fatal incidents have rocked the city in recent days, and the community is calling for justice after the police encounters involving Anderson, as well as 45-year-old Takar Smith and 35-year-old Oscar Sanchez, both of whom were fatally shot by officers in the first few days of January.

Video of the Jan. 3 incident in Venice, Calif., shows Anderson being detained by multiple officers as he begs for his life shortly after a traffic collision. Body-cam footage shows an officer appearing to have his elbow on Anderson’s neck as he is detained in the middle of the road.

“They’re trying to George Floyd me!” he exclaimed, according to the video, referring to the Minneapolis man who was murdered by then-police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020. “They’re trying to George Floyd me!” Then an officer is shown using his Taser on Anderson two times, including one stretch that lasted about 30 seconds uninterrupted. After Anderson was eventually handcuffed and taken into custody, he was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Santa Monica. It was there that he was pronounced dead after suffering cardiac arrest, according to a police news release. Neither a spokesperson with the LAPD nor Carl Douglas, an attorney representing Anderson’s family, immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday. Cullors told The Washington Post on Thursday that she’s joining community residents and activists in calling for the resignation of Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore and for the officers to be held accountable for their actions. She specifically noted how devastating it was to hear her cousin refer to Floyd’s name before his own death. “He yelled out, ‘They’re trying to George Floyd me!’ and they did just that,” she said. “And that’s really hard to digest.” The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office is still investigating Anderson’s death and has not yet ruled on its cause and manner.

Anderson’s death has gripped a city that has seen fatal police encounters grab headlines just days into 2023. Moore said at a Wednesday news conference that he was “deeply concerned” about the recent spate of police-related deaths to start the new year. The sentiments were echoed by Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass (D), who called for all of the officers involved in the three separate incidents to be “placed on immediate leave.” “Full investigations are underway, and I pledge that the City’s investigations into these deaths will be transparent and will reflect the values of Los Angeles,” Bass said in a news release. “I will ensure that the City’s investigations will drive only toward truth and accountability.”

The incident in Los Angeles joins a long list involving police use of Tasers in recent years. A 2017 Reuters investigation found that more than 1,000 people in the United States had died after they were shocked with Tasers or other stun guns by police. In 2021, two former Oklahoma police officers were convicted of murder for using their Tasers more than 50 times on an unarmed man who died in 2019. Cullors said Anderson was a 10th grade English teacher at the Digital Pioneers Academy, a majority-Black public charter school in Washington, and was in Los Angeles visiting family and friends. At around 3:38 p.m. on Jan. 3, police were flagged down for a traffic accident at the intersection of Venice Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard, according to authorities. An officer on a motorcycle spotted Anderson running in the street, noticing he was “exhibiting erratic behavior.” After several motorists motioned to police that Anderson might have caused the accident, the officer on the motorcycle proceeded to pursue him until they both were able to stop and talk. The police department later said that Anderson had attempted to carjack somebody and then caused a crash, KNBC reported. “Somebody’s trying to kill me,” Anderson said, according to video. He did not specify to whom he was referring. Anderson later said that he lost the key to his car before repeating the claim that someone was trying to kill him.

Seven minutes later, Anderson attempts to run away, video shows. The officer quickly catches up to him, and he demands Anderson turn over on his stomach in the middle of the road, according to the video. But when Anderson does not comply, the man calls out, “Help me, please,” as multiple officers rush over to detain him to the ground. “They’re trying to kill me!” Anderson yells. That’s when Anderson said the Los Angeles police were “trying to George Floyd me.” At this point, an officer is heard saying, “Stop or I’m going to Tase you.” Another officer is seen with his elbow across Anderson’s throat as he’s threatened with a Taser if he does not flip over onto his stomach, according to body-cam video. Then, an officer uses a Taser on Anderson for almost 30 consecutive seconds, all while the man yells out again how the police are “trying to kill me.” He remains handcuffed in the middle of the road as officials begin to give him medical assistance following the Taser usage, video shows. An ambulance eventually arrives and begins to transfer Anderson to the ambulance, which is also when the body-camera footage cuts off. About 4½ hours after the use of force, police said, Anderson “experienced a medical emergency, did not respond to lifesaving efforts by medical staff and was pronounced deceased.” Moore told reporters that he expedited the release of all three body-cam videos from the three fatal police encounters — Anderson, Smith and Sanchez — so that they could be released Wednesday instead of the usual 45-day period. He noted it was important given the “substantial public interest” in a series of tragedies that “deeply concerned” him. “It’s unclear what role the physical struggle with the officers and the use of the Taser played in his unfortunate death,” Moore told reporters of Anderson’s case. Moore added that Anderson was in an “altered mental state” and claimed that a preliminary blood test from police showed that cannabis and cocaine were in his system. But the community is calling for police to do more to address what’s been a devastating start to the new year. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, told the Guardian that “Keenan was Tased to death.” Cullors agreed in her interview with The Post. “The video footage was clear. He was scared, he was asking for help, he was begging for help. That’s not what he received on January 3rd,” she said. “It’s very critical for people to understand that when you are living and breathing, you deserve to receive care. My cousin needed care and he did not get care. He was stolen from us. He was killed.”

Advertisement Mashea Ashton, CEO and founder of Digital Pioneers Academy, said in a statement to the families and staff that Anderson was “beloved by all” in the roughly six months since he started working at the school. Anderson is the third member of the school community to have been killed in the last 65 days, Ashton said. “We are committed to supporting his family and working together to honor Keenan’s memory,” she said. Cullors remembered her cousin as someone who loved his son, mentoring his students and watching and playing football. She recalled how there would be large family gatherings in the park, often with their grandmother bringing the food while family members split up into teams for baseball. But those beautiful memories felt like a distant past on Thursday, as Cullors talked about how she’s been organizing in an attempt to get justice for her cousin. “I do all of this because this is the work I do,” she said, “but I’ve never had to do it for my own family.”


(c) 2023, The Washington Post


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