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Freddie Gray And The Deadly Consequences Of Police Indifference

Protests in Baltimore on Saturday, April 25. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON
Protests in Baltimore on Saturday, April 25. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON

Freddie Gray’s death may have been different. It’s still unclear just what happened to him between the time he was stopped by police and the moment he sustained a fatal spinal cord injury 45 minutes later. But what we do know is that officers dragged him violently to their police car, as bystanders can be heard to say on a cell phone video “that boy’s legs look broke. His leg’s broke and y’all are dragging him like that.” Ultimately, despite his apparent medical distress, officers didn’t immediately seek medical attention, instead taking him for a “rough ride.”

As public awareness increases around police brutality, most of the prominent incidents over the past year have involved guns. A smaller proportion involved other, less-lethal weapons. Tasers. Stun guns. Brutal beatings.

But there’s another category of injury and even death that can come from arrest, either during police brutality or even in its absence: Disregard for the well-being of an individual who has now been transformed into a suspect or defendant. This neglect was on full display in the death of Eric Garner. Officers held him in an illegal chokehold. But the real display of callousness came as they ignored his pleas of “I can’t breathe.” In just the past few years, there have been a number of other deaths from disregard for the well-being of the suspect, including another a year before Garner’s death in which a suspect cried out a very similar refrain:

Jorge Azucena

A year before the death of Eric Garner, another man in Los Angeles died after imploring to officers that he couldn’t breathe. Microphones at the scene recorded Jorge Azucena telling officers “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” because of asthma as he complied with officer commands to get on the ground. “You can breathe just fine,” one sergeant told him, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You can talk, so you can breathe.”

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Officers nonetheless brought him to the police booking station, leaving Azuneca face-down on the floor. It wasn’t until he appeared not to be breathing that officers called the paramedics. Attempts to revive him failed. His death was declared an accident by county coroners. It was a report from the Los Angeles Police Department’s own inspector general that put together these details almost a year later. “There should not be any question that when somebody in custody is heard to say ‘I cannot breathe,’ the officers should promptly call for an ambulance,” Robert Saltzman, a member of the Police Commission that oversees the LAPD, told the Los Angeles Times.

Tanisha Anderson

Tanisha Anderson was schizophrenic, bipolar, and “wasn’t doing very well that day,” as her brother described it, when she was killed in November during an altercation with police who were called to her Cleveland home for help. Police say she became limp as they forcibly transported her to their vehicle, with plans to bring her to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Her brother and daughter say police violently slammed the 37-year-old mother to the ground using a take-down move.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Anderson’s death a homicide “as a result of being physically restrained in a prone position by Cleveland police.” But there hasn’t yet been a decision about whether a grand jury will file charges against the involved officers, according to a spokeswoman for the office.

Luis Rodriguez

Luis Rodriguez was also deemed to have died from “cardiac arrhythmia due to physical restraint” by the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office, while the family reported that a private autopsy found the cause was “asphyxia.” The police had come to break up a domestic dispute between a mother and her daughter. But the father intervened, and it was the father that police attacked, according to his family. Although the medical examiner found Rodriguez died as a result of physical restraint, the DA opted not to charge anyone, because “his body had signs of a struggle that would not have been enough to kill him,” according to News 9.

Denise Isaacs

Denise Isaacs wasn’t being arrested when she died. But she was being transported to a Florida jail for having failed to complete her community service and pay a fine on a shoplifting charge. She was under the custody of a private prison transport company for a 1,000-mile trip, and van staff who found her unresponsive after stopping at a Taco Bell didn’t call 911 until after calling their supervisors and trying to revive her themselves, even though Isaacs had been experiencing hallucinations and refusing food throughout the trip, the Miami Herald reports. Isaacs, 54, suffered from bipolar disorder, anxiety, and chronic abdominal pain among other ailments.