How ‘excited delirium’ is misused to justify police brutality

originally by: Brookings  
published: 10 August 2020

I am concerned about excited delirium or whatever.” These were the words spoken by a fellow police officer as Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for the final eight minutes of his life.

This concern for “excited delirium” may now become part of the case for the defense in the upcoming trial for the murder of George Floyd, as it has for other Black men before him. Just three months shy of Floyd’s murder, officers in Tacoma, Washington had suggested “excited delirium” as the cause of death in the case of another unarmed Black male, Manuel Ellis.

And last year in Aurora, Colorado, paramedics injected Elijah McClain with ketamine, for “exhibiting signs of excited delirium”. McClain later died of cardiac arrest after the injection was given.

Law enforcement officers nationwide are routinely taught that “excited delirium” is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress, typically in the setting of illicit substance use, often culminating in sudden death.

However, this “diagnosis” is not recognized by the vast majority of medical professionals. In fact, “excited delirium” is not recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, or the World Health Organization, and it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 

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