Black Lives Matter co-founder’s cousin killed in police incident

English teacher Keenan Anderson went into cardiac arrest after being Tasered by US police during a visit to Los Angeles.

Patrisse Cullors poses for a photo with a shirt that reads: You can't play with Black lives
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors has said her cousin 'deserves to be alive right now' after he died in a fatal altercation with Los Angeles police [File: Amy Harris, Invision/AP Photo]

The death of Keenan Anderson, the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder, has sparked outcry in the United States and renewed scrutiny of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which repeatedly Tasered the English teacher before he went into cardiac arrest.

“They’re trying to George Floyd me. They’re trying to George Floyd me,” Anderson, 31, can be heard saying in police body camera footage, in reference to the police killing of Floyd in 2020 that sparked mass racial justice protests around the world.

In the footage, dated January 3 and released this week, police tell Anderson to “stop resisting” as he lies on the pavement with officers holding him down. One of the officers then says he is going to tase Anderson.

“They’re trying to kill me. They’re trying to kill me,” Anderson cries out as the Taser deploys, pleading with officers and asking them to “help me”. He later died in hospital.

The incident is one of three killings linked to the LAPD in the first days of 2023.

On January 2, police fatally shot 45-year-old Takar Smith as they said he wielded a knife. His wife initially called emergency services because Smith had violated his restraining order and then warned dispatchers Smith had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was not on his medications.

And on January 3 – the same day as Anderson’s death – police fired on 35-year-old Oscar Sanchez after the LAPD said he confronted officers with a “makeshift spear”.

The LAPD released body camera footage from all three altercations on Wednesday, with Chief Michel Moore saying he was “deeply concerned”.

Smith’s death was ruled a homicide by gunshot wounds but investigations are ongoing into Anderson’s and Sanchez’s deaths.

“We are still at the very early stages of this investigation, which can often take up to a year to complete,” police captain Kelly Muniz said in a video statement accompanying the body camera footage.

“Our understanding of the incident may change as additional evidence is collected, analysed and reviewed. We also do not draw any conclusions about whether the officers acted consistent with our policies in the law until all the facts are known and the investigation is complete.”

But already, the three deaths have renewed questions about police violence in the US and its disproportionate effect on Black communities.

A 2021 study in the medical journal The Lancet recorded 30,800 deaths from police violence across the country between 1980 and 2018, far higher than estimates offered by the US National Vital Statistics System. More than half of all deaths, it said, were unreported in the government-run system.

The study also found that fatal police violence was highest in the non-Hispanic Black population, followed by the Hispanic community.

Keenan deserves to be alive right now, his child deserves to be raised by his father,” Patrisse Cullors, Anderson’s cousin, said on Instagram. Cullors, a writer and activist, is credited with creating the Black Lives Matter hashtag and serving as a leader in the movement.

“Keenan,” she continued, “we will fight for you and for all of our loved ones impacted by state violence. I love you.”

Digital Pioneers Academy, the school in Washington, DC, where Anderson worked, also called for justice for the “deeply committed educator”.

“Keenan is the third member of our school community to fall victim to violence in the past 65 days,” Mashea Ashton, the school’s founder and CEO, wrote in a statement. “Two of our high school students – 14-year-old Antione Manning and 15-year-old Jakhi Snider – died during separate incidents of gun violence this fall.

“Our community is grieving. But we’re also angry. Angry that, once again, a known, loved, and respected member of our community is no longer with us. Angry that another talented, beautiful black soul is gone too soon.”

In November, Los Angeles– the most populous city in California – elected its first Black woman mayor in Karen Bass, a physician and former member of the US Congress.

She said she had “grave concerns” about the police footage released in the wake of the three recent deaths and called on the LAPD to accelerate its implementation of “proven reforms” to address the use of excessive force and improve mental health treatment.

“No matter what these investigations determine, however, the need for urgent change is clear. We must reduce the use of force overall, and I have absolutely no tolerance for excessive force,” Bass said in a statement.

“We must also lead our city forward – finally – on the mental health crisis that has been allowed to grow, fester and cause too much harm to individual Angelenos, their families and our communities.”

Police said the incident with Anderson started at about 3:35pm local time (23:35 GMT) on January 3, when a traffic officer was flagged down following a collision on Venice Boulevard. The motorists involved indicated that Anderson had caused the crash.

“The man was running in the middle of the street and exhibiting erratic behaviour,” Muniz, the police captain, said in a video statement.

“Somebody’s trying to kill me, sir,” Anderson can be heard saying in the body camera footage, as he jogs through an intersection.

In the video, an officer mounted on a motorcycle orders Anderson to “get up against the wall”. Anderson complies, stepping onto the sidewalk and kneeling, with his hands pressed to the back of his head.

“Please, sir, I didn’t mean to, sir,” he says, telling the officer he lost the key to his car and reiterating that he fears for his life.

A second piece of footage shows Anderson getting back up and reentering the road, where the motorcycle officer once again orders him to the ground. He complies, sitting with his legs forward and his hands in the air.

Several officers then move forward to subdue Anderson. “Please don’t do this,” he says. “They’re trying to kill me.”

It is at that point that police threaten to use a Taser.

“Stop it or I’m gonna tase you,” a police officer can be heard saying.

In the statement accompanying the body camera footage, Muniz said Anderson had become “increasingly agitated, uncooperative and resisted the officers”.

The footage shows an officer Tasering Anderson multiple times as he lies on his back, while police put handcuffs on him.

The Los Angeles Fire Department administered medical aid at the scene. Anderson was transported via ambulance to a Santa Monica hospital, where he was declared dead at approximately 8:15pm (4:15 GMT) that evening.

Anderson’s workplace said he had been visiting family in Los Angeles over his winter break. He was the father to a five-year-old son.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies