Park City, Utah – September 2013, I still remember the crisp smell of autumn leaves and the Earthen mustiness saturating the air. Deciduous trees leaving behind beautiful arrays of golden foliage strewn all over the ground, each leaf dancing on the pavement whenever a breeze rushed in to catch it. A chill in the air giving everyone a peculiar appreciation of the sun and the hours in the day suddenly becoming more important as the daylight grows increasingly shorter. Fall is a season of change and just as fall transitions us from summer to winter, I too was being prepared for a transformation. Somewhere in the middle of September, perhaps sometime shortly before the beginning of the fall equinox, I began my journey through the Peace Officer Standards and Training School (aka, “police academy). My entire world was shaken when I discovered the institution designed to serve as community watchdogs and keep people safe, was systematically teaching future officers not all members of the community were created equal.
One can only imagine how difficult it was to fathom that the brotherhood I was so anxious to join, was teaching cadets that I was distinct, and somehow genetically different from my fellow cadets based on the color of my skin. Not only different but also dangerous. “Excited delirium syndrome is a condition that manifests itself as a combination of delirium….violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, and superhuman strength….A substantial majority of fatal case reports involved men, mostly African American.”[italics added] (Remsberg, 2006). This information was circulated freely throughout the police academy in the form of a handout and taught as part of the academy curriculum. And just as the leaves were withering outside the classroom window, so was my dignity and self-esteem. The difference is, instead of there being multiple leaves rustled in the in the breeze, there was only one. I was one of three women cadets, and the only cadet out of 26, who had African ancestry. I was ostracized for questioning the doctrine and pointing out that excited delirium syndrome was not accepted as a medical or psychiatric diagnosis by either the American Medical Association nor the American Psychological Association. It should rightfully alarm us to learn that the individuals policing Americans are being taught about medical conditions that the country’s leading medical institutions do not accept as actual medical conditions, but does lead to discrimination.
Frequently, I can still hear my peers taunting and telling others to fear me because I may have excited delirium syndrome. Despite knowing I am no more genetically predisposed to violence than the next person, somehow hearing an authority figure speaking on the contrary, made it an undisputed, empirical fact to those who heard the curriculum. This is why I am certain that hatred toward others isn’t just taught, it is reinforced under the guise of empirical data. It’s on the T.V. each evening when violent operatives of one religious or ethnic faction are categorized as “terrorists,” while others are simply defined as good, law-abiding citizens who came “unhinged.” It’s apparent in the fact that a thief with sagging pants is considered a thug, but a thief in a business suit isn’t. It’s apparent when leaders of the free world can openly discuss building a wall to create a barrier between “them” and the American dream. When society approves tax breaks for those who placed the economy in jeopardy in the first place, but call it a “handout” when members of the working class need to be bailed out. In a world where it has become commonplace to see police departments declare open hunting season on an entire race, a common practice for decades just recently brought to the forefront by citizens armed with cell phones, yet the increased exposure has somewhat made people desensitized because the headlines lose their initial “shock factor.”
These issues still persist and remain on my mind as we enter yet another autumn, another season to effect change instead of merely being affected by it. I learned through this incredible, yet adverse situation that while people can be taught to hate, they can also be taught to love. You must change hearts in order to change minds. Pitting civilians against civilians in uniform is not going to solve the problem. Instead of making issues so black and white, the public needs to have an in-depth conversation about how law enforcement is being taught to treat people because police officers are not inherently bad, but the systematic, discriminatory practices being taught in police academies across this country are. So next time an event inflames you with passion or rage, remember to maintain your humanity, and be able to laugh or at least see the beauty through change because I can now jokingly say that I am still waiting for superhuman strength. In the meantime, I’ll just settle for continuing the good fight and enjoying the fall.
Remsberg, Chuck. “Do’s and Don’ts of Handling ‘Excited Delirium’ Suspects.” 10-8 Life On the Line, 30 May 2006. Special ILEETA Conference Series.