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Keenan Anderson: BLM Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors Demands Justice for Cousin’s Death After LAPD Tasing

StoryJanuary 20, 2023
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Image Credit: Keenan Anderson’s Family

We look at calls for police accountability in Los Angeles, where officers killed three men of color within 48 hours earlier this month, including 31-year-old Black school teacher Keenan Anderson, who died hours after he was repeatedly tasered. We speak with Anderson’s cousin Patrisse Cullors, a Black Lives Matter co-founder, who has joined in protests over the police killings. “The last two weeks have been a nightmare,” says Cullors. “No human being deserves to die in fear, to die publicly humiliated and without their dignity.”

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StoryJan 31, 2022Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors on Abolition & Imagining a Society Based on Care
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

A warning to our audience: This story contains graphic descriptions of police violence in Los Angeles, California, where officers recently killed three men within 48 hours.

On January 2nd, officers gunned down a Black man named Takar Smith in his home after responding to his wife’s call for assistance when he experienced a mental health crisis.

On January 3rd, officers shot and killed a Latinx man named Oscar Sanchez, who was also facing a mental health crisis, after they said he stepped toward them with a threatening metal object.

On the same day, a 31-year-old Black 10th grade English teacher and father named Keenan Anderson died after being repeatedly tased. The Los Angeles Police Department has released video showing officers tackling Anderson in the middle of an intersection after they responded to a traffic accident, as he begged for his life, saying, “They’re trying to George Floyd me.” It shows an officer electrocuted Anderson — it showed the officer electrocuting Anderson with a Taser for nearly 30 straight seconds as several others pin him to the ground face-first. He was then tased again. Police say he died four hours later, after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Los Angeles’s new mayor is Karen Bass. She has called the footage of Anderson and the two fatal shootings this month “deeply disturbing.”

Anderson’s sister, Dominique Anderson, spoke Tuesday at a news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall.

DOMINIQUE ANDERSON: If you continue to blame the victim and not hold officers accountable, why would they ever stop killing us?

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Los Angeles, where we’re joined by Keenan Anderson’s cousin, Patrisse Cullors. Yes, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and founder of Reform LA Jails, educator, abolitionist, author of When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir and An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World.

Patrisse, I want to start off with our deepest condolences to you and your family on the death of Keenan.

PATRISSE CULLORS: Thank you. Thank you very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what happened, what you understood took place?

PATRISSE CULLORS: Well, on January 5th, I was notified by one of my cousins that Keenan had passed. But on January 6th, another cousin sent me a NBC article naming Keenan as a suspect — it was obviously the LAPD press release that was offered to news stations — and that my cousin had had been tased and then died four-and-a-half hours later. In that text message, my cousin said, “Patrisse, the cops killed our cousin.”

And the last two weeks have been a nightmare. It’s felt like all the years of fighting police violence and officer-involved shootings or officer-involved killings has now reached my doorstep. And many of us at the local level are calling on our elected officials to change the way they deal with traffic stops. We believe there should be no cops at traffic stops. But, more importantly, my family is grieving our loved one, someone who was a giant to us, someone who was not just Keenan Anderson. He was my cousin. He was a sibling. He was a mentor to school — to his students and so much more.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you tell us about, as you see it reconstructed — and I also want to ask what you think, Patrisse, of the video being shown of Keenan being tased repeatedly?

PATRISSE CULLORS: Well, you know, many of our family members saw the video before it went live to the public. And it’s heavily edited. So, one of the things we want is the unedited footage. There’s no context in that video. My cousin had just got into a car accident. And so, obviously, if you’ve ever been in a car accident, you’re disoriented. And so there’s a lot of context that’s missing.

But then, I think those last few minutes of the video, of him being tased, obviously, to death, was probably the most disturbing for me to witness, because it’s like he knows they’re trying to kill him. And he yells out, “They’re trying to George Floyd me.” And they did. And that imagery of him those last minutes of his life are very painful to hear and visualize and think about, given that he was such a beloved human being. No human being deserves to die in fear, to die publicly humiliated and without their dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: You have questioned why it was necessary for armed police to show up at a collision. The Guardian newspaper cites national data that shows roughly 10% of killings by police each year start with a traffic encounter, Patrisse.

PATRISSE CULLORS: That’s correct. I couldn’t help but think about Philando Castile and how he would be alive right now if he wasn’t stopped for a traffic stop by a cop. I think about so many other Black people, like Sandra Bland, who would be alive right now, my cousin, Keenan Anderson, who would be alive right now. We have to reevaluate the use of police at traffic stops. Here in Los Angeles, we’re pushing our mayor and our City Council to really identify a new source of professionals, that are not armed, that are trained in crisis, to respond to traffic stops.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you lay out all your five demands that you are making right now, and also the significance of the mayor being Karen Bass?

PATRISSE CULLORS: Yes. Mayor Bass obviously has a long history in Los Angeles, California. She’s from South L.A. She started one of the largest South L.A.-based organizations, Community Coalition. I knocked for her as she ran for Assembly, and then eventually became a congresswoman. And as she’s worked alongside many of us activists, she has always been accessible. And, you know, she fought a hard campaign against Rick Caruso. And we are grateful that Mayor Bass is our mayor.

And I think now that she’s the mayor, it’s time for her and the rest of the City Council to reduce the budget of the police. LAPD, we know, has — receives billions of dollars through the city. And also, let’s take this moment and not let Keenan die in vain. We shouldn’t have another opportunity to say the police killed somebody at a traffic stop. We should be looking at where can we — where can the city find dollars to specifically make sure that a cop is not the one responding to minor infractions that happen in the city of Los Angeles?

That is the primary demand that I want to lift up to your audience, because I think it’s an important moment right now. And I think it could be a national demand that many of us call on our local electeds to stop police officers — to stop the use of police officers at traffic stops. But people can sign our petition. We have a Color of Change petition, tinyurl.com, and at the end of it is “keenan-anderson.” And those are where you could find our five demands at the local level. We’d love for people to sign it nationally. But on this broadcast, the primary demand I want to lift up is the use of police at traffic stops.

AMY GOODMAN: And in L.A., you have city councilmembers filing a motion to create an Office of Unarmed Response. Another councilmember called for an expansion of the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit and Domestic Abuse Response Team. And finally, if you could leave us with a description of who Keenan was?

PATRISSE CULLORS: Keenan was a mentor. He was more than a schoolteacher. He created programs for young people. He worked alongside his colleagues to make sure his students were taken care of, not just academically but also emotionally, also physically. You know, I’ve heard so many stories. If he saw a young person that needed shoes, he would go and buy them shoes. He was always thinking about his young people. He was a father. My cousin was a father. He was a beloved family member. And “he will be missed” is an understatement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Patrisse Cullors, again, our deepest condolences, cousin of Keenan Anderson, who died after being tased by police in Los Angeles. Patrisse Cullors is co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a founder of Reform LA Jails. Her books include When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir and An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World.

And again, today at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, Democracy Now! will be live-streaming the Belmarsh Tribunal, that is being held as pressure is growing on President Biden to drop charges against Julian Assange. He’s being held in the Belmarsh prison in London, has been held for almost four years. Among those who will be testifying are Noam Chomsky, as well as Daniel Ellsberg. Ben Wizner will also be there, the ACLU lawyer for Ed Snowden. Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher of The Nation magazine. I will be co-chairing the Belmarsh Tribunal. Again, you can watch it at democracynow.org at 2:00 Eastern Standard Time. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much.

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Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors on Abolition & Imagining a Society Based on Care

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