Police officers are actually using a genetic trait found in one in 13 Black people to excuse beating Black suspects to death, The New York Times found in an analysis of 25 years of law enforcement and medical records. Law enforcement officers, their attorneys, and medical examiners have been using the sickle cell trait to avoid accountability in at least 46 cases in which a Black person died in custody, the newspaper reported on Saturday. The sickle cell trait, which George Floyd carried, was actually brought up in a failed motion to dismiss the case against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who a jury found murdered Floyd. “The fact that Mr. Floyd had sickle cell trait is significant, as well,” Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson wrote in the motion. “(...) People suffering from sickle cell ‘can develop high blood pressure in their lungs. This complication usually affects adults. Shortness of breath and fatigue are common symptoms of this condition, which can be fatal.’
“Put simply, Mr. Floyd could not breathe because he had ingested a lethal dose of fentanyl and, possibly, a speedball,” Nelson wrote. “Combined with sickle cell trait, his pre-existing heart conditions, Mr.Floyd’s use of fentanyl and methamphetamine most likely killed him.” Only, a jury found Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes actually killed him. In cases without viral video of police violence, however, the deaths of Black men and women remain hidden.
Sickle cell is a red blood cell disorder that causes the cells to harden, grow sticky and form a shape similar to a farm tool known as a "sickle," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They can clog blood flow lead to serious problems such as “infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke,” the agency reported. People with the sickle cell trait, however "usually do not have any of the symptoms of sickle cell disease,” the CDC maintains.
In a lesser known case the The New York Times highlighted, Lamont Perry, 32, was chased into the woods of Wadesboro, North Carolina, over an alleged probation violation from a misdemeanor assault case and left with brain swelling and a fractured right leg. He ultimately died in police custody after those who lived in the area told his family officers returned from their encounter with Perry with blood on their shoes and pants. A medical examiner ruled that Perry, who had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his bloodstream, had died in 2016 of “cocaine toxicity in the setting of sickle cell trait,” The New York Times reported.
In the case of the youngest victim the Times documented in its investigation, Martin Anderson, 14, was said to have suffered “complications of sickle cell trait” after encountering police in 2006 in Panama City, Florida. Martin was in a juvenile boot camp ran by the Bay County Sheriff's Office when he collapsed after being forced to run, ABC-affiliated news station WJHG reported. In the moments after his collapse, seven deputies were shown on body-camera footage holding the child down as a nurse watched. All eight officials in the case were acquitted of aggravated manslaughter charges in Martin's death, The New York Times reported in 2007.
“You kill a dog, you go to jail,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the boy’s parents, said at the time. “You kill a little black boy, and nothing happens.”
These are just about half of the Black people whose deaths in police custody were associated in some way with the sickle cell trait, theThe New York Times found:
-Ronell Mason, 24, was said to have suffered “acute sickling crisis due to sickle cell trait” in 1995 in Norfolk, Virginia.
-Rafael Herrera, 27, was said to have suffered “sickle cell crisis” in 1997 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
-Darryl Daniels, 30, was said to have suffered “sickle cell crisis due to sickle cell trait” and “physical exertion in hot ambient temperatures and cocaine abuse” in 1998 in Reno, Nevada.
-Andre Stenson, 34, was said to have suffered a “heart defect and ‘sickle cell trait’” in 1998 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
-James Treadwell, 26, was said to have suffered a “massive sicklemia due to sickle cell trait hemoglobinopathy” in 1998 in Charleston, West Virginia.
-Eddie Bagby, 24 was said to have suffered “aspiration of gastric contents”; “pepper spray exposure”; “complicated by bronchial asthma and sickle cell crisis due to sickle cell trait” in 1999 in Wrightsville, Arkansas.
-Cleathern Miles, 28, was said to have suffered “complications from sickle cell crisis” in 1999 in Burlington County, New Jersey.
-Mario Mallett, 29, was said to have died suffered “acute exhaustive mania”; “acute sickle cell crisis”; and “hypothermia” in 2001 in Milwaukee.
-Anthony Williams, 28, was said to have suffered “respiratory arrest following exposure to pepper spray”; and “sickle cell trait” in 2003 in Minneapolis.
-Raymond Sterling, 21, was said to have suffered “exertion of a chase and struggle combined with his sickle-cell trait” in 2003 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
-Melvin Samuel, 28, was said to have suffered “positional asphyxia complicated by obesity and sickle cell crisis” in 2004 in Houston County, Georgia.
-Christopher Hernandez, 19, was said to have suffered “Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, Ecstasy) and cocaine”; “sickling of red blood cells (sickle cell trait)” in 2004 in Fort Myers, Florida.
-Martez Wilson, 21, was said to have suffered “exercise-induced sickle cell crisis in an individual with sickle cell trait” in 2015 in Douglasville, Georgia.
-Carlos Harris, 39, was said to have suffered “sickled red blood cells diffusely occluding vessels” in 2016 in Mansfield, Texas.
-Jamar Ferguson, 25, was said to have suffered “complications of sickle cell trait” in 2017 in Milwaukee.
-Jason Pierce, 40, was said to have suffered “widespread red blood cell sickling” in 2017 in New Orleans.
-Jeffrey Melvin, 27, was said to have had “complications of sickle cell trait and extreme exertion during his confrontation with police and associated taser deployment” in 2018 in Colorado Springs.
-Jeremy Lawrence, 28, was said to have suffered a “sudden death associated with stress of physical exertion, acute methamphetamine toxicity, and sickle cell trait” in 2018 in Harris County, Texas.
-Everett Palmer, 41, was said to have died with a contributory factor listed as “probable sickling cell disorder” in 2018 in York, Pennsylvania.
-Robert Miller, 38, was said to have died in connection with “slides of multiple organs demonstrate sickle-shaped red blood cells” in 2019 in Fort Worth.
-Darren Boykin, 23, was said to have “died as a result of complications of sickle cell trait” in 2019 in Texarkana, Texas.
-Dean Smith, 25, was said to have suffered “sickle cell crisis due to cardiomegaly due to multiple drug intoxication from cocaine and ethanol” in 2020 in Evansville, Indiana.
-Gamel Brown, 30, was said to have suffered “cardiovascular abnormalities”; “blood loss due to cutting wounds”; and “sickle cell trait” in 2020 in Owings Mills, Maryland.
-Larry Ross, 37, was said to have suffered “coronary artery atherosclerosis”; and “sickle cell trait” in 2020 in Cambridge, Maryland.