CoDE seminar: 'Transnational Problem Construction: Racialized Medical Diagnoses, Policing, and the Case of Excited Delirium
Despite academic scholarship and the American Medical Association opposing the diagnosis known as Acute Behavior Disturbance (ABD) or ‘excited delirium’, it has continued to be cited as a legitimate cause of death. First coined by Charles Wetli in 1985, the diagnosis has become somewhat foundational in the defense of police, especially when there is a concern of a racialized fatal outcome in their custody.
Rather than suggest any form of wrongdoing on behalf of police, excited delirium is often used to say the following: George Floyd is responsible for his own death; it is attributable to his drug use and their own ‘faulty biology.’ Though excited delirium was not successfully deployed in defense of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Natasha McKenna, Elijah McClain, Daniel Prude, and more have unfortunately had their death reduced to heavily contested medical terminology. But most notably, the application of excited delirium cannot be limited to US context. For example, in the United Kingdom, excited delirium was cited in the inquest of Kevin Clarke and the families of both Olaseni Lewis and Sean Riggs also confirmed a strong attempt by police, the media, and the like to include the term in their reporting.
And so, here, I broadly contend with the question, How and when do medical diagnoses enter policing? Through an examination of autopsies, death certificate information, and ontologies of medical examination, I show how a kind of ‘medical archive’ can be an important tool for understanding current processes of globalization as well as the geopolitical gravity of policing and medicalization.
Pyar Seth is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the Johns Hopkins University.
Organisation: Johns Hopkins University
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