When two Baltimore County police officers arrived at 21-year-old Tawon Boyd's Middle River home on Sept. 18, something was wrong with him.
According to the police report, Boyd told the responding officer that he thought his girlfriend had done something to make him intoxicated, and that someone else was inside of his home.
"I observed that he was sweating heavily and appeared to be confused and paranoid," the officer wrote.
Boyd's girlfriend said that he had been drinking that evening and had smoked marijuana. She said that he was acting "crazy."
"It was obvious that Suspect Boyd was under the influence of a narcotic and/or suffering (redacted) and needed to be taken to the hospital for emergency evaluation," the officer wrote in the report. Police say that Boyd was hard to get a hold of: He was running, banging on a neighbor's doors asking them to call the police, fighting with officers. But also, at one point, he grew still. So still that an officer asked for a medic to check and make sure he still had a pulse. He did.
Boyd was taken to Franklin Square Hospital where he died last Wednesday. His family released a photo of him in the hospital, badly injured.
Elise Armacost, the Director of Public Affairs for Police, Fire and Emergency Management activities in Baltimore County said via email that the police department was investigating whether Boyd was under the influence of drugs (illegal or not) or whether he was having a mental health emergency. She also said that she would send a more detailed email to discuss how the department handles mental health emergencies as soon as she could. She hasn't emailed back yet.
I also asked her if the department makes diversity training mandatory for officers, and whether there are plans for that training to be changed or increased. I asked because we are living in tense times. Many black people have always been wary of police—with good cause—but now everything feels heightened, more stressful. Were police prepared to protect and serve people who might fear them? It’s something they should consider looking into. Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Court threw out a conviction against a black man who was found with a gun, because police had no just cause to pursue him in the first place.
"Flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect's state of mind or consciousness of guilt," the court wrote in a statement. "An individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled by the desire to hide criminal activity."
Armacost said that diversity training is mandatory and "such training is reviewed and enhanced as needed." It's the same question I asked her in August, after police shot and killed 23-year-old Korryn Gaines following a standoff. County police, by the way, won’t face charges stemming from Gaines’ death. Gaines’ family plans to sue.
Gaines' death happened on the same day that Baltimore County lawmakers failed to pass a bill aimed at stopping housing discrimination in the county. The bill would have made it illegal for landlords to reject would-be tenants who receive housing vouchers. These facts hint at a racial tension that has always existed in the county.
The failed bill, known as the HOME Act, was backed by homeless advocates and religious groups, but it had plenty of naysayers as well. The national group Campaign for Liberty fought vigorously against the bill, warning of a "massive flood" of Section 8 into Baltimore County.
Section 8, of course, is a dog whistle. What they were truly warning white Baltimore County residents against was a flood of poor, black people. The truth is that, according to the latest information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 43 percent of people receiving project based Section 8 (i.e. government-based rental assistance) were white and 33 percent were black.
The group set up a petition on its website: "Whereas the continued expansion of Section 8 housing in Baltimore County is ruining our communities; and Whereas Section 8 has been shown to reduce property values. This amounts to stealing people's property which they worked hard to earn," it read. The organization also provided people with lawmakers' phone numbers and a script to read once they got someone on the phone.
Racism, fear, death. It's all connected. It all matters.
But back to police: Because of race, we are always asking questions after a police-involved death. Everyone becomes an investigator. It happened with Gaines. In the days ahead, it will probably happen with Boyd. What was proper protocol for this situation? What do police say this person did? Where is the evidence? Were officers wearing body cameras? And what about lists people sometimes make of white people in similar, or even more combative situations with police, who lived? Would officers have opened fire on two alleged bank robbery suspects while they were driving, as they did last Friday, if they were white? Maybe, but maybe not.
It seems these deaths at the hands of police come in waves. Yesterday, police in El Cahon, Calif. shot and killed 30-year-old Alfred Olango. Al Jazeera reports that Olango's sister called police for help, saying that Olango was behaving strangely. There are also reports that Olango, who was unarmed, was suffering a seizure before he was shot. And last week, before we even knew about Boyd, we were mourning 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, who was shot by Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby. Crutcher's car had broken down. His hands were in the air when Shelby shot and killed him.
In Charlotte, N.C., people are still trying to make sense of the death of Keith Lamont Scott. His family says that he was sitting in a car reading a book when officers confronted him. Police say he had a gun. Police are also withholding the entirety of the video of the incident, saying that they are still investigating. It seems suspicious.
On Friday, lawyers for the Scott family gave The New York Times video filmed by Scott's wife as she begged police not to shoot her husband, telling them that her husband didn't have a gun. His wife also told police that he had a TBI—a traumatic brain injury.
In Tulsa, Officer Shelby, we now know, has been charged with felony manslaughter. Although we in Baltimore know how that goes.