We are deeply saddened by the abhorrent incident that led to the tragic death of Keenan Anderson following tasing by Los Angeles Police. Keenan was a father, teacher, son, cousin, fiancé, and Antiochian. He earned his Master of Education, Leadership and Change from our Los Angeles campus in 2022. The sorrow and heartbreak we feel at the loss of this young man, one of our graduates, are immense.
On January 3, Keenan was involved in a traffic accident and flagged down the police for help. In the police body-cam video, he can be seen asking for help from bystanders while officers were restraining him. Keenan could be heard saying, “I’m not resisting,” and repeatedly saying, “They’re trying to George Floyd me!” We keep thinking about how quickly things turned badly for him and how terrified he must have been. Keenan was seen with a cop’s elbow on his neck, handcuffed, and hobbled at his ankles.
Keenan was stunned with a taser six consecutive times. At one point, officers held the taser against his back while the weapon buzzed for roughly 30 seconds. He was taken to the hospital, where he died from cardiac arrest several hours later.
“Keenan was a father and a teacher, he was committed to helping young people become their best selves,” said J. Cynthia McDermott, EdD, Faculty Emerita and retired Chair of Antioch University’s Los Angeles Education department. “The courses that he took reinforced his social justice point of view and his desire to help young people think critically and to be upstanders, people who stand against oppression, key practices that are part of the Antioch legacy. It is tragic that such a person is no longer with us and no longer a model for the many students he may have influenced. We miss him.”
Keenan had just moved to Virginia with his fiancé. He took a job at Digital Pioneers Academy, a charter school in Southeast Washington, D.C., teaching English to tenth graders. Before that, he taught at a school in Watts, California, teaching English to juniors and seniors as chair of the department, as well as teaching drama classes. He was back in Los Angeles visiting his family during the winter break.
Keenan came from a very large, tight-knit family and is a cousin of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. She told NPR, “It’s a devastating reality that any one of us could be impacted by the crisis that is the U.S. police system,” she added. “We have to do something.”
We support the call for a thorough investigation into his death. During this investigation, the use of tasers in Keenan’s death and the use of tasers in general must be examined. At least 500 people have died since 2001 in the U.S. after being shocked with taser guns during an arrest or jail. Police departments have their own policies and practices for when tasers can be used. The LAPD has no preset limit on the number of times a taser should be used in a situation. Video and family accounts reveal Keenan was tased for over 90 seconds as he begged for help.
We must demand more studies on policing and arrest practices of nonviolent offenders. Emergency responses to mental health crises must be safer. Deploying a mental health team could be used to de-escalate certain activities, and then the incidents wouldn’t end in the death of those victims.
According to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit research group, at least 1,176 people died at the hands of law enforcement officers in the U.S. last year, the most since 2013. Half of the people shot and killed by police are white, but Black Americans are shot and killed by police at a disproportionate rate. Black Americans account for approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. We cannot continue to watch as more men like Keenan are killed. We need immediate changes to our law enforcement systems.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement: “No matter what these investigations determine, however, the need for urgent change is clear. We must reduce the use of force overall, and I have absolutely no tolerance for excessive force. Tragically, this is a national crisis, and in reviewing a sample of incidents in which people died during encounters with police as part of my legislative work in Congress, my office found that a third or more of the people involved were experiencing a mental health crisis. It is time that proven reforms are universally implemented and accelerated within LAPD. Los Angeles must lead nationally on mental health and use of force reform.”
As Antiochians, we will continue to do all we can to bring justice to the streets of Los Angeles and every city and state across the nation and world. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote In his renowned essay Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Keenan should be alive right now, playing with his 6-year-old son, grading his students’ papers, and changing the world. We hope you all keep Keenan in your hearts, as we will in ours.
William Groves, JD, Antioch University Chancellor
Mark Hower, PhD, Provost and CEO, Antioch University Los Angeles and Santa Barbara
Michael Raffanti, EdD, Dean of the Antioch University School of Education