Listen: A ‘city on fire’: How Miami shaped a disputed diagnosis used to justify deaths in police custody

In this episode of "Color Code," we traveled to Miami to learn more about the historical roots of the term "excited delirium" in the medical examiner’s office there.

One night in 2019, Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man in Colorado, was walking home when he was approached by police. Someone had deemed him “suspicious” and called the cops. The police argued with McClain, tackled him to the ground, and restrained him with a carotid hold around his neck. Body camera footage shows an officer saying McClain, who was about 5’6” and 140 pounds, had “crazy strength.” Paramedics arrived and concluded McClain was showing signs of “excited delirium,” according to The Colorado Sun. A paramedic injected him with ketamine to sedate him, and McClain slipped into a coma. A few days after the encounter, he died. The words “excited delirium” appeared in the medical examiner’s opinion within the autopsy report.

“Excited delirium” is a controversial term that is used by some to describe a person who experiences an acute, extreme disruption in their behavior and ability to think, and often comes up in relation to people who have died in police custody. People with excited delirium are often said to display “superhuman strength.” But most medical authorities do not consider excited delirium to be real. Organizations such as the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and World Health Organization do not recognize it as a true medical condition.

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