On January 27, a Black man, handcuffed with his hands behind his back in a police car, was fatally shot multiple times by a police officer in a county outside of Washington, DC. The cop, who’s now been charged with murder, reportedly suspected the unnamed victim to be under the influence of PCP, according to the Washington Post. PCP is a drug that has repeatedly been smeared as making people violent and cited as a justification for police violence.
After being arrested in Prince George’s County, Maryland for allegedly striking multiple vehicles with his car, the man—suggested, but unconfirmed, to be William Green—was killed during a reported “struggle” inside the police cruiser. The officer had reportedly smelled PCP while arresting the now-deceased man.
PCP (phencyclidine) is used recreationally to induce a dissociative state that may include hallucinations. News media have described it as an “evil drug” that turns users into “cannibals,” as in the case of rapper Big Lurch, or a drug that motivates murder, like with NFL player Aaron Hernandez.
But in this case, “the man [was] nodding off, out of it,” an NB4 Washington bureau Chief tweeted, according to video obtained by the local news channel.
Scientific evidence undercuts the violent stereotypes surrounding PCP. “Ketamine is a derivative of PCP, and PCP is a psychedelic. But it’s one [the psychedelics advocates] disown in this community,” said Dr. Carl Hart, a Columbia University neuroscience professor. “We love ketamine for its therapeutic and recreational effects, while we have been silent about the vilification of PCP. We are told PCP causes violence and agitation, which is simply not true.”
PCP has been involved in other police killings of unarmed Black men. In 2016, a white Tulsa, Oklahoma officer was acquitted of manslaughter charges for the fatal shooting of Terrence Crutch, an unarmed Black man experiencing acute PCP intoxication, during a traffic stop. In her testimony, defendant Betty Jo Shelby claimed she feared for her life because Crutch appeared to be on drugs, and that she had smelled PCP in his car.
Video footage of that encounter recorded a different officer, in a helicopter, making a racist comment related to the suspect’s perceived drug use, and suggesting it as a cause for use of force. “Time for a Taser, I think,” the aerial officer can be heard saying, adding, “That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something.”
Photograph of a Prince George’s County Police cruiser via Twitter